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Don Lewis, Massachusetts Audubon Society,
Fox Island Wildlife Management Area

First Hatchlings Emerge — 25 August 2001

Marc Bossert and Carolyn White, colleagues from Long Island, arrived in the Land of Ooze this weekend and brought a little New York luck along with them.  And, yes, they did stop in Connecticut for a Power Ball ticket en route, but thatís not exactly what Iím talking about.  We arranged to meet this morning for a check of nesting sites before wading into Blackfish Creek to test a new seine net.  Both adventures proved interesting, but the former was a good deal more productive.

As we rounded Turtle Point, Chris Burns ó our high school intern extraordinaire ó spotted a faint set of hatchling tracks tumbling down the high western slope.  We followed it back to an irregularity on the dune surface, excavated, and found the first hatched nest of the year.  Nest 161 contained shells from five emerged hatchlings, four still viable eggs, and one hatchling burrowing its way topside.

Carolyn cradles Hatchling 014, rather smallish at 5 grams and measuring 2.71 centimeters carapace length.

About 15 feet to the south lies Nest 026 which had been laid below the storm surge on Crescent Island and relocated to Turtle Point on 14 June (see Protecting Vulnerable Nests, 14 June 2001).  Spot-checking this nest last week showed egg shell veining, an indicator that things were approaching critical mass.  So, we took this opportunity to check again with great results.  Fourteen of the 15 eggs had already hatched, yielding big, healthy, active babies ranging from 3.0 to 3.2 centimeters and 7 to 8 grams.  These characters are a hoot!  The remaining egg in this clutch still seems viable, too.

Not having a container to hold 15 strapping hatchlings, I asked Chris if he wouldnít mind running back for a pail.  When he hadnít returned for nearly 30 minutes, we knew something must have happened.  Sure enough.  As he walked up to the jeep he spotted another set of smudged hatchling tracks in the dirt road.  He found the nest (#162) with 11 already emerged hatchlings, 1 non-viable egg, and 1 live hatchling still in the egg chamber.  This one had pipped and was being attacked by fly maggots, which Chris picked off the poor critter.  Hatchling 029 was only 5 grams, measured just 2.65 centimeters, and still had the remnants of its yolk sac showing.  It was not too active.  We found a sibling a few feet away in the tire track of a passing vehicle.  It had not survived.

Not content with these discoveries, the crew ventured into Blackfish Creek with a new seine (read: insane) net to try.  We watched several turtles bob toward the net, pushed along by the outflowing current, but nothing in the purse.  One was bold enough to surface for a Bronx cheer on the other side of the net.  Quite humiliating.  Dejectedly, we dragged the net onto a sandbar to release the zillion of other critters which had been trapped therein, only to discover Terrapin 1190 (being held in this photo by Marc Bossert) hunkering among a fistful of minnows.  She is a 6-year-old pre-pubescent female of 13.11 centimeters length and 376 grams.  Next year we should see a burst of hormonal growth with the likelihood of her nesting in 2003 or 2004 at the latest.

Another pre-pubescent female, which we captured a few days ago during our Marine Wildlife Field School (shown here with Field School participants), illustrated this amazing growth spurt.  We first saw #1097 on 7 June this year as she swam in Chipmanís Cove.  So, 76 days ago she was just 14 centimeters long and 470 grams.  In two and a half months she had grown 1.5 centimeters in all dimensions and added 50% to her body weight, reaching almost 700 grams!

Well, the night may be quiet and Cape Cod perfect, but it wonít be lonely.  Connemara Cottage is abuzz once more with the darting antics of tiny terrapins.