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

Emergence — 26 August 2001

The second day into hatching season brought another wave of terrapins to Connemara Cottage.  Marc Bossert, our colleague from Long Island, joined the morning nest check on Lieutenant Island. 

As we rounded Turtle Point, I saw an unnatural concavity in the sand about 3 inches diameter. 

No emergence hole and no tracks, but something was cooking under the surface. 

As we peeled back the top layer of soil, the ground began to move and a hatchling emerged from the depths of the egg chamber and broke for freedom.


Excavating Nest 163, we found a total of 19 eggs and a massive infestation of fly maggots.  Nine live hatchlings had pipped, 6 were non-viable eggs, and 3 other pipped hatchlings had been attacked and killed by the maggots.  One turtle had emerged from the nest probably creating the opening for the flies to gain access.  The dead terrapins had all been freshly killed, perhaps within hours or even minutes of our arrival.  The pipped hatchlings were all in serious jeopardy of falling to the same fate.  Instead, we have nine healthy babies, averaging around 2.65 centimeters and 6 grams.


A few feet higher up the hill, we checked Nest 024 which was laid on 14 June, 73 days previous.  You may recall this nest was found by back-tracking an obscured terrapin trail and subsequently was protected by a predator excluder (see Protecting Vulnerable Nests ó 14 June 2001).  We found 18 live hatchlings, pipped and raring to go, plus one remaining viable egg.  These babies averaged around 2.65 centimeters and 6 grams, too.

So, my hatchling population was bursting at the seams . . .

 

 

. . . but crowding was soon eliminated as we released all turtles with fully or mostly absorbed yolk sacs immediately after weighing, measuring and making sure they were healthy and predator free.  They scrambled into the marsh grass and quickly disappeared into covering vegetation.


On the sad side, Nest 023 laid in the shoulder of 5th Avenue on 13 June proved horribly disappointing.  An 18-wheeler delivering heavy equipment to a new home site on Lieutenant Island backed over the nest and spun its tires in the soft sand.  Today we discovered that the integrity of the egg chamber had been breached by this July incident and all 18 eggs had been squished together and destroyed.

Later in the afternoon, I discovered a hatched nest along the south Lieutenant Island wrack line.  It held egg shells of 13 emerged hatchlings and one rather spunky toad who had taken residence upon the turtlesí departure.

 

The final discovery of the day came at Nest 030 where a preemie was detected.  While at full size (2.64 cm) and weighing 5 grams, Hatchling 58 still trailed an enormous yolk sac tinged with blood.  Iíve isolated her in soft, moist sand and a relatively sterile environment until she absorbs a goodly portion of that sac, after which she can join her compatriots, frolicking in the recovery tank as they prepare for a return to the wild marsh and freedom.