Previous Page Photo-Diary of a Terrapin Researcher Next Page

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

First Breath — 1 September 2001

Nests continue to hatch in the Land of Ooze.  Those which we identified and protected are producing large numbers of hatchlings.  So far, in our first season of testing predator excluders, only a single cage failed.  And, in that case, it was overturned the same night it was installed, probably due to “operator error” in erecting and affixing the cage over the nest.  It was one of our first attempts.

Nest 110 (right) held 3 hatchlings that had just emerged, 11 more live and pipped babies still in the egg chamber, 2 eggs destroyed by root predation, and 3 remaining viable eggs.  Since it was checked last evening, this nest couldn’t have been breached more than an hour or two before we arrived this morning.  Yet, the egg chamber was crawling with tiny maggots.  I had to pick them off the pipped hatchlings that remained at risk underground.  Fortunately, we reached the nest before these little predators could do serious harm.

Equally rewarding, though, are surprise nests — those we completely missed in June and July.  About three times as many unmarked nests as marked ones are being discovered either through emergence holes, caves-ins, unnatural concavities or pure dumb luck — my principal contribution to the project.  This morning’s first “surprise” yielded a touching vignette as an emerging hatchling broke through the surface as I arrived on the scene, just in time to capture its first breath of freedom.

After quick field weights and measures, hatchlings resume their frenetic scramble for cover and concealment in the lush paludal vegetation.