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

Gauntlet — 2 September 2001

Nature has laid down a challenging array of hurdles for terrapin hatchlings to clear en route from egg chamber to nursery marsh.  Perhaps with those obstacles in mind, Hatchling 150 casts a suspicious eye at his brave new world as he peeks out of Nest 189’s emergence hole.  The last surviving member of his clutch to climb to freedom, he waited at the lip for nearly fifteen minutes before making his dash.

His sibling, Hatchling 149, was discovered only a couple of feet from the nest.  She had sprinted east along the dirt road where her mother had dug Nest 189 in June, only to encounter a fierce attack by red ants which had stopped her progress.  I had to pull the ants from her skin where they had embedded their pincers.  Once they were removed, she quickly snapped back to action.

Looking inside the excavated nest you can see roots penetrating the egg chamber from every direction.  And, holding precious moisture and nutrients, eggs are not immune to plant predation.

In fact, the egg at the bottom was penetrated and destroyed by root predation.  The hatchling at the top of the photo had pipped, but was killed and consumed by fly maggots (still visible on the remains) before he could escape the nest.  Once the first turtle emerges and leaves a pathway back to the egg chamber filled with rich organic smells emanating from discarded shells and pipped hatchlings, the rest of the clutch falls into jeopardy.

Yet, despite these steep odds, I encountered Hatchling 148 far out into the south Lieutenant Island wrack, chugging her way toward freedom.  Exactly one inch long and weighing a mere 6 grams, she emerged sometime early this morning, scurrying down slope from her upland nest site, sprinting from cover to cover to avoid winged and legged predators, blending into the background, and slowly but surely making her way into the thick, lush marsh mat where she’ll disappear for the next couple of years.

Bon chance, hatchlings!