Previous Page Photo-Diary of a Terrapin Researcher Next Page

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

A Few Good Saves — 6 September 2001

Luck smiled on the Land of Ooze these last couple of days and a few would-be disasters were averted by quick intervention.  The first came overnight when a driver swung wide and drove directly over Nest 115, which had been dug in the shoulder of Lieutenant Island’s 5th Avenue on 2 July.  When I spotted the tire tracks in the morning, I knew we had to excavate to assess the damage.

Integrity of the egg chamber had been breached and the top layers of the nest were infested with maggots.  Four non-viable eggs and one hatchling were attacked and consumed by these predators.  But at the bottom of the nest where the maggots had not yet reached, we rescued five live hatchlings, two with slightly warped shells and one with a sunken yolk sac.  Yet, after a little heat and hydration, they were all ready to tackle the world with renewed vigor.

Only a hundred yards south on the same dirt road, another nest’s integrity had been compromised.  Nest 75 was laid by Terrapin 363 on 23 June in the middle of the east tire track of 5th Avenue.  During a routine check, I discovered the breach and found Hatchling 192 whose egg had burst prematurely.  A picture of mother and offspring is presented below.


And yesterday brought a perfect epilogue to our summer field school.  On the high sandy dune of Turtle Point we had relocated Nest 112 from a vulnerable beach on 29 June (see Terrapin Field School Wraps Up).  During evening rounds, I spotted a surface cave-in directly above the neck of the nest, signaling that something interesting was cooking down below.

Removing the predator cage and gently brushing back the sand, I discovered 11 live hatchlings lined up in the tunnel waiting for the breakthrough and eager to launch the Great Escape.  Except for two runts who weighed only 4 grams and measured less than an inch long, the others averaged around 2.7 centimeters carapace length and 6 grams.

Good fortune continues to shine as nests mature and hatchlings scurry into the nursery marsh.  One batch from newly discovered Nest 204 this evening decided to entertain themselves while waiting to be recorded.  Whether they were learning to play leapfrog or practicing a new circus act as the Flying Malaclemys we’ll never know for sure.  But whatever it was, they sure brought a smile to this researcher’s face.