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

The Roots of Evil — 8 September 2001

Abutting the best nursery marshlands of the Land of Ooze are some pretty marginal upland nesting locations.  Nevertheless, terrapins choose these sites despite the downside risks.  And a major predatory threat to eggs laid along the lush South Wellfleet marsh comes from beach grass, as evidenced in Nest 211 discovered this morning.  Walking by the spot en route to Lieutenant Island’s Turtle Point, I noticed a slight depression in the ground sandwiched between thick clumps of grass.

Excavating the site revealed the fragments of four hatchlings that had already emerged, four hatchlings lounging in the egg chamber and waiting to make their break for freedom, and four eggs that had been destroyed by root predation.

One of the little critters (Hatchling 237) showed a marked indentation along the left side of its carapace, as though the hatchling had been wrapped tightly while still in the egg.  You may recall a somewhat similar, if more dramatic, deformity in Knotch who was discovered in an overwintered nest in which all her siblings had succumbed to root predation (see Miracle on Round Island — 17 May).

And the ants are still at it, too.  A lonely hatchling—the last one remaining in Nest 030, which had been largely evacuated by 13 clutch-mates on 31 August—was attacked and eaten by tiny red ants.

But the good news more than outweighs the bad.  Lots of healthy hatchlings avoid this laundry list of predatory risks, and with a little help from friends like Pat Light whose family has committed three generations to assure their survival, they reach the safety of Wellfleet Bay’s rich and protective marsh.