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

The Golden Hatchling
9 September 2001

Once upon a time in a paludal paradise at the very end of the terrapin universe, Lisa and Ted and Anne and Rich and young Abigail, too, all followed Turtleman and his faithful companion Rags into the heart of the Land of Ooze.

It seemed like a fairy tale, too, as we first explored Turtle Point and rescued hatchlings from several nests under attack by insect predation.  Then we caravanned to the uplands overlooking the Turtle Pass marsh.  Lisa spotted tracks along the shoulder of 5th Avenue, and we located an emergence hole in the compacted dirt driveway at the end of the road.

Excavating with fingertips through hard-as-concrete sand to avoid potential injury to any remaining hatchlings or viable eggs, we inched our way to the egg chamber of Nest 216.  Under the lip formed by the neck of the nest, first I and then 10-year-old Abigail each recovered a live baby trying to scrape its way to freedom.  Abigail won the day, though, with her precious find: the Golden Hatchling.

This rare critter flashed gold along the edge of his carapace and all over his head and neck.  He sported dashes of gold color highlighting his plastron sutures, too.  What an extraordinary hatchling, the likes of which we have never previously documented in Wellfleet Bay.

Another unusual hatchling emerged from Nest 198, first discovered on 3 September when six hatchlings were found escaping.  The nest held another half dozen viable eggs, so it was covered again and capped with a predator excluder.  This morning Hatchling 260 was found at the nest.  She measured a mere 2 centimeters long and weighed only 4 grams.  Her tail appears bobbed and deformed, as are the scutes of her carapace.  And worst of all, she has no eyes.  Sluggish in her movements, her immediate survival seems uncertain.  Over the long term, we’ll just have to play this one by ear.  For the nonce, I’m hoping our Golden Hatchling will provide the magic she needs to overcome some pretty stiff odds.