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

Northernmost Terrapins Emerge — 16 April 2002

Turtle spring came quicker than ever this year.  Terrapins were spotted swimming through the channel on 14 April — eight days earlier than 2001 and more than two weeks sooner than 2000.  Water temperatures in the shallow creeks and coves zoomed into the mid-60s over the weekend and today reached the unbelievable reading of 72° Fahrenheit! Ring loud the bells — terrapins reign again.

So this morning, even though the air temperature had fallen to 49° overnight and the Cape was sopped in fog, we waded into ghostly Blackfish Creek to see if we could net the first capture of the season.  Not a turtle head could be seen snorkeling through the rip as we patrolled the shallows, tripping over mating pairs of horseshoe crabs who seem to confuse a rising sandbar for a high tide beach line.

Then, about 15 minutes before the tide turned, I spotted a slow-motion bullet propelled through the rapids.  Head down and using forelimbs to steer a beeline course through the rip and rear legs to power the ride, he zoomed right at me.  Like a goalie, I scooped him out of the water before he escaped into the deeper channel.

Terrapin 1196 is a seven-year-old male who hits the scales at 310 grams and measures 12.45 centimeters carapace length and 10.16 plastron.  He still had mud caked in the folds of his cowl and on the inside shell of his rear cavity.  A bit sluggish in the morning chill, he quickly became animated when heated up during processing.

Back to terrapin patrol this afternoon, I walked the creek banks south of Lieutenant Island where many terrapin brumate during the winter.  With a 12-foot dip net in hand, I scanned the water for turtles.  Focused on the murky bottom, I’m not ashamed to admit I nearly tripped over Terrapin 834.  She was basking under a heavy mat of Spartina patens on the east bank of Wrong Step Creek.  I would never have found her had she not hissed as my foot stomped into the muck a few inches from her hiding spot.  People wonder what I mean by “elusive turtles.”  I think she defines the category.  Find Waldo! . . . Yes, she is in the picture — in the center from right to left about a fifth of the way up from the bottom under the dried marsh grass.

Terrapin 834 was caught emerging from brumation in 2000 in the same creek system.  She was one of the first to emerge that year, too, only the date was 4 May rather than 16 April.  She weighed 1126 grams back then and 1152 grams today.  She’s also grown about a millimeter all around in the intervening two years to measure 18.6 cm carapace length and 16.8 cm plastron.  Last year her nesting site was identified when she was spotted on evening of 26 June at nearby Turtle Point.

You’ve got to admit, though, she looks a heckuva lot better today than she did when we spied her emerging from brumation in 2000.  And you wonder how come turtles always seem so young and with such perfect complexions.  It’s the mud.