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

The Adorable Couple — 22 May 2002

The morning produced a shutout in Blackfish Creek as winds continue to churn that estuary.  The afternoon, though, provided a brief window for Chipman’s Cove.  Wind direction backed from northwest to west and dropped for about two hours into the workable 10-knot range.  The Cape remains under perfectly clear skies with radiational cooling promising overnight temperatures in the 30s.  I hope our terrapins pull up an extra layer o f ooze tonight to get them through this unseasonable cold snap.

During that window of opportunity I managed to net a dozen turtles who were all pushed to the eastern shore by today’s westerly breeze.  Ten were mature females and two were males.  Of the recaptures from previous years, one was a Lieutenant Island nester off Black Duck Creek two estuaries to the south; one was a Great Island nester off Herring River to the far northwest; and three were Indian Neck nesters off Blackfish Creek one estuary south of the cove.

My favorite capture of the day took place at 4:00 p.m. as I paddled back to shore with a full basket of five terrapins already on board.  The last thing I needed was another turtle (or two) as the kayak already carried a heavy load.  There was no place in the Ark for another pair.  So, guess what I spotted: a male/female couple swimming in formation off my starboard quarter.  She glided gracefully through the water as he buzzed around behind her, both too absorbed in this pas de deux to notice as a net inched slowly and gently from behind to scoop the pair in a single swoop.

These two terrapins are the poster couple for gender dimorphism.  Male #1242 on the left is ~7 years old, measures 12.05 centimeters carapace length, and weighs a grand total of 260 grams.  His sweetheart on the other hand, #1222, is an ancient female measuring 20.20 centimeters long and tipping the scales at 1618 grams.  In fact, she gained 41 grams (over 15% of HIS body mass) in the last five days alone since she was last spotted on 16 May.  But as turtles say in the Land of Ooze, “Viva la difference!”