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

A Box Turtle Named Desire — 05 June 2002

What does a turtle researcher do on days when 30-knot winds drive white-capped breakers into Wellfleet Bay?  Well, a sensible person settles down in front of a computer for some serious data analysis.  But whenís the last time you heard a field researcher described in the same universe as sensible?  Never.  So, this afternoon I dragged the kayak into foamy, frothing Chipmanís Cove, paddled an hour windward into roiling waves to reach the research area, and watched as terrapins disappeared in inches-deep water.  The only redeeming factor was the ride back to shore.  I hadnít realized that kayaks could literally fly.  With paddle extended chest high to catch the full force of the gale behind me, the boat ripped through wave crests at speeds approaching (and perhaps on occasion exceeding) reckless.  Who needs an amusement park when Nature provides such exciting adventures?

Saving the day, Liz Moon ó who arrived just yesterday for her annual visit to the Land of Ooze to cover the terrapin nesting season ó found a box turtle within a hundred feet of Connemara Cottage.  Dubbed Desire, she is a 20-something female measuring 13.7 centimeters carapace length and weighing 606 grams.  Bob Prescott, the director of Mass Audubonís Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, found her several years ago in the same general area and marked her #78.  Desire is quite aggressive for a box turtle.  She never retreated inside her shell and confronted us with the fearless tenacity of a snapping turtle.

As I inspected Desire, I realized I had seen these same general carapace patterns before.  Goia, a 16-to-18-year-old female, was a frequent visitor to Connemara Cottage during 1999 and 2000.  She measured 13.5 centimeters and weighed 450 grams.  On 7 September 2000, she was run over and killed about a quarter mile to the east.

Goia, the younger turtle, is on the left.  Desire is on the right.  Not a perfect match to be sure, but the similarities are impressive.  In the most recent issue (#5) of the Turtle and Tortoise Newletter, Don Zeiller, in an article entitled “Oh, Those Box Turtles,” notes observing two box turtles in his possession with similar markings, suggesting that these turtles may have a shared genetic lineage.  For Goia and Desire, too, this conclusion seems plausible.  Both turtles resided in a relatively isolated section of South Wellfleet and they shared the same geographic habitat.

Luckily, we had a digital image of now dead Goia with which to confirm our hazy and imperfect recollections.  Recently we have established a new protocol for box turtles, the same one weíve employed for terrapin research the last three years, of photographing and digitally cataloging the carapace and plastron of every observed box turtle within our research area.  Perhaps we can find some more matches to advance Mr. Zeillerís hypothesis.