It’s July on Cape Cod. The hot sun hangs high upon the air, clouded by a layer of haze from the harsh humidity. The greenhead flies have finally erupted, and they swarm the banks of the Barnstable Great Marsh in search of unsuspecting victims.
But amidst all of this chaos, Diamondback Terrapins are taking advantage of the sweltering sunshine, as they emerge from the banks of the marsh in order to lay their nests among the towering dunes of Sandy Neck. Rarely seen, these turtles quickly disappear back into the grassy marsh, leaving nothing behind but a unique set of tracks that wind and weave across the dunes beyond the trail.
The Diamondback Terrapin is a threatened species in the state of Massachusetts. Sandy Neck is their northern-most range, and one of the last remaining strongholds for this species on Cape Cod. Terrapins are the only turtles in the world that live in brackish water; in estuaries where freshwater runoff from rivers and streams mix with the tidal flow of the oceans to form a diverse habitat rich in productivity.
These fascinating creatures will continue to nest until mid-July, laying between 10-20eggs at a time before departing back to their native marshlands until next summer. The warmth of the hot summer sun will help to incubate the eggs under the sand until they hatch in the fall, when they will have to make the treacherous journey back into the marsh as quarter-sized hatchlings.
So when the heat of the summer and the frustration of the greenheads seem to be getting the best of you – just remember that this weather is an important part of the beautiful changing seasons of Cape Cod. For without it, our threatened Terrapins, who have persevered for so long, despite habitat loss, hunting, shifting ecosystems, and depredation, might fade among the grains of sand that blow upon the dunes, and disappear to nothing but a long-forgotten story that flutters through the breeze.
So thank the hot and humid days, for they ensure the future generations of Terrapins an opportunity to hatch into this wonderful land that we call Sandy Neck for many years to come.
Barnstable Natural Resource Officer