21 August 2008

Hatchling Bite!

I took photos last night at a hatching nest. Since we only use red lights around hatchlings at night, the pics are not the best. Maybe I'll buy an infrared camera soon...

We screen all of our nests from dusk to dawn around the time we start hearing hatchlings scratching their way to the top. The screens help keep the hatchlings from scattering in the dunes, and usually prevent ghost crabs, night herons and other predators from snatching the young.

Having the screens makes it easy to see when, and to what direction, hatchlings may be disorienting as well...

A lot of hatchlings last night were unable to get out of the egg chamber, which is a little odd. The walls were steep, and it was very deep. What happened to all the sand that should have been over the nest? Sometimes, these things happen, but it makes the hatchlings sitting ducks for predators if we are not there to help.

The turtles had other problems last night as well. Three ghost crabs dug at angles under the screens, straight into the egg chamber. One tiny hatchling was hanging out about a foot west of the screen, though there was no tiny turtle crawl, just a ghost crab track with a drag in the middle.

The hatchling was on his/her back, actively fighting a ghost crab. I bent down to pick him/her up, and carried it to the gulf. As soon as I had it in my hands, the tiny loggerhead (Caretta caretta) bit me! It just felt like a little tickle on my fingertip, but still, I was shocked! I've been helping hatchlings find their way to the sea for many, many years, and this was a first...

I was pretty happy with the little dude though -- that bite told me the turtle had a fighting spirit. Once near the Gulf of Mexico, the turtle booked for the sea, escaping the ghost crabs and green and gray clad humans that scared him so much on the beach.

A few hours later, 45 more hatchlings joined the fray, and needed an escort from the relocated nest to the Gulf shore. This particular nest was north of the road, so they really did need a boost.

I'd forgotten the cooler back in the POD, and all I had was my gear bag -- a reusable Publix grocery bag. I wonder if they'd be willing to sponsor our turtle project -- that's pretty good PR from the little hathchlings! The hatchlings could self-release from the bag, which is bad if you leave it unattended near ghost crab holes, but good for a more natural nesting experience for the critters.

They crawled out in ones and twos and headed for the Gulf. All were safe and sound (I hope), swimming in the warm sea half an hour later. Hope to see them back in 25 years or so!

1 comment:

Klaus said...

Hi Kirsten!
Thoroughly enjoyed browsing through your blog! Great job that you do (and have ;)).
I will have to make sure to come back!
Cheers, Klaus

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