Catching Up With An Old Friend

On June 29, 2016, I rescued a diamondback terrapin that had been hit by a car during a nesting run on Lieutenant Island in Wellfleet. Most of the time that would have been the end of her story. Most turtles that are hit by cars die and the only happy ending is when any still viable eggs can be harvested and placed in a nest. Losing a breeding adult is especially sad because the species is considered threatened in Massachusetts.

But this turtle had a much different story. We not only managed to hatch and release five of her progeny, but we saved the adult turtle, too! All with the help of Tufts Veterinary School and Wellfleet Bay volunteers and staff.

Female diamondback terrapin hit by a car on Wellfleet’s Lieutenant Island in June 2016. (Photo by Karen Strauss)

The last time I saw this turtle was in mid-September 2016 as I released her into the water at the Lt. Island bridge and watched her swim away. She had a large crack running the length of her carapace that was held together with a small piece of steel wire and I worried about her survival. 

A steel wire was used to hold the cracked carapace together so the shell could start to heal.

Over the next several summers I kept watch, hoping to encounter her on a nesting run, but she was nowhere to be found. 

And then on June 24, I read an email from my fellow volunteer Heather Pilchard who runs the Monday night Lieutenant Island nesting shift. At Turtle Point they had watched a nesting turtle that had a big crack down her carapace. 

This turtle shows that rehabbing an injured diamondback terrapin pays off! (Photo by Nancy Rabke)

The details were scarce and the email didn’t include a photo, but it immediately felt like it had to be my old friend. How many turtles have giant cracks down their backs, anyway? I emailed back and asked Heather if there was a wire or holes in the marginal scutes where a wire might have been. Sure enough, the wire was still there, holding the turtle together.

The car injury to the terrapin’s shell appears to be healing nicely. (Photo by Nancy Rabke)

Almost exactly three years after she was hit by a car, this turtle was nesting! Most of the time when you rescue and rehab wildlife, you never know what happens to them after they are released. To know that this turtle not only survived but has thrived is a gift and has given me great joy. I will continue to look for her every summer that I am back at Lieutenant Island helping this beautiful species survive.

This post was contributed by diamondback terrapin volunteer Karen Strauss.

Karen Strauss releases the rehabbed terrapin in September of 2016 at Lieutenant Island Bridge.

5 thoughts on “Catching Up With An Old Friend

  1. Diane Silverstein

    What an awesome and happy tale! Hi Karen, Nancy, and Heather! You all are amazing people and volunteers!! It was a privilege to work with you in the past, and the turtles are very lucky you’re still out there looking after them!👍❣🐢

  2. Ronald S. Kielb Jr.

    Such an incredibly rare opportunity and blessing! I always loved LI and stories like these make it even more special! 😉

  3. Peggy S

    What a great story, and what a happy ending. I’m so Karen was “rewarded” for her hundreds (thousands?) of hours as a terrapin volunteer by learning the outcome for this turtle and being reunited with her.

  4. Alex Dohan

    What a great story! Turtles – any kind – are my favorite reptile, and diamondbacks are so beautiful.


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