The Red Bellied Cooters hatchlings arrived early this year. Last week our staff and volunteers traveled to Westboro MA to collect our 2012-2013 class of Red Bellied Cooter hatchlings from the field office of the Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program of the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife. We received 8 tiny hatchlings again this year all under 12 grams and about the size of a half dollar.
Every year the NMLC family looks forward to receiving these tiny turtles which just hatched a few weeks ago in nearby Plymouth County. They are part of the state’s head start program, which uses host facilities including NMLC to raise the hatchlings over the water months. Each year we host 8 hatchlings to rear over the winter and they will grow big and strong away from their predators and human threats until May. The hatchling tank is kept between 82 – 86 degrees
Fahrenheit and the turtles are given as much romaine and red leaf lettuce as they will eat. The baby fresh water turtles will be turned back over to state officials in May and released.
Northern Red Bellied Cooters are an endangered species and in the wild have about a 90% mortality rate in the first year of their lives. The head start program allows them to grow 3-4 times the size of a wild turtle in the same time period and therefore be less vulnerable to predators upon release in the spring. The National Marine Life Center has been participating in the program since 2006 and has successfully headstarted 75 hatchlings. All participating organizations will gather together in May for the release over the over 120 hatchlings being headstarted this year.
Each of the tiny turtles was examined by our vet Dr. C. Rogers Williams and given a clean bill of health. They were weighed, measured and photographed for our records. We will keep track of their growth by taking this data each week. Every
turtle has a unique pattern on it’s plastron (underside of the shell) which we use to tell them apart. Using these patterns we will identify the turtles each week
and take their weights and measurements to see how much they are growing and make sure they are on track for their May release date. The turtles must measure at least 85mm to be eligible for release.
Our staff and volunteers are excited to be a part of this program once again in 2012! The hatchlings have a long way to “grow” before May and we will keep you updated on their progress throughout the winter.