Yesterday NMLC staff traveled to Westboro MA to collect our 2011-2012 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 which weigh between 8 and 10 grams apiece and are about the size of a half dollar. These little turtles just hatched a few weeks ago and are part of the state’s head start program, which allows facilities such as the NMLC to raise these turtles over the water months. We will be keeping the hatchlings in a nice 82 – 86 degree tank with as much romaine and red leaf lettuce as they will eat. The Cooters will be returned to the state 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 68 hatchlings. A total of 128 hatchling were collected this year to be distributed among program partners.
Each of the tiny turtles was examined by our vet Dr. C. Rogers Williams and given a clean bill of health. They were then weighed, measured and photographed for our records. Each turtle has a unique pattern on it’s plastron (underside of the shell) which we will 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. The have a long way to “grow”, but we are so happy to take on a new batch of Red Bellied Cooters here at the NMLC!