In Search of Diamondback Terrapins
July 3, 2013

The title of this article sounds like an adventure movie, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s the name of a program held at Sandy Neck Beach Park in Cape Cod during the summer to look for the rare turtles that lay their eggs in the dunes there.

Sandy Neck is a gorgeous six-mile-long barrier beach in Barnstable County, which boasts sand dunes, historic dune shacks, maritime forests, freshwater wetland areas, vernal pools, and the salt marsh. There’s a network of trails, which can be accessed either from the beach or from near the gatehouse at the entrance. It’s a wonderful place to explore with kids. Amenities include a shaded snack bar with picnic tables, an indoor changing area, outdoor showers, and even a small enclosed sand play area stocked with toys.

Diamondback terrapins live in Barnstable’s Great Marsh, one of the richest biological habitats on Cape Cod. The 4- to 8-inch turtle has been extensively studied at this, the northern extent of its range. They only venture on land to lay their eggs. Once a year, the turtles climb up the steep dunes to lay 5 to 12 eggs. In the fall, the young hatch (they are just the size of a quarter!) and make the perilous journey back to the salt marsh.

An upcoming program can offer more insight about the turtles, as well as about ospreys, piping plovers, and other wildlife on Sandy Neck and the Cape. On Wednesday, July 10, join the Sandy Neck manager and a Mass Audubon expert to search for signs of nests and tracks of the amazing turtles and learn about a head start program to help the tiny terrapins. Call 508-362-7475 or visit the website to register in advance. The program runs from 10 a.m. to noon.

In addition, an ongoing program is held every Monday (from 9-11:15 a.m.) through September 9, where visitors walk along the salt marsh, dunes and beach seeking signs of wildlife from wading shorebirds to mammal tracks to swooping swallows with a Mass Audubon guide.

These programs, as well as others offered throughout the year, are a great introduction to kids about our fragile ecosystem. And besides that, kids love the adventure of looking for the tiny turtles.

Good to know: The parking lot is capped at 200 cars, so get there early to get a space during peak times. Weekday parking is $15; weekend and holiday parking is $20. Bring a pair of water shoes or sandals because the beach is rocky in places.


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Make a simple bug cage by washing out an empty plastic peanut butter jar and poking holes in the lid (or use plastic strawberry or salad containers). Invite some insects inside for observation.

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