Diamondback Terrapin

One of the students who came to the marsh today found a baby diamondback terrapin. The excitement among the students was quickly contagious.   Some of them had never held a turtle or turtle species before. The baby terrapin was quick to try and get away but everyone held on.

It was tucked in the peat along with the ribbed mussels, fiddler crab burrows, melampus snails, and spartina grass.  We put it back in the water after photos were taken.  The water is the safest place for it as they are easy pickings for seagulls and other birds looking for a quick snack.  We hope it makes it to maturity and adulthood.

Diamondback terrapins can only live in the brackish, mixture of salt and fresh water, that is found in a salt or tidal marsh.  The females make long journeys to lay their eggs.

The marsh where I docent the tours for local school-aged children and their parents and guardians is about 1/3 left of the original size that it once was.  Most of the marsh was taken for a nearby small airport.  The airport has it’s own politics involved.

Most people don’t realize that the females are the larger species of terrapins because they need the larger body to hold their eggs.  They breed with males near the airport and then must undertake a treacherous journey across to very busy roads and what is left of the marsh to lay their eggs in the sandy barrier beach that is next to the marsh.

Many are killed trying to cross one of the roads.  I found a smashed female with her eggs last year on one of them.  If the female makes it across, her eggs and the newborn hatchlings can be eaten by any number of predators including deer, fixes, birds and raccoons while incubating in the nest. Or they bake in the hot sun and pavement.

Their shells need to stay constantly moist.

If you see one, their best bet is to get into the water as quickly as possible.  They are great swimmers and swim long distances.

 

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