Thursday, September 15, 2011

Creature Feature: Northern Diamondback Terrapin

The Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) is a very unique turtle.  Occupying primarily coastal habitats from Massachusetts all the way down South along the coastline through Texas this species has adapted well to survive in brackish estuaries, bays, and rivers.  There are seven subspecies of Diamondback terrapins, but here in the Northeast we have the Northern subspecies.  These turtles love to eat a variety of crustaceans and mollusks with their powerful jaws which have evolved to crush this type of hard shelled prey.  Females tend to be larger than males attaining a size of about nine inches in shell length.  These turtles typically nest in sandy habitat in the spring and their babies hatch mid to late summer.

In Maryland there are many projects underway to help protect the terrapins native to the Chesapeake Bay.  Many organizations spend a lot of time protecting nesting habitat by installing protective fences around nests to keep out predators like foxes and raccoons.  One of the biggest threats is not just the collecting by humans for consumption but the loss of habitat due to the disappearance of the islands in the bay as a result of sea level rise and powerful storms eroding away viable nesting habitat.  Many of the islands acted as a sanctuary for nesting turtles.  On the islands many animals  that predate turtle eggs are absent from these islands which greatly increases turtle hatch numbers.

One of the most important projects has been the recreation of these islands.  Poplar Island is one of the bigger projects which is restoring a lot of lost habitat.  For more information visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website which has more information on the project.

Lesser Known Fact:  Not only has the Terrapin been the University of Maryland's Mascot since 1933, it was also designated as the official state reptile of Maryland in 1994!  Maryland is one of 26 states to adopt an official state reptile.

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