Diamondback Terrapins | by Yara Delgado …..
Last year on October 10, 2018, Hurricane Michael made its way through the Gulf of Mexico proving to be one of the most powerful hurricanes of the 2018 Season. Making landfall at Category 4, it left catastrophic damage from wind and storm surge specially in Panama City Beach, Mexico Beach and Cape San Blas areas. Although the storm did not hit the Tampa Bay area directly, we soon discovered that a total of 76 Diamondback Terrapin hatchlings had been washed up in a large seaweed mass on a beach in Hernando County. Owl’s Nest and Nature World Wildlife Rescue answered the call jointly. “It is amazing the willpower that these little ones had to hold on and ride out the storm!” -Kris Porter (Director of Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife)
Owl’s Nest took on the work of rehabilitating of 56 these babies while Nature World Wildlife cared for the other 20. It was best not to release them until all evidence of red tide was out of the Bay and winter was over. With the aid of The Wildlife Docs Veterinary Staff from Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, we were committed to keeping them safe until it was time to return them to the wild. Owl’s Nest is the partnering wildlife rehab with Jack Berlin’s Head Start Program for hatchling Diamondback Terrapins at the Upper Tampa Bay Park which coincidentally opened in the Fall of 2018. We invite you to visit the park and the environmental education exhibit located at the nature center to learn more about this species. Being able to view the turtles in their 450 square foot outdoor natural habitat is a rare treat.
This rescue means so much for the turtle community that we were later invited to join The Turtle Survival Alliance North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group. Prior to release, the FWC came by to take tissue samples for research, and the Turtle Survival Alliance put transponders on these brave turtles to be able to study their lives in more depth, and we feel so honored to be part of this research group! Please visit their website to see all the good that they do for turtles around the world.
And as if joining an incredible team of research wasn’t enough, we were also invited to join a conference that took place in February 2019, sharing the story of these adorable little Terrapins, it’s been an incredible experience! “This is so important for the species because they’re actually being studied to go on the threatened species list for the state,” said Porter.
I am very excited to share with you that the 56 Diamondback Terrapins from Hurricane Michael along with 16 additional rescues Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife had the privilege of partnering in their rehabilitation, were released at an undisclosed location in March 2019. They were big enough, healthy and more than ready to live a happy wildlife after 5 months of care. Thanks to Eric Munscher, director of the Turtle Survival Alliance North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group and ABC Action News Tampa for being part of the release! ABC Action News Coverage
Owl’s Nest is accustomed to caring for these amazing little turtles. While nothing will compare to the 56 hurricane babies from last year, we are always forming new relationships with professionals in order to save wildlife. We had a professional pool cleaner who found three diamondback terrapin hatchlings while servicing a pool, call on Owl’s Nest for assistance – all three were rescued, raised and successfully released. The crab trap community is also aware of the valuable work we are doing with these turtles and when fishermen found two adult diamondback terrapins in their crab traps, they also called on our team. They were taken to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay to be check out by the Wildlife Docs and then released in a mangrove bayou away from crab traps. We want to thank everyone that takes the time to do the right thing by calling a licensed rehabber whenever wildlife is concerned.
ABOUT DIAMONDBACK TERRAPINS
Diamondback terrapins are mostly carnivorous eating snails, clams, fish, worms and crabs but they also enjoy some marsh plants every now and then. Along the Atlantic Coast of the United States they like to live in and travel from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, all the way down to the Florida Keys, and on the west along the Gulf Coast to Texas.
The carapace of adult males can get to measure around 5 inches and females’ 9 inches. They’re considered medium-sized turtles. And it is actually the nest’s temperature what determines the gender of the diamondback terrapin, a higher temperature produces more females and a lower temperature produces more males. How interesting is that?
The diamondback terrapin is believed to be the only turtle in the world that lives exclusively in brackish water, which is basically a mixture of saltwater and freshwater, but can also be found in habitats like tidal marshes, estuaries and lagoons.
They can live up to 30 years in the wild, but truth is not many survive the first days after hatching. These babies are on their own since day one. After nesting, females return to the water and leave the eggs “safe”, usually in sandy beaches. Meaning that when they’re ready to come out of the eggs, there’s no one to teach them how to “turtle”, and they have a lot to figure out on their own.
Sadly, that’s not the only challenge this specie has to face during their lifetime. They are victims of commercial harvest and exportation, increased human activity on their habitats, incidental drowning on crab pots, and habitat loss. Urbanization and coastal developments are threatening their marshland and nesting habitat. Females are often killed by motor vehicles while trying to cross streets in search of nesting sites.
Please keep an eye for turtles when driving around town. If you see a turtle crossing the street, you can help it get to its destination safe and sounds. You can carefully walk it across the street towards the direction it is already going. Never turn it back in the direction where it’s coming from. You are not being helpful if you turn the turtle around, it will try to cross the street again because it is probably a female trying to find the perfect nesting site and she needs to keep exploring. Let’s help these mammas out of harm’s way!
I bet you didn’t know that most terrapins hibernate during the winter by burrowing into the mud of marshes. This is a common behavior especially in turtles that live in cold weather. But let’s be honest, who would think that turtles hibernate? Turtles are truly amazing.
If you happen to find any wildlife in trouble, please report it to Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife, a Federally and State Permitted Rehabilitation & Non-Profit Organization. The fastest way to reach us is by texting (813) 598-5926 and we will dispatch a volunteer as soon as possible.
There are several ways you can be a part of caring for our injured and orphaned wildlife. As a non-profit, monetary donations and supplies are always appreciated. 100% of all gifts go directly to animal care.
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