Nesting by Diamondback Terrapins

Summer 2017
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Loggerhead turtle patrol members will be especially interested in the nesting of the Diamondback terrapins that begins about May.  The story is quite similar to the one we are familiar with for the Loggerheads.   Sparsely vegetated dunes and isolated marsh islands are favored as nesting sites.  Females generally emerge at high tide to dig a flask‑shaped nest with their hind legs.  The average clutch contains eight pinkish‑white leathery eggs, which require about fifty-five days of incubation.  Nest temperature during the middle trimester determines sex just as for marine turtles; warmer temperatures yield more females, cooler temperatures favor males. 

The hatchlings, each just the size of a twenty-five cent piece, emerge from the security of the nest to enter a marsh bristling with hungry predators.  This tiny terrapin hatchling, wandering off on its own, cannot locate the guideposts to successful living by trial and error.  Its world is not forgiving – one error is all that is allotted to each hatchling. 

How does it recognize friend from foe, or does it realize that it has been cast into a world of perpetual dangers – one lacking even the concept of friendship?  Does it have a built in guidance system just as we have found for its larger cousin, the marine turtle hatchling.  Or does it already recognize in some innate way the distinct landmarks of its tidal creek – from which it will never stray?

The uncertainty of where the terrapins spend their early years resembles the mystery that surrounds the first years in the lives of marine turtles.  The two and three year olds (less than 3 inches in length) are seldom found in the marsh.  It is thought that they may conceal themselves in the piles of dead spartina grass at the marsh edge.  The small grey terrapins would be perfectly camouflaged in the clumps of dead reeds in their mottled shades of gray.

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