The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), as part of its Year of the Turtle awareness campaign with Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC), reminds beachgoers and those participating in coastal water sports to be on the lookout for diamondback terrapins. During the summer months, terrapins can be highly active and readily seen along Connecticut's coastal coves, creeks, bays and salt marsh channels.
"Diamondback terrapins have some great ways for beating the summer heat," said Rick Jacobson, director of the DEEP Wildlife Division. "They'll bask in the sun before it gets too warm and then swim or float just below the surface of the water with only their heads and noses visible above the surface."
Diamondback terrapins are the only Connecticut turtles that live in the brackish water of salt marshes, estuaries and tidal creeks. They also can be spotted on mud flats and in shallow coves. Sandy dry dunes or upland areas are needed for nesting. The turtles feed on fish, marine snails, crabs, marine and tidal mollusks, carrion, clams and worms. Diamondback terrapins have a gray, light brown or black top shell (carapace) that is broad and patterned with concentric rings or ridges. The carapace is also wedge-shaped, and when viewed from above, the widest part is in the rear. The under shell (plastron) can range from yellowish to greenish gray, with or without bold, dark markings. The large feet are webbed, and the head and limbs may be spotted. Females are considerably bigger than males weighing an average of 1.5 pounds and measuring 6 to 9 inches in length. Male terrapins weigh an average of 0.5 pounds and are 4 to 5.5 inches long.
Female terrapins are not fully mature until they are 8 to 10 years old. Unlike other turtles, they may lay eggs twice a year, generally in June and July. "Terrapins will often seek unvegetated, sandy sites to nest to help decrease incubation time for the eggs," added Jenny Dickson, supervising wildlife biologist. "If you see a terrapin on a beach during July, it is important to try to avoid it. Females that are interrupted during nesting or egg-laying, will abort nesting efforts that may have taken them hours to start." Females generally exhibit nest site fidelity, returning to the same spot to nest from year to year.
What you can do to help
You can help terrapin conservation by making sure you properly dispose of any food scraps and leftovers you bring to the beach. Terrapin nests are at risk from predators attracted to beaches and coastal areas by human activities and litter.
Remember to remove used or excess fishing line and other plastic debris from coastal areas. Terrapins are air-breathers and can become trapped and drown in improperly discarded materials.
If you are a boater, navigate carefully in tidal creeks and estuaries where large numbers of terrapins may gather. Boaters also are reminded that it is a violation of the Federal Pollution Control Act to pump or discharge any kind of oil into navigable waters. Oil spills have the potential to devastate many coastal wildlife populations, including terrapins.
All turtles should stay in the wild. Not only is collecting a diamondback terrapin illegal in Connecticut, but it can hurt the population. A terrapin taken from the wild often becomes sick and dies. When a captive turtle is released, it is often killed by predators or run over by vehicles as it tries to return to its original home from unfamiliar surroundings.
Learn about diamondback terrapins and other turtles by visiting the DEEP's "Year of the Turtle" Web page at www.ct.gov/dep/yearofturtle, as well as subscribing to the Wildlife Division's Connecticut Wildlife magazine (www.ct.gov/dep/wildlifemagazine). You also can visit PARCs website at www.yearoftheturtle.org.