Terrapin sightings up as temperatures soar

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OCEAN CITY – The turtle won the race.

For something so famous for being so slow, the female diamondback terrapin that laid eggs Thursday morning in a Merion Park yard moved more quickly than did the photographer’s finger on the shutter button of her camera.

Of the average 10 eggs a terrapin will lay in a clutch, only three were photographed being dropped into the hole she had dug in the dirt beneath the grass. The others were dropped so efficiently and transferred via rear flipper so rapidly that the act was quicker than the camera.

Following a few weeks of cool weather and decreased turtle sightings, terrapins are appearing again as temperatures soared Wednesday. The temperature in Ocean City was around 90, and turtles – last seen in large numbers over Memorial Day weekend when the temperature also was around 90 – returned to the roads of Cape May County.

“That’s keen observation,” said Dan McLaughlin, coordinator of research and conservation at the Wetlands Institute outside Stone Harbor, “but there is no scientific data” to prove the theory that a temperature of about 90 degrees triggers the turtles’ nesting instincts.

The theory is something the Wetlands program is researching, he said.

McLaughlin said that the earlier sightings of terrapins were within the parameters of the nesting season, which runs from late May to mid-July.

With warmer temperatures comes increased awareness that turtles are on the move. McLaughlin said it is advisable to help out turtles bumping against curbs by picking them up and putting them in the grass.

“Why wouldn’t you do that if you could?” he asked.

Also, he warned motorists to drive slowly in areas near marshes, where the diamondback terrapin is the only known turtle species to spend its entire life, and to exercise caution when exiting their vehicles to help turtles cross the road.

Always cross a turtle in the direction it is headed, always grasp the reptile firmly from the rear, and always place the turtle gently in the grass once on the other side of the road.

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A female diamondback terrapin lays eggs Thursday morning in a yard in the Merion Park section of Ocean City. A female diamondback terrapin lays eggs Thursday morning in a yard in the Merion Park section of Ocean City. A terrapin travels along a curb, looking for an opening. Experts advise helping the reptiles up over the curb in an attempt to prevent them from being killed by vehicles. A terrapin travels along a curb, looking for an opening. Experts advise helping the reptiles up over the curb in an attempt to prevent them from being killed by vehicles.


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