Jade (pictured below) and Jasper (on the right) are our newest residents here at Volunteers for Wildlife! They are a unique species of turtle called Diamondback Terrapins, named after the distinct markings on their carapace (top shell). These terrapins are the only native turtles in the United States that live in the brackish water found in estuaries, salt marshes and tidal creeks. They can tolerate a full range of aquatic environments, from fresh water found in rivers to the full salinity found in the open ocean and shores.
Diamondback Terrapins range from the coasts of Maine down to Florida and parts of the Gulf of Mexico. Their endangered status varies from across their range; most states list them as "Species of Concern". In the early 1900s, diamondbacks were actually considered to be a delicious treat and many were killed for food, severely decimating their population. Today they are more threatened by habitat destruction and potential boat strikes. In addition, crab pots pose a large threat to Diamondback terrapins as they often get caught in these pots and drown. Some states now require special devices that prevent this, but New York is not yet one of them. Diamondback terrapins have yet to make a comeback in population numbers despite efforts from conservation groups across the coasts.
Diamondback Terrapins feed on marine invertebrates, including mussels, crabs, shrimps and clams. Here at our Education center we try to mimic this diet, feeding our terrapins a variety of marine invertebrates although they have a particular affinity for clam pieces. Diamondback terrapins use their jaws to hold a piece of clam, while pushing it away with the front feet. This allows the terrapins to tear food into manageable bites!
Jade and Jasper are Diamondback Terrapins who were raised illegally as pets for the first five years of their lives. They came to our center this past summer, and became an immediate volunteer favorite. Because they were raised by humans, they have no natural fear and look to us for food. They enjoy following people as they pass their tanks and do not mind being handled! As such, they are not releasable to the wild, but will serve as excellent ambassadors of their species to go out on our education programs. Diamondbacks can live up to 40 years old, so hopefully Jade and Jasper will be here for years to come!