Thursday, October 27
Remember Hurricane Matthew from a few a weeks ago? Well (as I’m sure you all are aware) the Georgia coast was hit pretty hard. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island had to evacuate many of their animals. Since Zoo Atlanta partners with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in helping to rear young diamondback terrapins, along with the Georgia Aquarium, we were able to help them out during their time of need.
In addition to the original 25 little baby (about the size of a half dollar) terrapins living in the Georgia Tidal Creek habitat in Scaly Slimy Spectacular, 40 more little babies joined the group. I ended up with 65 baby terrapins to take care of at once! It was a lot of work, but the extra turtles only stayed with us for a couple weeks until it was safe to go back home to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which thankfully was not damaged too badly by the storm.
Every Sunday morning, I actually climb into the habitat with the terrapins in order to get a headcount on them. I have to catch all of them individually so I can get a weekly weight of every single turtle. I find them by swimming around inside the habitat and looking in every nook and cranny. And because they are so small, some of them are really hard to find! Sometimes they will hide on the banks and burrow in the sand (they burrow in the wild in an effort of not becoming an easy snack for predators). The tops of their shells (carapace) all have unique numbers painted on them with fingernail polish so we can tell the individual turtles apart. This helps us to better monitor their individual weights and overall health. As you can imagine, this is a bigger process than their “regular” daily needs. But this is a lot of fun, and actually one of my favorite things I get to do here at the Zoo!
Diamondback terrapins are found only in brackish water, where coastal marshes meet the ocean. Here at the Zoo we do our best to mimic their natural habitat. The water in the habitat is tested to get an understanding of what the level of salinity is every week. If the salt level has dropped, I will add a few bags of salt to the water, to bring it back up to their turtley standards. By the way, this isn’t just table salt we add, but a specially formulated type of salt that is mostly used for reef aquariums.
Nesting female terrapins are often found hit by cars as they try to cross busy coastal roadways. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center does a lot of work in rehabilitation with gravid (that means carrying eggs) turtles. If they can’t save the mother terrapin, or if they find her deceased, sometimes they are still able to save the eggs and incubate them until they hatch. After the babies hatch, they are kept at the center under human care until they are large enough to be released into the wild. They bigger they are. the better chance of survival they have out in the world.
It is also a lot of fun to watch them eat (they get so excited over food). Here at the Zoo they are mostly fed shrimp, but they still get a variety of food items as well, such as worms, insects and aquatic turtle pellets. And speaking of food, would you believe these cute little terrapins were once thought of as a food source for people? Ever heard of turtle soup? They were over harvested in the past and were considered as a delicacy. Nowadays there is a lot of effort that goes into protecting diamondback terrapins throughout their range along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States.
The Georgia Tidal Creek is the last habitat on your left before you exit Scaly Slimy Spectacular. Remember to come by and check them out next time you visit the Zoo. The turtles might be a little hard to spot at first because they are so tiny right now, but once you do they are very fun to watch! They will be swimming around, basking on a log, or hanging out in the sand.
P.S. Did you know we have a tortoise friend in the Zoolection? Vote for Shuffles for President!
Keeper I, Herpetology