Report a Sighting of a Northern Diamondback Terrapin
Please use this form (or the state's Rare Wildlife Sighting Report Form) to report the sighting of a Northern diamondback terrapin in New Jersey. We will use this important data to help conserve terrapins in New Jersey.
The northern diamondback terrapin is a medium-sized turtle that varies in length from only 4 to 5.5” in males to 6 to 9” in females. Terrapins have a gray, brown, or black carapace (back of shell) and a lighter plastron, which is a greenish-yellow. The skin is light to dark gray with black spots and other dark markings. Both sexes have a light colored upper mandible. They are named for their diamond shaped pattern on their carapace.
Northern diamondback terrapins exclusively inhabit coastal salt marshes, estuaries, tidal creeks and ditches with brackish water (a mix of both salt and freshwater) which is bordered by spartina grass. They are the only turtle in the world that is specially adapted to spend its entire life in this type of water. Studies have shown that terrapins exhibit a high level of site fidelity or they return to the site territory every year.
Females leave the protection of open water in search of nesting areas (a mixture of sand and gravel areas above the high tide line) where they lay their eggs. In many cases they must cross roads, highways and navigate around areas with bulkheading in order to deposit their eggs. They actively search for nesting sites from as early as late April into early July. Juveniles, males, and hatchlings are usually active in mid-April through August. They spend most of their time in water, but they are known to sometimes "bask" in the sun to raise their body temperature.
The data collected from this form will be used by CWF to identify potential road kill "hot spots" along the coast of New Jersey. These hot spots will be targeted and mapped by CWF biologists. We will contact and work with the local municipality and road management authority to address the problem and possible solutions, like having "Terrapin X-ING" signs installed, lowering of the posted speed limit, or the feasability of installing a short barrier fence to prevent terrapins from entering the roadway. We will summarize the data collected from this form in our annual newsletter. In 2010, we received only a couple sightings. One sighting reported dozens of female terrapins that were being hit-by-car while trying to cross Rt. 72 on Bonnet Island. We have contacted DOT and are trying to determine what if any conservation action would be best for this highway.
The sightings will also be submitted to the Endangered and Nongame Species Program for inclusion into Biotics, the state's rare wildlife database. Rare species data within the Biotics database plays a critical role in wildlife and habitat conservation within New Jersey. Biotics data is the foundation of the NJ DEP's Landscape Project, a GIS product that maps critical areas for imperiled species based upon species locations and land-use classifications. The resulting maps allow state, county, municipal, and private agencies to identify important wildlife habitats and protect them in a variety of ways. This information is used to regulate land-use within the state and assists in preserving endangered and threatened species habitat remaining in New Jersey. Besides Landscape Project mapping, Biotics data is used for a number of additional scientific and conservation efforts such as Critical Wildlife Habitat Mapping (another NJ DEP GIS product), environmental review, research (GIS modeling), status review (determining whether a non-listed species should become listed as endangered or threatened and vice versa), and it also assists biologists in targeting future survey efforts to new areas.
Detailed information regarding submittal of rare wildlife observation data as well as a link to the state's Rare Wildlife Sighting Report Form can be found here.
If you do not wish to fill out this form then you can submit a rare wildlife sighting form, which can be downloaded here.
Thank you for helping to protect terrapins in New Jersey!
Ben Wurst, Habitat Program Manager: Email
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