Post-emergence movements and habitat use by hatchling diamondback terrapins

Document Type


Date of Original Version



Diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) inhabit estuarine environments, and adult females typically nest in coastal uplands. Hatchlings emerging from nests overwinter on land and in coastal salt marshes, but the proportions that use each land cover type is not well documented. From 2019 to 2021, we tracked movements and habitat use of hatchlings post-emergence to determine the importance of upland overwintering sites to a terrapin population in Rhode Island, USA. In late summer and early fall, we attached a radio-transmitter and passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag (n = 46) or only a PIT tag (n = 132) to carapaces of hatchlings emerging from nests. From August to June, we tracked the hatchlings via radio-telemetry and a sweeping PIT tag antenna, successfully documenting the fates of 46.6% of them (n = 83). This group included 23 hatchlings that overwintered in the upland, 11 hatchlings that moved to the salt marsh in fall, 46 predated hatchlings, and 3 hatchlings dead from unknown causes. Upon emergence from their nests, 68% of hatchlings dispersed toward water and 32% of hatchlings dispersed away from water. In the uplands, hatchlings typically overwintered within about 2 m of habitat edges. Movement in the uplands peaked from late August to early October, then ceased until hatchlings re-emerged in late April through early June. To protect terrapins, we recommend limiting the use of heavy equipment (e.g., mowers, tillers) in vegetated uplands near nest sites, and scheduling vegetation management for colder months (Nov–Mar in New England, USA) when hatchlings are inactive.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Journal of Wildlife Management