I have a special place in my heart for terrapins. There’s just something about their cute small faces and their sweet demeanor – it’s like they have yet to learn that humans are to be feared. True, once in a while they may try to bite a wayward finger if you aren’t paying attention. But you can’t really hold that against them – if you were temporarily snatched from home to be measured and tagged, you might think about doing the same.
Besides the occasional attempted bite, when we caught them they usually sought escape by ‘swimming’ through our hands with their cool webbed feet, their sharp nails digging into our skin with tenacity. And once in a great while, with the small prick of a needle in the behind, some males would have the opposite reaction: they would let out their flower-shaped penises from the safe hiding space in their tails to search for what they presumably thought must be some kind of mating attempt.
Terrapins are interesting in an ecological context, being the only turtle species in North America that lives exclusively in mangroves or coastal marshes. They are also interesting in a conservation context: they interact with crab fisheries along their range (they get too comfy in submerged crab traps and can’t find a way out, so they sadly drown) and also live on the coast, which means a lot of competition with us humans for that space – habitat loss or degradation is a principal concern for them.
One other interesting thing to me about terrapins is where I had to go to find them. I traveled deep into mangroves in Everglades National Park, where the edge of the Gulf of Mexico and the tip of the U.S. meet, so distant from major human influence that the lights of Miami were just a haze on the horizon amidst a Milky Way-filled sky. It was a place where the sea still shined with bioluminescence when our little skiff floated over its surface. A place where time took on a truly abstract meaning and our days were ruled by the height of the sun and the pull of the moon on the tides.
I went there, and I caught terrapins along with researchers who had been studying them for years. I wrote about the thrill of catching these small turtles, and about how terrapin blood holds one key to their conservation. Please read the article, published by Guru Magazine here: Hunting Terrapins.