by Mary Reid Barrow
Welcome to the world, little turtle!
Unfortunately, this world can a dangerous place for this hatchling diamondback terrapin and its friends.
This little one was photographed by Jody Ullmann after it emerged recently from a nest under the Brock Environmental Center at Pleasure House Point. Pleasure House Point is a regular maternity ward for Virginia’s only salt marsh turtles!
On the one hand, the natural area is one of the city’s only large expanses without bulkheads where female diamondback terrapins can come ashore, dig their nests, and lay their eggs.
On the other hand, youngsters, no bigger than a 25-cent piece, face not only natural predators like hungry gulls, but also the heavy feet of joggers, hikers, and parents and their racing children not to mention the hunting-dog instincts of their pups.
The female terrapins that lumber ashore and painstakingly dig their nests are not immune to disturbance either. They can be scared back into the water by just the sight of a human or a dog, not to mention the raccoons and foxes lurking nearby, who search for tasty baby turtle eggs.
Diamondback terrapins, with their diamond-shaped scutes and stylish black and white skin, are truly unusual Virginia Beach critters. They are not sea turtles that live in the ocean nor freshwater turtles that live in ponds and inland waters.
They live and hunt for food in the brackish waters of the Lynnhaven River and they nest and lay their eggs primarily at Pleasure House Point.
Nesting season starts with hatchlings that winter over in their nests and then emerge, like our little friend above, and it won’t be over until fall. Before too long, the females will be coming ashore to lay their eggs and babies from those early nests will then begin to emerge in late summer and early fall.
Tell-tale signs that turtles are around, are little scritch-scratch trails in the sand left by the little ones’ feet and the leathery white remains of turtle eggs. Sometimes the egg pieces are from hatched eggs, but all too often, they are from a nest that was disrupted by a hungry critter.
If you happen to see a baby, don’t pick it up unless it is in danger. Then move it to the side of the trail under grassy cover. If you see a mom, back off, go the other way and don’t disturb her.
As we said, It’s a dangerous world out there, little turtle, and we have to do our best to protect you.