Research - Terrapin Health Assessments

In addition to abundance and demographic structure, awareness of the health of populations is also important; after all, a large population comprised of mostly sick individuals is still a problematic scenario. Similar to humans, much can be learned about diamondback terrapin by analyzing blood and tissue samples; however, collecting blood samples from a diamondback terrapin is quite challenging. As such, very few research programs actively assess clinical health parameters. However, one area of clinical research that has been conducted in South Carolina is the assessment of mercury contamination in diamondback terrapins.204748 These studies found that mercury concentration is typically higher in larger females than males, and geographically mercury concentration is indicative of local mercury inputs (mostly through atmospheric deposition), which in turn makes terrapins a good sentinel species for testing (via easily obtainable shell scutes) mercury levels at various locations. Although the harvest of diamondback terrapins for consumption is prohibited in South Carolina, these studies have great potential for assessing human health impacts because diamondback terrapins live in areas where fish and shellfish are harvested for human consumption.

Most diamondback terrapins captured in South Carolina visibly appear to be healthy; however, about 10% of diamondback terrapins captured near Kiawah49 and in the Ashley River50 exhibit physical injuries to the shell, flippers, and/or head. Some of these injuries can be attributed to natural predators, such as conical holes consistent with the spacing of alligator teeth, while boat strikes are implicated in other injuries. When terrapins with severe injuries are encountered, it is best to transport the animal to a veterinarian who can assess whether the injury can be treated or if euthanasia is the more humane solution. In 2016, we hope to activate a statewide response network to enable concerned citizens to help wounded diamondback terrapins receive professional care in an efficient manner.