The Diamondback Terrapin has been a national delicacy, a source of state taxes and a casualty of commercial development and victim of new predators, but now its prospects are improved by a UAB-based turtle hatchery that may accelerate the growth of the fledgling population.
In 2006, a UAB research team began its examination of conservation and recovery strategies for the Diamondback Terrapin in Alabama. After three years, biology professors Thane Wibbels, Ph.D., and Ken Marion, Ph.D., and doctoral student Andy Coleman concluded that the species was fighting for survival.
"This spring we began the captive rearing of the terrapin, opening up a hatchery at UAB," Coleman said. "With almost each weekly trip to Dauphin Island, we return to Birmingham with a new clutch of eggs. If we did not rescue them, raccoons would destroy as many as 90 percent of the eggs nesting naturally along the wetland beaches."
Commercial growth in the Dauphin Island area in recent decades has constricted the turtle population's habitat. New predators like raccoons and threats like crab traps also have been introduced into the environment. All of these factors have driven the animals to near-endangered species status, and losing the species could badly damage the local ecosystem by throwing the food chain out of whack. Terrapin are voracious snail eaters who use their strong jaws to break through snail shells.
"Our work along the Cedar Point marsh on Dauphin Island started with research into the threats posed by natural predators and man-made devices like crab traps, which can catch the turtles and lead to drowning," Wibbels said.
Wibbels said the early research efforts showed a population on the brink, a view confirmed in the 2004 Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resource's book Alabama Wildlife, in which the Diamondback terrapin was listed as a highest conservation concern.
Wibbels said the research quickly moved into its next phase: recovery of the terrapin population. Coleman, Wibbels and Marion identified strategies for decreasing predation and began field testing terrapin excluder devices (TEDs) on crab traps to protect the turtle population from becoming ensnared in the traps.
Coleman said increasing the turtle population is as important as reducing habitat threats. In the UAB hatchery, Diamondback Terrapin eggs are hatched in incubators, and the turtles are returned to Dauphin Island when they are large enough to avoid attacks by birds and raccoons.
"Their natural instincts are amazing," Wibbels said. "When we return the young terrapins to the Cedar Point marsh area, they immediately head to marshland and don't give the Gulf Coast a second look - it's just an amazing example of how their instincts are hard-wired for their particular habitat."
Heading into the early 1900s, Diamondback terrapin stew was considered a top U.S. delicacy. In 1881, the New York Times reported that demand for the stew was met by a Diamondback Terrapin farm on Dauphin Island's Cedar Point. The farm was reported to be the second largest in the country for raising the Diamondback Terrapin with as many as 25,000 terrapins calling the spot home at the operation's peak. Around this time, the farm annually shipped 10,000 terrapin from Alabama to the U.S. Northeast, selling a dozen terrapin for as much as $90.
Famed biologist Archie Carr named the Diamondback terrapin the most expensive turtle in the world, pound for pound, in his 1952 Handbook of Turtles.
"To tell you how historically important the species was to the state's economy, the state legislature actually enacted a terrapin sales tax in 1923 to generate revenue," Wibbels said. "This is why we've acted so decisively; we did not want to see a part of Alabama history lost."
Funding support for this research has been provided by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, State Wildlife Grants Program and Alabama Center for Estuarine Studies.
About the UAB Department of Biology
The UAB Department of Biology is a dynamic academic partnership that provides a broad-based graduate and undergraduate curriculum. Most members of the graduate faculty have research specialties in comparative biochemistry, physiology and eco-physiology of aquatic organisms. A second, important department research focus is environmental microbiology.
Andrew Hayenga | EurekAlert!
Global threat to primates concerns us all
19.01.2017 | Deutsches Primatenzentrum GmbH - Leibniz-Institut für Primatenforschung
Reducing household waste with less energy
18.01.2017 | FIZ Karlsruhe – Leibniz-Institut für Informationsinfrastruktur GmbH
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
20.01.2017 | Awards Funding
20.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.01.2017 | Life Sciences