Waynesburg University’s Marine Biology Lab recently acquired a new long-term resident: a two-legged turtle, which students have dubbed “Mrs. Nubs.”
The 10-year-old female was rescued during the students’ trip to Jacques Cousteau National Estuary Research Reserve in New Jersey in June.
“Beginning in the summer of 2017, Waynesburg’s marine biology program has sent two students to do short internships with Project Terrapin and the Conserve Wildlife Foundation,” said Wayne Rossiter, assistant biology professor. “They stay at the Jacques Cousteau National Estuary Research Reserve and assist conservation efforts for the Northern Diamondback Terrapin, an estuarine marine turtle.”
Mrs. Nubs was deemed unable to survive in the wild at the time she was captured. So, she was brought back to Waynesburg, where she is recovering. Her enclosure is equipped with a 400-gallon tub and includes a soft-sand beach area, UV and sun lights and a killifish to keep her company.
Rossiter and his students believe she was hit by a boat propeller in mid-July, which is a common injury seen in terrapins. The animals like to spend time in inlets where boats frequently travel.
She can swim just fine with her two back legs, but Rossiter worries her front leg wounds will reopen if she walks too much on sand. He hopes the turtle can make a full recovery and eventually return to the wild.
“(We) need to make sure she won’t reopen her wounds on land,” he said.
While in the marine lab, Mrs. Nubs laid some eggs. The terrapin’s mating period peaks for two weeks and then sharply declines. Rossiter said she must’ve mated in mid-June.
In proper conditions, turtle hatchlings have a 50-50 chance of surviving, and Mrs. Nubs couldn’t properly bury her eggs, so Rossiter said he is “hopeful, but not overly optimistic.”
If any hatchlings survive incubation, they’re expected in early November.
Mrs. Nubs is the first of what Rossiter hopes to become a long list of rehabilitated terrapins to come through the lab. He plans to continue an ongoing rehabilitation program for other turtles his students collect on future trips to New Jersey.
“They’re really resilient animals,” Rossiter said.
During their two weeks in New Jersey, the students marked and tagged terrapins and released them where they caught them. They also worked on a long-term project of cataloging the turtles’ genetics to compare with those found in Asian markets, where they are commonly sold.
Terrapins are a threatened and protected species in New Jersey. The partnership between the university and the terrapin advocacy groups is one bred from necessity.
“These turtles have been in decline due to overdevelopment of their habitat and, in the mid-Atlantic, car traffic,” Rossiter said. “They are also sold in large numbers into Asian markets.”
Sophomore Aubrey Wingeart was one of the students who went on this year’s trip. The group caught 84 turtles in the first day alone and marked 700 total, which Rossiter said is more than usual.
“I learned a lot about conservation and being in the field,” she said.
Rossiter did his doctoral work in New Jersey and networked with a local teacher to bring the program to Waynesburg. He said each year he selects two students who show interest in the program. He’s never had an issue finding willing students to participate.
“I have more work than I have students to do it,” he said. “I can take more.”
Waynesburg University’s biology program has an average of 65 students each year, with 25 being marine biology students. The lab houses a variety of live marine species for the students to care for and observe.