I understand that May is the month when giant sea turtles crawl up on the beaches in Florida, on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, to lay their eggs.
This is NOT one of the giant sea turtles. She’s several miles inland from the Gulf, and lives in fresh water, not salt. But she’s the largest turtle I’ve ever seen. I’d guess the shell is about a foot long from front to back, and adding the head would make it perhaps 14 inches in length. Just guessing. She probably qualifies as a North American terrapin. They live in fresh or brackish water.
She crawled from the swamp behind my apartment during the first week in May and climbed to the top of the steep hill to lay her eggs under the big tree just beyond my patio fence. She was digging a hole with her hind legs as I watched. Of course, I was careful not to approach or frighten her, but she seemed to take no notice of me.
I’m thinking this is one very old terrapin, perhaps ancient. She looks old, anyway. Her shell seems to be covered with who knows what, perhaps collected over a period of years. And something green is growing on the front edge of the shell and on top of her head. The green stuff appears to be right over where her eye would be, perhaps blocking her sight.
Life goes on.
I’ve spotted several similar turtles of various sizes sunning on a log in the water at the bottom of the hill this spring. But the turtles on the log startle at my slightest movement or sound from way up the hill, and slip quickly into the safety of the water. This one seemed intent only on digging a hole for her eggs, and not inclined to be aware or afraid of anything.
I wonder why she selected this spot? Is it possible she was born at this very place, many years ago?
The turtle was gone when I returned about an hour later. I hope her eggs are safely buried. In due time, if all goes according to plan, a bunch of little turtles will hatch and scurry down the hill to the relative safety of the swamp. I know they will be easy prey for the many ducks and other waterfowl in the neighborhood. I hope at least a few survive.
The largest turtle I ever saw in Maryland was perhaps half this size. Except for the terrapin statue in front of the library at the University of Maryland, where the athletic teams are nicknamed the Terps. I suspect there may be large terrapins I’ve never seen living in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
And that is everything I know about turtles. Everything.