Post-emergence dispersal behavior of hatchling turtles has been investigated in several species, and a variety of species-specific orientation patterns have been reported. In the current study, we examined the orientation and dispersal behavior of hatchling, post-hatchling, and yearling Malaclemys terrapin pileata (Mississippi Diamond-backed Terrapin) by utilizing an orientation arena on two natural nesting beaches. Each age group displayed strong orientation and dispersal towards high-marsh vegetation instead of open water. The results suggest an innate behavior in young Diamond-backed Terrapins in which they orient from open beach areas toward vegetated marsh areas. The results also stress the importance of having healthy marsh habitat adjacent to nesting areas to provide critical habitat for these vulnerable life-history stages of Diamond-backed Terrapins.
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Vol. 13 • No. 3