Diamondback Terrapin

Terrapins in the Classroom

The National Aquarium's Terrapins in the Classroom program brings Maryland students face to face with the state reptile, the diamondback terrapin.

Hatchling terrapins are collected from Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay and provided to schools throughout Maryland for students to observe and study throughout the year.

During the turtle's stay, students collect growth data, observe behaviors, learn animal care techniques and research the natural history of the species. At the end of the school year, the Aquarium offers the opportunity for students to take a field trip to Poplar Island to release the terrapins back into their natural habitat.

The combination of scientific application, hands-on involvement, and emotional attachment to the terrapins creates an unprecedented opportunity to inspire a meaningful connection with the Chesapeake Bay and its inhabitants. As students wave goodbye to the terrapins, they begin to understand the direct impact the health of the Chesapeake Bay will have on the animal. We hope these little hatchlings spark a lifelong sense of environmental stewardship and respect for the natural world.

The program uses ongoing research conducted by Dr. Willem Roosenburg, associate professor of biology at Ohio University. Dr. Roosenburg is widely known as a national authority on terrapins, and is a leading voice in the conservation of the species.

We are currently accepting applications for the Terrapins in the Classroom program for the 2019–2020 school year. Please contact Marcie Orenstein at schoolprograms@aqua.org if you have any questions.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the goals of the Terrapins in the Classroom program?

The Terrapins in the Classroom program is meant to inspire a meaningful connection for students to the Chesapeake Bay through hands-on involvement and the emotional attachment the students create with the terrapins. By understanding the direct impact the health of the Chesapeake Bay will have on the animal, we hope these little hatchlings spark a lifelong sense of environmental stewardship and respect for the natural world. We also partner with Dr. Willem Roosenburg of Ohio University, and the data our head-start program provides helps him understand population level impact of head-starting as a conservation tool.

Do I have to be a science teacher to participate?

Absolutely not! While many of the teachers who choose to participate teach science, we encourage teachers from all disciplines to apply.

Can all grades and school types participate in the program?

Your students must be in 3rd-12th grade to participate, since they will be handling hatchling terrapins frequently and it is a condition of our MD-DNR permits. All schools throughout the state of Maryland including public, private and charter schools may apply. We don't, however, serve schools in Eastern Shore counties or Anne Arundel County public schools, since Maryland Environmental Service and Arlington Echo respectively offer schools in those areas opportunities to participate in similar terrapin programs.

If I don't teach in the state of Maryland, can I still be a part of the program?

Unfortunately, we can only serve Maryland schools since our permits are provided through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Will I have to purchase my own tank supplies?

The National Aquarium provides all tank supplies at the beginning of the school year. Throughout the year, you will be responsible for purchasing additional terrapin food and replacement filter cartridges in addition to replacing any broken supplies. In total, your expenses should total around $50.

Can I still participate if I have never maintained an aquarium tank before?

Yes! A how-to video on tank set-up and information on how to care for a terrapin throughout the school year are provided during a training session in early fall when you'll pick up your terrapin hatchling. The Terrapins in the Classroom coordinator is also always available to answer questions and provide assistance if you need it.

If I have other animals in my classroom already, can I still raise a terrapin?

In accordance with the permits from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the terrapin must be kept in a classroom that is not currently housing any other reptiles or amphibians. Other animals that are not reptiles or amphibians may be in the classroom with the terrapin.

Does this program last the entire school year?

Teachers receive terrapins between late September and mid-October, and the terrapins are returned to their natural habitat, the Chesapeake Bay, in late April or May.

What are the requirements of the program throughout the school year?

The following are requirements of the program:

  • Attend a mandatory training course in September prior to receiving the terrapin.
  • Utilize the terrapin at least four times in lessons throughout the school year and submit proof of those lessons to the program coordinator.
  • Maintain a safe and healthy environment for the terrapin, including regular tank maintenance, feeding and data collection (training and manual will be provided).
  • Agree to return the terrapin on the assigned date in the spring for a physical exam from National Aquarium veterinary staff and tagging with Dr. Willem Roosenburg. After the exam is complete, teachers must return to the Aquarium to collect the terrapin.
  • Involve the students in the care and data collection as much as possible.
  • Record the terrapin's weight and measurements each month in a shared Monthly Growth Data Sheet.
  • Coordinate care for the terrapin during holiday breaks and school closures, such as snow emergencies. The terrapins cannot go more than three days without appropriate care.

What is the time commitment for this program throughout the school year?

Terrapins must be fed daily and weighed and measured weekly. Weekly tank cleaning and water changes are also required. In total, approximately one hour per week is needed to complete these tasks. Teachers must also attend a mandatory training session in the fall and drop their terrapin off and pick them up from the National Aquarium in the spring when they get tagged prior to release.

Can all students in the program attend a field trip to release their terrapins in the spring?

While we make every effort to involve as many students as possible in the release of their terrapins, due to the number of release trips available, each school is not guaranteed a trip. Schools must also provide their own buses to the Eastern Shore. Each school is only allowed to bring 10 students on a release trip due to the capacity of the boat needed to reach Poplar Island, where our terrapins are returned to their wetland habitat. That being said, Phillips Wharf Environmental Center and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum are in close proximity to the release trip location and can often offer Chesapeake Bay-themed field trip opportunities for students not going out to Poplar Island. The program coordinator will record the releases and send them to schools that are not able to attend a trip.

Can I keep the terrapin at the end of the school year?

All terrapins must be returned to the place where they hatched in the spring. Our permit through MD-DNR mandates that the terrapins only remain in classrooms during the school year.

How long can I continue to be a part of the Terrapins in the Classroom program?

Teachers can elect to participate in the program for a maximum of three years. If a teacher changes schools, the terrapin may go to the new school pending principal approval. At the end of each school year, teachers always have the choice to opt out of the program.

During the 2018–19 school year, 10 Maryland Subaru retailers provided their support to allow local schools to participate in the National Aquarium's Terrapins in the Classroom program, which brings the state's reptile directly into classrooms to create meaningful connections between students and the Chesapeake Bay.

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