Factors affecting temperature variation and habitat use in free-ranging diamondback terrapins

C. D. Akins, C. D. Ruder, S. J. Price, L. A. Harden, J. W. Gibbons, M. E. Dorcas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Measuring the thermal conditions of aquatic reptiles with temperature dataloggers is a cost-effective way to study their behavior and habitat use. Temperature dataloggers are a particularly useful and informative approach to studying organisms such as the estuarine diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) that inhabits a dynamic environment often inaccessible to researchers. We used carapace-mounted dataloggers to measure hourly carapace temperature (Tc) of free-ranging terrapins in South Carolina from October 2007 to 2008 to examine the effects of month, sex, creek site, and tide on Tc and to determine the effects of month, sex, and time of day on terrapin basking frequency. Simultaneous measurements of environmental temperatures (Te; shallow mud, deep mud, water) allowed us to make inferences about terrapin microhabitat use. Terrapin Tc differed significantly among months and creek and between sexes. Terrapin microhabitat use also varied monthly, with shallow mud temperature being the best predictor of Tc November-March and water temperature being the best predictor of Tc April-October. Terrapins basked most frequently in spring and fall and males basked more frequently than females. Our study contributes to a fuller understanding of terrapin thermal biology and provides support for using dataloggers to investigate behavior and habitat use of aquatic ectotherms inhabiting dynamic environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-69
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Thermal Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Annette Baker and Wyndham Vacation Rentals for arranging and providing lodging. Marilyn Blizard, Sophia McCallister, and Sidi Limehouse have been instrumental in facilitating our long-term terrapin research project on Kiawah Island and improving terrapin conservation measures and awareness. We also thank the students, technicians, research coordinators, and volunteers for assistance in the field and the UGA-SREL and Davidson College personnel who have helped sample and process terrapins over the years. In particular we thank Andrea Drayer, Jackie Guzy, Judy Greene, Kristen Cecala, Shannon Pittman, Tom Luhring, Tony Tucker, Cris Hagen, and J.D. Willson. We also thank the numerous Kiawah Island Nature Center Naturalists for their assistance, particularly Liz King, Jennifer Barbour, Nicholas Boehm, Mike Frees, and Jake Feary. Funding was provided by the University of Georgia, Davidson College Faculty Research Grants to MED, the Department of Biology at Davidson College , the Pittman Foundation , and EarthWatch Institute . Research was conducted under SCDNR Scientific Terrapin Collection Permit numbers SCI13-0100 and SCI11-0492 under the auspices of the Davidson College Animal Care and Use Committee.


  • Datalogger
  • Diamondback terrapin
  • Estuarine
  • Habitat use
  • Semi-aquatic turtle
  • Temperature

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Developmental Biology


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