Terrapins in the Classroom

Special Opportunity

  • Duration

    Long Term

  • Grades

    3 - 12

  • Price


  • Where

    Your School or Location,

    In the Field


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

Each fall, hatchling terrapins are collected from Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay and provided to Maryland schools where students may care for, observe and learn from them throughout the year.

During the terrapin's stay—from late September until late April or early May—students collect growth data, observe behaviors, learn animal care techniques and research the natural history of the species. In Spring, the Aquarium offers the opportunity for some 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. When students wave goodbye to the terrapins, they better understand the direct connection between the health of the Chesapeake Bay and “their” terrapin. Our goal is to allow these little hatchlings to 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, a national authority on terrapins and a leading voice in the conservation of the species. Data from our program supports Dr. Roosenburg's work and helps to establish population-level impacts of head-start programs like Terrapins in the Classroom.

Program Requirements

In order to participate in Terrapins in the Classroom, teachers must:

  • Attend a mandatory training course in September prior to receiving their terrapin.
  • Commit to about one total hour each week for direct care of their terrapin, including daily feedings plus weekly measurements, water changes and tank cleaning.
  • Utilize your terrapin in classroom lessons at least four times 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 care (training and manual will be provided).
  • Agree to return the terrapin to the National Aquarium for a veterinary exam, including tagging with Dr. Willem Roosenburg on a designated date prior to its release in the spring and retrieve the terrapin when the exam is complete.
  • Involve your students in the terrapin's care and data collection, including regular weight and measurement recordings kept 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.

Applications to participate in the Terrapins in the Classroom program for the 2023-24 school year are now being accepted.

Frequently Asked Questions

While many participating teachers do teach science, classroom teachers of all disciplines are encouraged to apply, so long as their students are in grades 3 through 12 per the guidelines for handling hatchling terrapins within our Maryland Department of Natural Resources permits.

Teachers from schools throughout Maryland including public, private and charter schools, may apply. However, we cannot serve schools in Eastern Shore counties or Anne Arundel County public schools, since Maryland Environmental Service and Arlington Echo, respectively, offer similar terrapin programs in those areas.

The National Aquarium can only serve Maryland schools since our permits are provided through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

The National Aquarium provides all tanks and 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. Your expenses should total around $50 per year.

A how-to video on tank set-up and information on how to care for a terrapin throughout the school year are provided during the mandatory early-fall training session. Your Terrapins in the Classroom coordinator will also be available to answer questions and provide assistance as needed.

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.

While every effort is made to involve as many students as possible in the spring terrapin release, we cannot guarantee each school a release trip. Schools participating in a release field trip must provide their own buses to the Eastern Shore and may bring no more than 10 students on their trip due to the capacity of the boat needed to reach Poplar Island. However, each terrapin's release will be recorded, and video footage will be shared with classes that are not able to attend a trip.

Teachers wishing to include more students in a release trip may contact Phillips Wharf Environmental Center and/or the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum which are in close proximity to the release location and can often offer Chesapeake Bay-themed field trip opportunities.

All terrapins must be returned to Poplar Island at the conclusion of the annual program cycle each spring. Our permit through Maryland Department of Natural Resources mandates that the terrapins remain in classrooms only during the school year.

Teachers may elect to participate in the program for a maximum of three years. If a teacher changes schools within our participating counties, the terrapin may go to the new school pending principal approval. At the end of each school year, teachers may opt out of the program for the following year. After three consecutive years, participating teachers may elect to join the program waitlist for additional future years.

Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice

The National Aquarium is dedicated to creating an environment that is inclusive, equitable and accessible to people from all backgrounds. We cannot successfully change the way humanity cares for our ocean planet without connecting with and appreciating the broad diversity of identities, backgrounds, experiences and perspectives that make our community unique.

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