Diamondback terrapins are a widely distributed turtle species in North America. This state reptile of Maryland has acquired its name because of the diamond pattern on its carapace.
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Diamondback Terrapin Scientific Classification
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Size: Males diamondback terrapins are 5 inches (12.7 cm) long while females are 7.5 inches (19 cm).
Weight: Males weigh ½ lb (227 g) and females 1.5 lbs (680 g).
Color: The carapace has grayish to black with spots or black streaks on the gray skin. The upper lip is white.
Sexual Dimorphism: They are sexually the most dimorphic of all North American turtles, with the females being much larger than males.
Distribution & Subspecies
- Northern diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin) – Connecticut, Delaware, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia.
- Eastern Florida terrapin (M. t. Tequesta) – Florida.
- Mangrove terrapin (M. t. rhizophorarum) – Florida.
- Mississippi diamondback terrapin (M. t. pileata) – Alabama, Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Texas.
- Ornate diamondback terrapin (M. t. macrospilota) – Florida.
- Texas diamondback terrapin (M. t. littoralis) – Texas
- Carolina diamondback terrapin (M. t. centrata) – Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, a closely related subspecies is also found in Bermuda.
Diamondback terrapins prefer saltwater habitats, including lagoons, tidal flats, brackish channels, coastlines, estuarine regions. They live near reedy marshes in proximity to saltwater, but require fresh water for drinking.
Since the diamondback terrapin spends most of its time in the water, not much is known about its behavioral and personality traits.
- They are timid creatures who flee when approached, heading for the water.
- They have been observed walking or basking on mud flats and oyster beds.
- Diamondback terrapins are a social animal who like to bask in groups, often one on top of the other.
- It is believed that they hibernate most of the cold months.
- These cold-blooded reptiles breathe in air for their oxygen requirements since their respiratory system lack gills.
Mating & Reproduction
They mate during spring, laying 4-22 eggs by early summer which hatch by the end of the season or early fall after an incubation period of 60 to 85 days.
Males reach sexual maturity at 2.5 years of age while females around 6 years.
The diamondback terrapin lives for around 25-40 years in the wild.
They eat mollusks, crustaceans, snails, insects, fish, and carrion.
- Specially adapted ridges in their jaws crush the mollusks that they eat.
Foxes, raccoons, and rats commonly prey upon diamondback terrapins.
IUCN Conservation Status
IUCN categorizes diamondback terrapins as ‘Near Threatened’. Its population numbers have been waning because of habitat destruction, road deaths and getting caught and drowning in crab traps.
Diamond Terrapin as pets
Though not illegal, it is not advisable to get a diamondback terrapin as a pet because of its near threatened status. If you do have this turtle as a pet, ensure it is given a sufficiently large tank of saline water with the right temperature to live in. If it develops shell rot, immediate treatment should be arranged to prevent the rot from spreading throughout the plastron.
- Female diamondback terrapins have been seen mating with multiple males, storing the sperm for years, hence often producing a clutch of eggs that have different fathers.
- They were considered a delicacy, especially a turtle soup, so much so that they were driven to the point of extinction. This practice has been stopped since.
- The University of Maryland, College Park has used the diamondback terrapin as their official name for the athletic teams, the Maryland Terrapins, also, their mascot, Testudo, is also a diamondback. The teams are known in short as ‘The Terps’.
- They are the only turtle to live in brackish water.
- The name terrapin, derived from the word “torope”, was used by the European settlers of North America to describe these brackish water species.