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Diamondback Terrapin Turtle

Diamondback Terrapin Turtle - Information on the Facts, Habitat, Diet and Lifespan of Diamondback Terrapins

In 1994, the diamondback terrapin turtle, scientifically termed as Malaclemys terrapin, was designated as the official reptile of Maryland, United States.

It is also University of Maryland’s official mascot. The word ‘terrapin’ in its name is derived from the word ‘torope’, which is an Algonquian Indian word.


Diamondback Terrapin Turtle: Information

The diamondback terrapin, as its name suggests, has diamond shaped circular patterns on each scute of its carapace. The upper shell in itself is usually black or brown in color, while the plastron (lower portion) is normally yellow or green. It has an otherwise whitish skin that bears black spots or blotches.

Its mouth has a white patch on it, akin to a milk moustache. In terms of size, males are smaller at only about 4 to 6 inches, while females grow to 9 inches.

Gender differences include:

• Males are larger
• Males have thicker and longer tails

In the 1700s to 1800s, the population of diamondback terrapin turtles was almost decimated. This was because the meat of the terrapin was considered a delicacy, eaten as terrapin soup. Although new laws and legislation have allowed for the repopulation of this turtle, even today, it faces a wide variety of threats like limited habitat, presence of vehicular traffic that runs over turtles attempting to cross roads in search of a place to lay eggs, etc.

It is hoped that the numbers will improve, but it is uncertain as to whether they will ever be as populated as they were before the 1700s.

Diamondback Terrapin Turtle: Facts

Here are some interesting facts about this turtle:

• It is the only turtle in North America that prefers brackish waters.

• Females are believed to lay about four to fifteen eggs in a hole in the ground and cover the nest with mud using their hind legs, without looking back.

• Gender is determined based on temperature. Males are born in cooler nests, while a warmer nest results in females.

Diamondback Terrapin Turtle: Habitat

Diamondback terrapins can be found along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, from Cape Cod to Texas. As mentioned earlier, these are the only turtles that live in brackish waters. You can find them in estuaries, salt marshes, bays, coves, and tidal creeks.

Marshes that are abundant in Spartina grass are preferred over those where bull rushes grow. For nesting, these turtles prefer sunny and sandy areas; beachfronts make for an ideal location.

While it is possible to keep captive turtles in freshwater tanks, you should never bring one caught from the wild and place it in a freshwater tank. Such turtles should be slowly weaned off salt water and introduced to freshwater.

Here are some tips from diamondback terrapin turtle care

• Keep the water clean.
• Alkaline water is better.
• Allow the turtle to drink freshwater every week.
• Size of the tank should be 10 gallons for every inch of the turtle. The bigger the tank, the better it is.
• Provide a dry area for basking that has a heating lamp over it.
• A UVB lamp is necessary.

Diamondback Terrapin Turtle: Diet

In the wild, diamondback terrapins eat snails, mussels, crabs, as well as aquatic marsh plants. They may also eat fish and marine worms.  

In captivity, you should provide your turtle with a varied and well-balanced diet. Turtle food for a diamondback terrapin turtle could include:

• Live fish such as minnows and rosy reds
• Commercially available pellets
• Shrimp, salmon, snails, clams, etc.

Diamondback Terrapin Turtle: Lifespan

While it is not known for sure, diamondback turtles are said to live for 20 to 40 years. Mating takes place in summer between March and May, and the females then look for sandy places to lay their eggs. Baby diamondback terrapins are born 60 to 120 days later. While males reach sexual maturity around 5 to 7 years, females begin reproducing at around 8 to 13 years of age.


  Submitted on May 9, 2012  

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