Maryland State Reptile
Diamondback Terrapin (common name)
Malaclemys terrapin (scientific name)
The diamondback terrapin, formerly valued for its meat, lives in brackish coastal waters from Cape Cod south to Florida and west to Texas, but in many areas its numbers are low. Few young turtles survive to maturity. Though humans no longer hunt them regularly, young turtles are a favorite food source for many animals. While diamondback terrapins can only live in moderately salty water, their appearance and behavior are more similar to freshwater turtles. This turtle was adopted as the official reptile of the state of Maryland in 1994 and as the official mascot of the University of Maryland in 1932.
ALSO KNOWN AS
The turtle’s name comes from its diamond-patterned shell, even though there is a great deal of variation in color and pattern. Generally, this shell ranges from brown to gray; its body might be brown, gray, yellow, or white. Each back plate has concentric rings and darker and lighter markings. The middle of each plate is sometimes a bit raised, and color differs from the plate’s overall shade.
The turtle has dark, irregular markings on its head and body. Its back legs are large, and its feet have webbed toes. This turtle has a wide, horny covering with upturned corners over the nose area. Specimens from regions that are consistently warmer in temperature tend to be larger than those from cooler, more northern areas. Females are also generally larger than males. Newly hatched turtles normally have knobs that run down the middles of their backs.
Up to 40 years.
Brackish waters including marshes, tidal creeks, bays, lagoons, and mangrove swamps.
Range: U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts from Massachusetts to Texas.
Conservation Status: This turtle was hunted to near extinction by the early 1900s. It is considered endangered in Rhode Island, threatened in Massachusetts, and a species of concern in Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Virginia. Populations are widespread and mostly healthy.
Diamondback terrapins mate early in springtime. Females build nests in sandy areas in early summer, and eggs hatch in early fall. Only between one and three percent of eggs laid produce offspring. A young turtle’s gender is determined by the temperature at which it was incubated. Hatchlings emerge small with soft shells, so they are a common food source for birds, fish, crabs, and mammals, which means that only a few survive to maturity. Most hatchlings make their way to the closest water source, but once in a while young turtles overwinter in the nest.
Males are mature when they are two to three years old, and females when they are six to seven. Terrapins prefer to be active in the daytime in March through December, but can be active all year in warm places. Those that hibernate burrow in mud to do so. In warm weather, these turtles like to bask and often do so on oyster bars exposed at low tide.
Mollusks, especially periwinkles, fiddler crabs, and some small fish.
Breeding interval: Annual
Hatching period: August-October
Average nest size: 5–12 eggs
Size at birth: 0.75–1.18 in (2–3 cm)
Click to enlarge an image
Raw Data Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Author: World Trade Press