Northern Diamondback Terrapin

(Malaclemys terrapin)

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Common Name: Northern Diamondback Terrapin

Scientific Name: Malaclemys terrapin

Reptiles Alive Name: Terrapin Station

Hisssstory: Unwanted Pet

RA Diet: Crickets, meal worms, and special terrapin pellets.

Natural Diet: Adult terrapins primarily eat mollusks and crustaceans, including snails, fiddler crabs, and mussels. They also eat blue crabs, green crabs, marine worms, fish, and carrion.

Range: Northern diamondbacks range from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Terrapins are found nearby in the Chesapeake Bay and the brackish bays near Ocean City MD and Chincoteague VA.

Habitat: Northern diamondback terrapins live in coastal salt marshes, estuaries, tidal creeks and ditches with brackish water (a mix of both salt and freshwater) which is bordered by spartina grass. They are the only turtle in the world that is specially adapted to spend its entire life in this type of water. One of the largest bodies of brackish water is less than 100 miles from Washington, DC, the Chesapeake Bay!

Size: The northern diamondback terrapin is a medium-sized turtle that varies in length from only 4 to 5.5” in males to 6 to 9” in females.

Lifespan: 25-30 years.

Reproduction: Adult terrapins mate in early spring. Females lay 8-12 eggs from early June into mid-July in sandy beaches and other upland gravel areas that are above the high tide line. The eggs hatch in 61-104 days. The sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the soil, the warmer the soil, the more females that are produced. This is known as temperature sex determination (TSD). Crocodilians also have TSD!

Conservation: Habitat loss, being drowned in crab traps, being hit by cars, development, and poaching all pose major threats to the diamond back terrapin. Artificial sea walls restrict their natural movement and roads and mosquito ditches have altered the tidal flow on our salt marshes. Females are drawn to road shoulders because they mimic natural nest sites and in turn many are hit-by-car and killed each year while attempting to nest.

Cool Facts: Terrapins are cold-blooded or ectothermic, but do not migrate to warmer climates in the winter. They hibernate during the winter by burying themselves at the bottom of or in the banks of creeks and ditches. They always have some mud covering them to act as insulation from the cold winter air.
The Maryland state reptile is the Northern Diamondback Terrapin and the University of Maryland’s mascot is Testudo the Terrapin!. Go Terps!

“Children were held spellbound despite the last day of school!” – Jo Ellen Frasch, Teacher at Oak Hill Elementary