DIAMONDBACK TERRAPIN (Malaclemys terrapin)

WHAT IS A TERRAPIN?  The Diamondback Terrapin is a salt marsh turtle and lives only in brackish water.  It lives in the coastal waters from Massachusetts down to Florida, and around to Texas.  There are seven types of Diamondback Terrapin.  The turtle gets its name from the diamond-shaped designs on its shell.  The terrapin is a medium-sized turtle with a greenish-brown shell.  Some have white skin with dark spots, but others are a plain green or brown.  The girls are 6 to 9 inches long with short tails.  The boys are only 4 to 6 inches in length, with long tails.  Terrapins eat fish, mollusks, and insects.

WHY AREN’T THERE MANY TERRAPINS?  Until the 1930’s, these turtles were hunted almost to extinction.  Today, not many people eat them, but there are other dangers from people.  Sometimes, terrapins get caught in crab traps and drown.  It is also hard for terrapins to find places to lay their eggs.   They like to lay their eggs in holes on the sandy or muddy beach, but today, houses take up most of the beaches, leaving no room for terrapins.

WHAT ABOUT NESTS AND EGGS?  Terrapins are very shy.  They usually only come on land to lay their eggs.  You should NEVER bother a turtle laying eggs!  And you should be especially careful not to touch the eggs.  Turtle eggs aren’t like chicken eggs.  If you turn a turtle egg over, the baby turtle inside will probably suffocate and die.  So don’t touch the eggs!  If you are out in the river or marsh in a boat and you see a turtle nose sticking up from the water, it might be a terrapin.  Check it out, but don’t bother it!

RESOURCES:

Behler, John L. And F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992.
Conant, Roger and Joseph Williams. Reptiles and Amphibians. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.
"Diamondback Terrapin," Http: www.umbi.umd.edu/~panchara/turtle.html. (7/16/98).

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