Malaclemys terrapin

(Diamondback terrapin)

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Description: Malaclemys terrapin is most known for the deep growth rings present on their scutes. It has a brown to black carapace and a yellow to brown plastron. Its skin color is usually gray, peppered with black spots. In length, male terrapins average 10.2 cm - 13.8 cm and have a longer and thicker tail than the females. The female terrapin tends to be larger, 15.2 cm - 23.8 cm in length.
Habitat: Malaclemys terrapin is the only North American terrapin native to brackish coastal waters. They live in salt-marsh estuaries, tidal flats, and lagoons behind barrier beaches.  It is mostly aquatic, only seen out of the water for an extended period of time when nesting.
Feeding Habits: Malaclemys terrapins are carnivorous whose eating preferences include gastropods, small fish, worms, bivalves, and various crustaceans.
Breeding: The diamondback terrapin begins nesting May and continues until late July. The female terrapin comes ashore and lays anywhere from 4-18 eggs (an average of 11). The eggs are a pale pink, leathery, and thin-shelled. Nests are 12.5 cm - 15 cm cavities dug at the sandy edges of marshes and dunes. The nest is allowed to incubate in the sand without any further parental care. After 60-120 days, hatchling terrapins emerge and head toward the nearest body of water.
Range: Cape Cod, MA to Texas along the Atlantic and gulf coasts

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Taxonomic History: The diamondback terrapin has been given different names by different authors who have found the species in different localities. Schoepff identified the first diamondback terrapin and named it Testudo terrapin in 1793. Following is a summary of the names that came afterwards with their correspoding dates and authors.

            Testudo concentrica, Shaw, 1802
            Testudo ocellata, Link, 1807
            Testudo concentrata, Kuhl, 1820
            Testudo concentrica polita, Gray, 1831
            Emys macrocephalus, Gray, 1844
            Malaclemys tuberculifera, Gray, 1844
            Malacoclemmys terrapen, Boulenger, 1889
            Malaclemys terrapin, Bangs, 1896
            Malaclemys terrapin terrapin, Lindholm, 1929

Conservation Information: During the late 1800's through the late 1920's, the diamondback terrapin populations were greatly depleted due to the high demand for terrapin meat in the gourmet food industry. Several states acted to protect them, and their numbers soon recovered in the wild. At this time, one of the major threats to the diamondback terrapin is the incedental killing by crab traps. In addition to this, habitat loss continues to be a major concern. Other potential threats include motor boats, road mortality, and predation by raccoons.

For a bibliography of papers written on the Malaclemys terrapin click here

Range Map: The red areas show where the diamondback terrapin lives.

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Specimen of Malaclemys terrapin can be found at The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

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