Diamondback Terrapin

The Diamondback Terrapin, Malaclemys terrapin, is a species of turtle native to the brackish coastal swamps of the eastern and southern United States. They are found from as far north as Cape Cod, Massachusetts to as far south as Corpus Christi, Texas.

The species is named for the diamond pattern on top of its shell, but the pattern and coloration varies greatly by species. The coloring of the shell can vary from browns to grays, and their body color can be gray, brown, yellow, or white. All diamondback species have the unique pattern of wiggly, black markings or spots on their body and head. The male grows to about 5 inches while the female grows much larger to about 7.5 – 9 inches in length. Those in cooler climates tend to be smaller than those from warmer climates.

Diamondback Terrapins mate in the early spring. Clutches of 5 to 12 eggs are laid in sand dunes in the early summer, and hatch in the late summer to early fall. Males reach maturity between 2 and 3 years old, while females reach maturity at 6 to 7 years old.

This species was once considered a delicacy to eat and hunted almost to extinction. As it is the state reptile in Rhode Island, it has been listed as endangered. There is no federal status of the species, but it is considered threatened in several other states.

Image Caption: Adult female Diamondback turtle being balanced on a NOAA employee’s arm. Credit: Wikipedia / Mary Hollinger, NOAA