Diamondback terrapins have scaly, gray or whitish skin covered with black spots or streaks. (Ant_J/Flickr)
The diamondback terrapin, Maryland’s official state reptile, is an aquatic turtle with distinctive diamond-shaped rings covering its shell. It lives in and around the Chesapeake Bay’s brackish tidal waters, including rivers and marshes.
Carapace (shell) varies in color from brownish or greenish to grayish or nearly black
Carapace covered with scutes (plates) that have diamond-shaped concentric growth rings inside. The growth rings may be a different color than the rest of the shell.
Yellowish or greenish plastron (underside of the shell)
Horned beak with a black “moustache” above the mouth
Scaly, gray or whitish skin covered with black spots or streaks
Webbed feet with strong claws
Grows up to 9 inches long. Females are significantly larger than males.
Lives in tidal portions of the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers, including brackish marshes, beaches and mud flats, and islands
Hibernates in river banks and at the bottom of creeks and rivers in winter
Believed to be the only turtle in the world that lives exclusively in brackish water
Found in the coastal plain of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, as well as parts of the District of Columbia
Feeds mostly on mollusks, including clams, snails and mussels
Will also eat fish, worms, insects and crustaceans
Reproduction and Life Cycle:
Mates in the water, usually during nighttime in May
After mating, females come up onto beaches and dig a shallow nest in the sand. They lay 10-15 pinkish-white eggs. Females may lay several clutches in one breeding season.
Eggs hatch in 60-100 days. Like most turtle species, temperature determines the gender of the hatchlings: the warmer the nest, the more female terrapins develop.
If hatchlings do not emerge by the onset of cold weather, they may overwinter in the sand and hatch the following spring
Can live for 25 years in the wild, but faces many threats including predation, habitat loss, boat propellers and entrapment in crab pots
The official state reptile of Maryland
The word “terrapin” comes from an Algonquin word for edible turtles that live in brackish water
You can determine a terrapin’s age by counting the growth rings on its scutes
A terrapin’s scutes are unique to each animals, just like fingerprints are to humans
Terrapin populations were decimated in the 18th and 19th centuries due to the popularity of terrapin soup. Many regulations now exist to protect terrapins.