Mississippi Diamondback Terrapin
Malaclemys terrapin pileata

Curtis Myasaka, Mobile Estuarium

The Diamondback Terrapin is a species native to the brackish coastal swamps of the eastern and southern United States, ranging from Cape Code in the north and Cape Sable in the south.

The species is named for the diamond pattern on top of its shell, but the overall pattern and coloration varies greatly by species. Their shell coloring can vary from brown to gray, and the body color may be gray, brown, yellow, or white. All have a unique pattern of wiggly, black markings or spots on their body and head. The species is sexually dimorphic in that the males grow to about 5 inches, while the females grow to an average of 7.5 inches, though they are capable of growing larger.

Adult diamondback terrapins mate in the early spring, and clutches of 5-12 eggs are laid in sand dunes in the early summer. The eggs hatch in late summer or early autumn. Maturity in males is reached in 2 or 3 years at around 4.5 inches in length. It takes longer for females, 6 to 7 years at a length of about 6.75 inches.

The habitat of the diamondback terrapin extends from Cape Cod to Texas along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is believed to be the only turtle that survives in brackish water areas. Its predators include skunks, muskrats, raccoons and crows. These small turtles nest on land and require access to dry soft sand or soil to deposit their eggs. If this species of turtle is removed from its natural environment it would have a difficult time repopulating its former habitat.

The diamondback terrapin is the state reptile of Maryland and is the official mascot of the University of Maryland. The species was once considered a delicacy to eat and was hunted almost to extinction. Due to this it is listed as an endangered species in Rhode Island and considered a threatened species in Massachusetts. It is considered a "species of concern" in Georgia, Delaware, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Internet photo, Jeff LeClere

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