Diamondback terrapin

Only species of turtles endemic to the United States

Ryan Hagerty

A small to medium-sized turtle that inhabits the coastal salt marshes and brackish waters of the eastern and southern United States, with a range extending from Massachusetts to Texas. The species name is derived from the diamond-shaped growth rings on its carapace, which are marked with concentric rings and ridges, giving it a sculpted appearance. This distinctive pattern, along with its varying coloration that can range from gray to brown with spots or streaks of black, makes it a visually striking reptile.

As the official state reptile of Maryland, the diamondback terrapin holds a special place in the region’s natural heritage. It thrives in the unique ecosystem of tidal waters, including estuaries, bays, and salt marshes, where it plays a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance by controlling the population of its prey.

Terrapins are well-adapted for life in variable salinity environments. They have large, webbed feet for swimming in strong currents and a powerful, bony jaw that allows them to crush and consume hard-shelled prey. Their diet primarily consists of marine invertebrates such as mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish, but they are also known to eat carrion and occasionally plant material.

Each diamondback terrapin has a unique pattern on its shell, much like a human fingerprint, which can be used to identify individuals. This uniqueness extends to their behavior, with some terrapins displaying a preference for certain foods or basking spots.


Population est.
Origin Uncertain
United States

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No