Saturday, May 10, 2008

DiamondBack Terrapins

Data Sheet
Scientific Name: Malaclemys
Family: Terrapins
Origin: USA
Adult Size: 5 inches (12.5 cm) for males, and 7.5 inches(19 cm) for females
Social: Baby Turtles can be kept together, but adults may not.
Lifespan: 50 years+
Minimum Tank Size: A 12 x 6 x 6 inches (30 x 15 x 15 cm) tank would be suitable for a single small terrapins up to 10 cm (4 inches) shell length.
Diet: Omnivorous
Breeding: Egg layer
Care: Intermediate.
Temperature: Tolerates a
wide range of temperature.
Tank setup: Place the terrapin in a tank with shallow water, some logs or rock so that it can sun itself.
Sexing: Females are much large than males.

DiamondBack Terrapin
Diamond Terrapin Eggs

Ornate Orange Diamondback Terrapin

A large female Diamondback Terrapin

Some Diamondback Terrapins has horns on their shell.


Diamondback Terrapins' shell is covered with scales or plates called scutes that bear deep, diamond-shaped growth rings. The pattern and coloration is dependent on the species of the turtle, although most species tend to be brown to grey, with some yellow markings. Regardless of the species of Diamondback Terrapins, all of them has a distinctive, unique, wiggly black markings or spots on the white colored head and body.


Diamondback Terrapins are native to brackish coastal swamps in eastern and southern United States of America. The Diamondback Terrapin is believed to be the only turtle in the world that lives exclusively in brackish-water areas. In these areas, such as tidal marshes, estuaries, and lagoons, and the water contains some salt.

In winter, these terrapins hibernate. Diamondback Terrapins usually dig a hole in the mud and bury themselves in mud of at least 2 inches thick. They do not resurface until the winter is over.

To replicate these settings, it is recommended that tanks for Diamondback Terrapins contains a mix of wet sand, and some brackish waters with slow current. There are a large number of commercial solutions that are able to reproduce brackish water effect in the market - do check with your local pet store. A heater may be required so that your turtle will not hibernate.


The diamondback terrapin eats snails, clams, small fishes, crabs, and some marsh plants, and cheerfully accept most commercial food for terrapins and turtles. It is recommended that their diet be supplemented occasionally with live food such as small fishes.


As mentioned above, female terrapins are much larger than males, averaging about 7.5 inches compared to 5 inches for the male. Females reproduce when they are between 8 and 13 years old. In the summer, they move from marsh creeks onto beaches and dunes to lay their pinkish-white eggs in 6-inch-deep nests in the sand. After 60–120 days, the inch-long hatchlings emerge from the nest and enter the nearest water.

Different Species of DiamondBack Terrapins

The following is a table from Enchanted forest Creek website, describing the different species of Diamondback terrapin in detail.

  1. Northern Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin terrapin

    Carapace: lightly sculpted, black to light brown with slight dorsal keel and concentric markings.

    Skin: light specks and/or streaks with brighter individuals possessing bold spots and dashes. Color varies from dark gray to white.

    Distinguishing feature:
    the main subspecies available in herpetoculture.

  2. Carolinan Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin centrata

    Carapace: smooth, black, olive to ivory with dorsal keel almost absent. Sides of the carapace tend to run almost parallel to each other. Concentric markings are present and are sometimes faded, giving a marble effect.

    Skin: light specks and/or streaks with brighter individuals possessing bold spots and dashes. Color varies from dark gray to white.

    Distinguishing feature: carapace features and larger head.

  3. Florida East Coast Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin tequesta

    Carapace: deeply sculpted, black to gray with sometimes lighter scute centers with slight dorsal keel. Concentric rings are generally absent.

    Skin: thin, with mostly specks or large spots; and even patternless. Color is usually gray or white. Mustache is normally present.

    Distinguishing feature: lack of concentric carapace markings.

  4. Mangrove Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin rhizophorarum

    smooth, black to light brown with slight dorsal keel and concentric markings.

    Skin: spotted or streaked against a background of gray.Can also come with bold spots and dashes like the northern and carolinan subspecies.

    Distinguishing feature:
    very rarely seen subspecies.

  5. Ornate Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin macrospilota

    deeply sculpted, black to dark gray with high dorsal keel. Scute centers are typically orange or yellow. Concentric markings are almost completely absent. Marginals can be checkered or completely orange/yellow.

    thin, making their heads appear pink at times. Light speckling is usually present although patternless individuals are also known to occur. Color is generally a shade of gray.

    Distinguishing feature: arguably the most attractive and easily distinguishable subspecies. The contrast of orange/yellow scute centers against an otherwise dark carapace is very pleasing indeed.

  6. Mississippi Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin pileata

    Carapace: deeply grooved, black to dark gray with high dorsal keel. Concentric markings are absent against the dark background.

    Skin: thin, with mostly light speckling against a black or gray background. Mustache often present.

    Distinguishing feature:
    darkest subspecies.

  7. Texas Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin littoralis

    deeply grooved, black to brown high dorsal keel. Scute centers are sometimes lighter and concentric markings are invisible due to the background color.

    Skin:lightly speckled, dark gray with greenish or bluish heads.

    Distinguishing feature: head color.
Photo Galley
Got a photo? Contact me.

Links to other awesome DiamondBack Terrapin sites:

1. awesome pics for DiamondBack Terrapins, including terrapins.
2. - includes images on various turtles.
3 - a place where you can buy turtles as pets.
4. terrapin conservation wetlands institute- where you can help in the conservation of this terrapin.
5. - one of the most awesome site for diamond back terrapin information

References Cited:

1.DiamondBack Terrapin [Online], Accessed on 10 May 2008, Available,
2. Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) [Online], Accessed on 10
May 2008, Available ,
3.Diamonds in the Marsh: A Natural History of the Diamondback Terrapin, By Barbara Brennessel.

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