Diamondback terrapins are turtles that inhabit estuaries along the east and Gulf coasts of the United States. They range from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to northern Mexico. Terrapins were harvested in the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s as a food source with a high demand leading to reductions in their populations across their range. In the 1930’s, terrapins became less desirable food sources and populations increased in areas with good habitat, but not much is known about populations in certain areas. What make terrapins so interesting are their markings, which are highly variable and prominent. Reasons for the variation include genetic diversity and some variations in their patterns could be linked to environmental conditions.
Diamondback Terrapin Working Group PowerPoint Presentation
SLIDE 2: Diamondback Terrapin Malaclemys terrapin
This species is named for the diamond-shaped patterns on its carapace (top shell). They are most
noted and easily recognized by their signature “smile” shape to their beak and “mustache-like”
appearance. Their scientific name, Malaclemys terrapin, comes from Greek meaning “turtle”
and Native American meaning “soft-bodied turtle.” They have a high tolerance for a range of
salinities from freshwater to estuarine to saltwater but prefer estuarine environments; all other
U.S. species of turtles either live in freshwater, saltwater, or on land.
SLIDE 3: Diamondback Terrapin Distribution
Diamondback terrapins can inhabit coastal waters from Massachusetts to Texas. Individuals can
be found in salt marshes and estuarine environs throughout most of its range, with the exceptions
of Florida and southern Texas, where than can be found around mangrove swamps and oyster
reefs respectively. Terrapins are sometimes confused with tortoises that mostly occupy terrestrial
habitats and have limbs adapted to walking on land.
SLIDE 4: Variations
Diamondback terrapins are currently differentiated genetically, but previously were regionally
differentiated as subspecies by location. The previous subspecies included: northern
diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin terrapin) has a rage from Cape Cod, Massachusetts
to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The Carolina diamondback terrapin (M. terrapin centrata)
ranges from Cape Hatteras to northern Florida. Florida has three subspecies: east coast
diamondback terrapin (M. terrapin tequesta), Florida Keys diamondback terrapin (M. terrapin
rhizophorarum), and the Gulf coast diamondback terrapin (M. terrapin macrospilata). From the
Florida panhandle to western Louisiana, you will find the Mississippi diamondback terrapin (M.
terrapin pileata). Finally, the Texas diamondback terrapin (M. terrapin littoralis) ranges from
the west coast of Louisi