Carolina diamondback terrapin

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Project Description

Carolina Diamondback Terrapin

Malaclemys terrapin centrata

Range/Geographical Distribution: Diamondback terrapins can be found along the coast from Cape Cod to Texas.  The subspecies Carolina diamondback terrapin lives along the coast from North Carolina to Georgia.

Habitat: Brackish water including marshes, tidal flats, estuaries, and coves. 

Description: Carapace coloration is extremely variable and ranges from light gray with boldly patterned concentric rings to a uniform black or dark brown.  Plastron ranges from light yellow to orange to green/gray.  Hatchlings tend to be more boldly marked than adults. 

Size: Females can reach nine inches in length whereas males rarely grow larger than five inches.   Hatchlings are about one inch long at hatching.

Food: Eat invertebrates including snails, bivalves, and crabs.  Also may consume plants and algae.

Breeding: Mating occurs in April and May.  Females lay five to 12 eggs in sandy areas above the high tide line and may lay several clutches each year.  The eggs hatch in 60-70 days.

Predators: Alligators, birds of prey, skunks, raccoons, foxes, herons, and large fish.

Conservation Status: Listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List.  Diamondback terrapin populations were severely diminished due to commercial harvesting for soups and stews in the early 1900’s.  During prohibition these soups lost their popularity and terrapin populations began to recover.  Currently diamondback terrapins are listed as an unusual species in Georgia and have no federal protection.  Habitat loss, road strikes, and drowning in crab pots threaten these turtles.

Interesting Facts: During colder months terrapins hibernate in the mud of creek bottoms or banks.  They are thought to be the only turtles in the world to live exclusively in brackish water (a mix of fresh and salt water). 

On the Coast: Diamondback terrapins are active along the Georgia coast from March to November.  They can be seen crossing causeways during nesting season and are often struck by cars.

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