Diamondback Terrapin

Save as favorite

Avg. Owner Satisfaction


(12 Reviews)

Species group:

Other common names: Ornate Diamondback Terrapin, Northern Diamondback Terrapin

Scientific name: Malaclemys terrapin

The basics:
The Diamondback Terrapin is distinguished by the amazing colors and patterns of both its shell and skin, and by being the only turtle adapted to life in brackish water habitats (waters of moderate salinity, neither fresh nor marine). Long considered a delicate pet, this spectacular turtle is now being bred in captivity, and is growing in popularity.

Seven subspecies are found along the Eastern and Gulf coasts of the USA, from Massachusetts to the Florida Keys and eastern Texas. An isolated population inhabits Bermuda. Diamondbacks are found only in brackish salt marshes, river estuaries, tidal flats, and similar habitats. Highly-aquatic, they usually bask by floating at the water’s surface.

Appearance / health:
Individual Diamondback Terrapins vary greatly in appearance. The carapace, colored in various shades of gray and marked with deep, dark concentric grooves and ridges, is always eye-catching. The skin ranges from pearl-gray to near-black, and is decorated with dark flecks and slashes. Males average 12-15 cm (5-6 inches) in length, while females may exceed 23 cm (9 inches).

Water quality is extremely important…more so than for most other turtles. Fouled or acidic water conditions invariably lead to skin infections and other health problems. While some individuals seem to get by in fresh water, brackish water is essential for the long-term health of most.

Behavior / temperament:
Diamondback Terrapins make very responsive pets, feeding readily from the hand, and adapting well to busy households. They dislike being carried about and, like all turtles, must be handled with care…this is especially true of a species that can crush clam shells!

Diamondback Terrapins are extremely active. While a 75 gallon aquarium might suit a male, females need tanks of at least 100 gallon capacity, or commercial turtle tubs and ponds. Bare-bottomed enclosures are preferable, as gravel greatly complicates cleaning. The aquarium should be equipped with a dry basking site, UVB bulb, heater, and powerful filtration. Marine salt marketed for aquarium fish should be used to set salinity at 1.014-1.018. Diamondbacks remove salt from some of the water they ingest, but should be placed in fresh water 1-2x weekly and allowed to drink for 10-20 minutes. Ambient water temperature: 68-76 F; basking temperature: 85-88 F

The natural diet is comprised largely of crustaceans and mollusks such as crabs, snails, clams, mussels, barnacles and shrimp; fish, marine worms and algae are also taken. Pets should be offered whole marine animals, including smelts, shiners, prawn, crab, periwinkles, and mixed seafood sold for use in chowders and soups. Shells, exoskeletons, and bones are essential to supply calcium and keep the ever-growing jaw edges trim. Commercial turtle pellets can comprise approximately one third of the diet. A cuttlebone should be available as a further calcium and jaw-exercise resource.

Males may be distinguished their thicker tails and concave plastrons. Gravid (egg-bearing) females usually become restless. They should be removed to a large container (i.e. 5x the length and width of the turtle) provisioned with moist soil and sand. Gravid females that do not nest should be seen by a veterinarian, as egg retention invariably leads to a fatal infection (egg peritonitis). The 4-20 eggs, deposited from April to July, may be incubated in moist vermiculite at 80 F for 55-65 days.

Written by Frank Indiviglio


seemingly gentle temperament, black spots


cleaning, young children, vile stench, disease, dietary needs, terrible smell


newly hatched turtles, prawns, limited interaction, long life span

Helpful Diamondback Terrapin Review

Diamondback Terrapin

From litwit Oct 6 2014 4:06PM


Diamondback Terrapin Behavior Tip

Diamondback Terrapin

From Eoinfinnegan Sep 9 2015 7:43PM


Member photos