Species group: North American Semi-Aquatic Turtles
Other common names: Ornate Diamondback Terrapin, Northern Diamondback Terrapin
Scientific name: Malaclemys terrapin
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
Aloha Lance: Our Diamondback Terrapin
My wife's favorite among all of our pets is without a doubt, our turtle, Lance.
Lance is an Eastern Diamondback River Cooter (or terrapin if you like, we feel that "cooter" suits him much better:) Lance (and his lady-turtle friend, Lola) came to us one night in a great storm, when they were literally swept into a nearby parking lot on a great deluge of water. They were about the size of a quarter. Luckily, we had an old aquarium in the garage, so we fixed them up a home as best we could and set about researching how to care for newly hatched turtles.
I should mention here, that caring for hatchling turtles is not without expense and hassle. They require a UV light when small, which enables them to synthesize the vitamin D that they would normally get from sunlight in the wild, and their tank must be kept very clean... they poop A LOT. Lance and Lola prospered in their new home and were the subject of much adoration from everyone in the family for several years, but when Lance was about 5, he started to get a little randy. Male Diamondbacks reach sexual maturity around 5 years of age, while females don't do so till around 7 years. Well one thing led to another... Lola apparently didn't appreciate Lance's advances. She bit the little toe off of his back left foot.
My wife was terribly concerned that it would become infected and that Lance might become septic and die a slow horrible death, so Lance got his own tank, a water change every other day, and twice daily applications of antibiotic ointment. I have never before seen, nor would I have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes, but this turtle absolutely loves my wife, probably as much as she loves him. When he sees her come near his tank, he runs back and forth splashing madly, pleading with her to take him out. He will crawl into her hand and will practically run to her when placed on the floor. He loves to crawl up into her lap, then climb all the way up onto her chest, where he will stick his head way out and rub his cheek against her neck. I realize this is probably not your typical turtle review, but it does show that any living creature will respond to love. I guess in the end, your relationship with whatever pet you choose is dependent on what you put into it..
From litwit Oct 6 2014 4:06PM
Oslo - My sons pet was not turtely satisfactory
When we first got our terrapins we were all quite interested in them although we hadn't had any experience of them before. In the pet shop, my son was enchanted by Oslo's "angry old man face" and the fact that the terrapin would stare at him for long periods. The other idea at the time was a bird but this seemed like an easier/safer option for my 11 year old son. Having got everything suggested by the store to make Oslo's tank a home we brought him home and settled him in. My son is good with animals and is always careful not to startle or scare them so I was surprised that Oslo never liked being handled. He didn't over handle him or do anything untoward, Oslo just didn't want to be handled. While there were moments of fun and laughter about Oslo and his tankmate Ripley, he never captured our hearts like other pets did. Watching them sunbathe (usually one on top of the other) or "letting them loose" in the garden was fun but these events soon became a chore for my son, rather than a pleasure. Similarly, cleaning out the tank was a relatively major and smelly task. Generally it was done with or by me and with protestations from all around by the rest of the family, due to the smell. Im not sure what we could have done differently with Oslo to enhance the experience for him and us and there were no great complaints about sending him to live with our cousins. Their experience is similar to ours, initial fascination followed by a lack of interest. Maybe its the terrapins, maybe its something in our family genes but we wont be trying terrapins again..
From Eoinfinnegan Sep 9 2015 7:43PM