Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)

Diamondback Terrapins are unique-looking turtles. With bodies and shells of contrasting colors, these turtles are eye-catching.
Diamondback Terrapins are the only turtles that live in the ocean other than the much larger Sea Turtles. The name "terrapin" comes from a Native American word. If you want to see one of these animals, visit our Reptile House in the New England Farmyard of Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo.


Shells are light brown to black with deep growth rings. Their head, neck, and limbs are light gray with black dots, giving them a peppered look. Diamondback Terrapins grow slowly, taking 3-8 years to mature. Adult females have shells that are 6-9 inches (15-23 cm) long. Males are much smaller reaching lengths of only 4-5.5 inches (10-14 cm).


Coastal marshes, tidal creeks, estuaries, bays, and coves.


Cape Cod to Texas along Atlantic and Gulf coasts.


Feed primarily on invertebrates such as mollusks and crustaceans.

Family Life: 

Female terrapins come on shore in June and July to make their nests. They lay 3 to 18 eggs per nest (typically 11). The females then join the males in the deeper bays and estuaries, where they feed until hibernation. The eggs take 70 or more days to hatch. Some of the hatchlings emerge in the late summer and early fall. Others stay in the nests over the winter and emerge the following spring.


Diamondback Terrapin populations are currently at low numbers in some areas as a result of being hunted to almost extinction at the turn of the 20th century and human development along the coasts. Recently a federal legislative order was passed to help protect the terrapins from human destruction and hopefully increase their numbers.

<<< Common Snapping Turtle | Back to the Animal List | Eastern Box Turtle >>>