Maryland State Reptile - Diamondback Terrapin

[color photos of a Diamondback Terrapin]

Photos by Willem M. Roosenburg, Ph.D. (who has been studying diamondback terrapins for the past 12 years), Ohio University

The Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) is the State reptile and official mascot of the University of Maryland College Park (Chapter 476, Acts of 1994; Code State Government Article, sec. 13-313). This attractive turtle is distinguished by diamond-shaped, concentric rings on the scutes of its upper shell (carapace).

Chesapeake colonists ate terrapin prepared Native-American fashion, roasted whole in live coals. Abundant and easy to catch, terrapin were so ample that landowners often fed their slaves and indentured servants a staple diet of terrapin meat. Ironically, in the nineteenth century, the citizenry came to appreciate this common turtle as gourmet food, especially in a stew laced with cream and sherry. Subsequently, tremendous retail demand and heavy fishing of the terrapin nearly depleted its supply, and protective laws were enacted. In 1891, some 89,000 lbs. of terrapin were harvested from Maryland waters. With few exceptions, annual harvests since 1956 have remained below 11,000 lbs.

Chesapeake diamondbacks are predators whose preference for unpolluted salt water make them indicators of healthy marsh and river systems. In winter, they hybernate underwater in mud. With spring's warmth in May, diamondback terrapin emerge to mate and bask in the sun on marshy banks.

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July 10, 1998   
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