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Commonly Asked Questions

Range / Habitat

  • Occurs in the Western Atlantic along parts of the eastern coast of the United States from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to the Florida Keys and Florida to Texas.
  • Only United States turtle found in brackish and saltwater estuaries. Also seen in tidal creeks, rivers, sounds and ocean shorelines. Juvenile rarely seen, though likely under dislodged vegetation in estuaries.
  • Burrows in mudflats, shallow channels and creek banks.

Physical Characteristics

  • Strong sexual dimorphism in size: females are commonly 5.9-9 inches (15-23 cm) long, males smaller at 3.9-5.5 inches (10-14 cm). Juvenile from 1-1.3 inches (2.5-3.2 cm).
  • Coloration differs based on range and population. Carapace often a combination of gray, green, brown or near-black. Skin likely light gray to black with dark spots, speckling, blotches and occasional stripes. Juvenile more brightly colored than adult; colors fade over time.

Diet / Feeding

  • Diet varies by range and population, but consists of mollusks (snails and bivalves), crustaceans (small crabs), fish, insects and carrion.
  • Feeds by foraging in the water. At high tide, has increased range in salt marshes without risking predation by raccoons, river otters and eagles.

Reproduction / Growth

  • Mating occurs in the water.
  • Females search for suitable nest sites in the late spring or summer.
    • Nest sites typically sandy, including sandbars, spits, dunes, creek banks.
    • Above high tide.
    • Near marsh habitat.
  • Clutches typically have 7-12 eggs.
  • Typically takes 61-68 days to incubate, though can be as long as 104.
  • Late hatchlings may overwinter in nests.
  • Females reach maturity at 5 years of age; Males at 3 years of age.

Conservation Status

  • “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List.
  • Protected by many state governments.
  • Habitat loss and pollution are primary conservation pressures, as well as accidental drowning in crab traps.
  • Other threats include:
    • Boat strikes.
    • Female fatalities on roads and causeways occur during nesting season as females seek sites to lay eggs.

Additional Information

  • There are seven subspecies of the diamondback terrapin: five occur in Florida, of which three appear exclusively in the sunshine state.
  • Possesses salt glands and its skin does not allow for the absorption of salt: adaptations for handling saline water.
  • Active 9-10 months a year.
  • Hibernate when water temperatures fall below 50° F (10° C)
  • Highly aquatic – rarely leaves the water save for nesting.

Sources

animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu
Jensen, J.; Camp, C.; Gibbons, W. and M. Elliott. Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia. Pgs. 485-487.