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Diamond Back Terrapin

Malaclemys terrapin terrapin


 

Where it was photographed - Spizzle Creek area of Island Beach State Park

Truly an estuarine turtle, you will not find them in fresh water and you will not find them in salt water.  Only in the brackish waters of the estuary will you see this amazing creature.  One of the most historic organisms of the Barnegat Bay, diamond back terrapin were a favored food to serve slaves during colonial times.  In 1820, the US Government made a law that said it was cruel and inhuman to feed slaves and servants on a steady diet of diamond back terrapin and lobster.   Around 1870, French chefs developed a recipe for turtle soup and a commercial industry for diamond back terrapin was born.  Roughly around 1920, the diamond back terrapin’s population was almost wiped out. Subsequently, the commercial catch was made illegal.

Their diet consists mostly of small fish, bivalves, and crabs.  Diamondback terrapins have a beak-like mouth used to crush shells.  Female diamondback terrapin grow up to 10 inches in length (measured by the length of their carapace or top shell).  Mature males reach 6 inches.   The female deposits eggs in nests that she digs into undisturbed areas of beach and marsh within the estuary.  The eggs will hatch within 60 to 120 days after they are deposited.  The newly hatched young terrapin will then crawl to the water for the first time.