Maryland's State Reptile: the Diamondback Terrapin

Photograph courtesy of the Governor's Press Office, State of Maryland

The Diamondback Terrapin ( Malaclemys terrapin ) is the State reptile and official mascot of the University of Maryland College Park. It was named the State Reptile in 1994. This attractive turtle has diamond-shaped, concentric rings on its upper shell.

Chesapeake colonists ate terrapin prepared Native-American fashion, roasted whole in live coals. Because they were abundant and easy to catch, landowners often fed their slaves and indentured servants terrapin meat. Later, in the nineteenth century, the people came to appreciate this common turtle as gourmet food, especially in a stew made with cream and sherry. Because of the great demand and heavy fishing of the terrapin, the supply was nearly depleted, and protective laws were enacted. In 1891, some 89,000 pounds of terrapin were harvested from Maryland waters. With few exceptions, annual harvests since 1956 have remained below 11,000 pounds.

Chesapeake diamondbacks are predators who prefer unpolluted salt water. In winter, they hybernate underwater in mud. With spring's warmth in May, they emerge to mate and bask in the sun on marshy banks.

Baby diamondback terrapins at St. John the Evangelist School (Anne Arundel County), a project of the 8th grade and of great interest to the 4th graders as they study Maryland symbols, November 2000
Click a pic to see a larger version.

Thanks to the Maryland Manual for information about the Diamondback Terrapin.

© Copyright July 2, 1997, Office of the Secretary of State.
Last Modified October 8, 2003.