What is a Terrapin?


What is a Terrapin?The term “terrapin” is derived from an Indian Algonquian word that means “a little turtle.” A terrapin (TEHR uh pihn) is an aquatic freshwater turtle belonging to the family Emydidae.

Even though they resemble other turtles living in the sea in that they also have webbed feet and greenish-brown thin shells, they are not part of the turtle family Cheloneoidea.

Terrapins are cold-blooded reptiles with a tough skin (without hair or feathers); they breathe through their lungs. Out of 350 turtle species throughout the world, only one species of terrapin exists, which is further divided into 7 subspecies.

Till the 1930s, these turtles were widely hunted, for they were considered the ultimate culinary delicacy. As a result, they came almost to the brink of extinction.

Unlike tortoises, terrapins stay mostly in water and generally come out on land only to lay eggs and bask under the sun. The adult females mostly lay eggs annually between April and July. During winter, they go into hibernation, and are active only when the weather is warm. These are the kind that one normally keeps as pets.


Find out more about terrapins

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Without any ambiguity, the term “terrapin" is referred to the diamondback terrapin, Malaclemys terrapin. European settlers in North America were the first to utilize this name to describe this wild species living in brackish water. These turtles can be found in coastal areas, in creeks and in not-so-deep marshes.

Terrapins are the only kind of turtles that find their homes in such different habitats. Diamondback terrapins relate very closely to the turtles living in freshwater, including map turtles and red-eared sliders, but their exclusivity stems from the fact that they are the only turtle living in salt marshes.

The name “terrapin” is normally used in the United Kingdom for those turtles that are kept as pets; they are sometimes termed “pond turtles.”

They are small and do not cause any harm, and are basically very shy in nature. Because of this shy nature, they are very difficult to catch. They are tolerant of other animals, but dive into the water the moment they are approached.

Terrapins are lost mainly because they get caught in the crab traps and thus get drowned or fall prey to predators like raccoons or due to high populations there are not enough egg-laying sites for them. They like to nest in sandy or muddy beaches, which are largely occupied by houses now.

For more information about terrapins please see my terrapin care guide review.

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