Diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin; family Emydidae) are popularly known as ‘Maryland terrapins’. They are labeled as official state reptilesof Maryland since 1994.
Even the University of Maryland College Park has also chosen this species as their official mascot. They prefer to live in the less salty and unpolluted brackish water of Chesapeake Bay.
Maryland terrapins used to be considered as a delectable part of culinary cuisines during 19th century which caused drastic reduction in the population of these mute, helpless and easy to prey creatures. Even the landlords used to feed terrapin meat to their slaves because of the cheaper rate.
Long back, the Maryland terrapins used to swim in abundance in the Chesapeake Bay. But the ruthless fishing to satisfy the taste buds of human beings has brought them down to a status of endangered species at present.
Maryland terrapins get killed not only by the fishing nets, but several predators including birds, raccoons, crabs too destroy the eggs and the hatchlings.
This horrifying reality, forced the people of Maryland to feel the urgency of saving the Maryland (diamondback) terrapins before it is too late. Maryland has taken up various research projects to shield them from getting extinguished. Now (effective from 1st July, 2007), no one in Maryland can own or purchase the diamondback illegally for any profit making purposes.
Diamondback or Maryland terrapins can be easily identified by their unique, grey-brown-black rings (concentric and diamond shaped) on the surface of their scute. It is believed that the number of the rings increases with their age.
Diamondback or Maryland terrapins love to prey on mollusks like crabs, snails, mussels etc. Although worms, small fishes, carrion and even marine plants are also equally relished by them.
Maryland terrapins are aquatic reptiles. They are ectothermic (cold-blooded) creatures. Hence their body temperature is controlled by the surrounding environment.
During winter their body temperature also falls and they need to go for hibernation (resting period). Diamondbacks dig out underwater mud and partially bury themselves. Their body metabolic functions also reduce drastically.
With the onset of warmer season during the month of May, the Maryland terrapins also resurface and heat themselves up by sunbathing (basking) on the sandy beaches.
After the hibernation, their reproductive activities like mating, nesting or laying eggs start. Maryland terrapins produce a number of eggs in a sand pit and cover it thoroughly. Interestingly, the temperature inside the pit determines the sex of the hatchlings.