A closer look at terrapins

For kids: Learn all about diamondback terrapins, one of the most common in the US.

Did you know the diamondback terrapin (pronounced TARE-a-pin) is one of the most common terrapins in the US? It can be found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from Massachusetts to Texas. Many researchers believe it's the only "turtle" that lives in areas or regions where the water is brackish – that is, the water contains some salt, but is not as salty as ocean water.

The diamondback terrapin is easy to spot. Its shell is covered in scales or scutes that bear diamond-shape growth rings.

Terrapins are generally small. Adult males are about five inches long, while grown-up females are nearer to seven inches. Their diet consists of small snails, clams, and crabs, as well as some types of marsh plants.

Terrapins can live up to 20 years, spending most of that time in water. Males sometimes come to land to bask in the sun. In late spring and early summer, females lay between four and 18 eggs onshore above the high-tide line.

The inch-long babies hatch about three months later.

The word "terrapin" is derived from an Algonquian Indian word "torope," which means "edible turtle." For many years, they were eaten as a delicacy. Laws now protect terrapins.

They're also the state reptile of Maryland and the official mascot of the University of Maryland.

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