There is always demand for diamondback terrapins in the market. But do not buy this turtle because of the mesmerizing look. This species has exceptional criteria which you must consider before purchasing. Here is what the diamondback terrapin care guide for beginners looks like,
- Tank Size: Minimum 55 – 65 gallon
- Habitat Setup: Dock, heater, filter, lamps
- Water Condition: High salinity
- Diet: Omnivores (shrimp, feeder fish, worms, insects, vegetables, pellets, etc.)
Raising a diamondback terrapin without any guidelines can be messy. Hence, I recommend you read this article before making any compulsive decision on getting a DB terrapin.
Diamondback Terrapin: Species Summary
|Scientific Name||Malaclemys terrapin|
|Common Name||Terrapin, DB Terrapin|
|Origin||Tidal coasts of USA|
|Habitat||Brackish water, tidal creeks, mangrove swamps, estuaries, etc.|
|Size||5 – 11 inches|
|Lifespan||Up to 40 years|
|Price Range||$170 – $999|
Diamondback Terrapin Appearance: How Do Diamondback Terrapins Look?
Spotting a diamondback terrapin is nothing challenging. As the name suggests, diamondback terrapins have diamond-shaped rings on the carapace.
Such diamond-shaped rings, along with the upper shell, can be of different colors, for example, brown, grey, green, or black. Also, these circles are considered growth rings for diamondback terrapins.
Again, the plastrons of the diamondback terrapins are unique. Some people compare the bottom shells of this species to the fingerprints of humans.
Furthermore, the skin of these turtles is grey with white spots and black streaks. Some terrapins have greenish skin instead of grey.
Diamondback terrapins have a horny beaks. The sharp jaws help them hunt and chew food.
We all know diamondback terrapins can withstand brackish water. They can resist such a salty environment because of the salt glands near their eyes.
Apart from these, the diamondback terrapins have webbed feet, which help them swim fast. In addition, these turtles have sharp claws for digging soil.
Diamondback Terrapin Origin: Where Do Diamondback Terrapins Live?
What makes diamondback terrapins different from other species is their living conditions. Apparently, the terrapins can stand high salty water, and in the wild, brackish water is a necessity for these turtles.
So, no wonder why we find terrapins in coastal salt marshes, mangrove swamps, tidal creeks, wetlands, and estuaries. These turtles are also found in bay rivers, islands, mudflats, and beachy shores.
The natural habitat for diamondback terrapins ranges from North-East and South-East parts of America and stretches all the way to the Florida Keys and Cape Cod. Here is a list of places where diamondback terrapins are found the most,
- USA Atlantics
- Corpus Christi
- New York
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- Gulf Coast Of Mexico, etc.
The native ranges vary from diamondback subspecies to subspecies. For example,
|Diamondback Terrapin Subspecies||Native Ranges|
|Carolina Diamondback Terrapin||South Carolina, Cape Hatteras to the Florida Keys, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Texas|
|Texas Diamonback Terrapin||Cape Cod, Massachusetts to the Florida Keys, Gulf Coast of New Mexico, Louisiana to Corpus Christi Bay|
|Ornate Diamondback Terrapin||Florida Bay, Florida Panhandle|
|Mississippi Diamondback Terrapin||Florida Panhandle To Eastern Part Of Louisiana|
|Mangrove Diamondback Terrapin||Mangrove swamps in lower Florida Keys|
|East Florida Diamondback Terrapin||Florida, Northern California, Southern Carolina|
|Northern Diamondback Terrapin||Northern Part of America|
From my previous article, you can learn more about the living situation of diamondback terrapins.
Diamondback Terrapin Size: How Big Do Diamondback Terrapins Get?
Diamondback terrapins are not giants like snapping turtles. Instead, this species has an average growth. Generally, the size range of diamondback terrapin is 5 – 11 inches.
Diamondback terrapins exhibit sex dimorphism. Usually, the females are larger than the males and have a carapace length of 6 to 9 inches. However, in some cases, they grow up to 11 inches.
On the other hand, the average size of male diamondback terrapins is 4 – 5.5 inches. However, adult males can reach up to 6.5 inches.
Moreover, you know there are several subspecies of diamondback terrapin. Each subspecies grows to a different size range. For example,
|Diamondback Terrapin Subspecies||Diamondback Terrapin Male Size||Diamondback Terrapin Female Size|
|Carolina Diamondback Terrapin||5 inches (12.7 centimeters)||9 inches (22.9 centimeters)|
|Texas Diamonback Terrapin||4 – 5.5 inches (10.2 – 14 centimeters)||6 – 9 inches (15.3 – 22.9 centimeters)|
|Ornate Diamondback Terrapin||4 – 6.5 inches (10.2 – 16.5 centimeters)||6 – 9 inches (15.3 – 22.9 centimeters)|
|Mississippi Diamondback Terrapin||5.5 inches (14 centimeters)||9 inches (22.9 centimeters)|
|Mangrove Diamondback Terrapin||4 – 6.5 inches (10.2 – 16.5 centimeters)||6 – 9 inches (15.3 – 22.9 centimeters)|
|East Florida Diamondback Terrapin||4 – 5.5 inches (10.2 – 14 centimeters)||6 – 9 inches (15.3 – 22.9 centimeters)|
|Northern Diamondback Terrapin||4 – 5.5 inches (10.2 – 14 centimeters)||6 – 9 inches (15.3 – 22.9 centimeters)|
The diamondback hatchlings are not more than 1 – 1.5 inches. These babies take 5 – 7 years to reach their fullest size.
You can access the growth rate for diamondback terrapins from this article.
Diamondback Terrapin Lifespan: How Long Do Diamondback Terrapins Live?
Unlike many turtle species, terrapins do not live for centuries. The average lifespan for these turtles is 25 – 40 years.
However, different sources claim diamondback terrapins can live for more than 40 years. But the lack of resources prevents us from calculating the same longevity of this species.
Lifespans of different diamondback terrapin subspecies are,
|Diamondback Terrapin Subspecies||Scientific Name||Average Lifespan|
|Northern Diamondback Terrapin||Malaclemys t. Terrapin||Up to 40 years|
|Texas Diamondback Terrapin||Malaclemys terrapin littoralis||Up to 40 years|
|Mississippi Diamondback Terrapin||Malaclemys terrapin pileata||Up to 40 years|
|Carolina Diamondback Terrapin||Malaclemys terrapin centrata||Up to 40 years|
The longevity of diamondback terrapins depends on several factors. For example, subspecies, care, lifestyle, food habits, access to medical emergencies, etc. Get a detailed guide on how to increase the lifespan of your pet terrapin from here.
Diamondback Terrapin Behavior & Temperament: Are Terrapins Aggressive?
Diamondback terrapins have a reputation for being docile and friendly. But never take this nice gesture for granted. It is because the terrapins never hesitate to initiate an attack under stress or when they feel threatened.
Terrapins are primarily carnivorous, and hence, they have horny beaks. A bite with those razor-like jaws is enough to cut through your flesh.
Though diamondback terrapins are friendly, they do not like to be touched. Frequent contact stresses these pets and makes them insecure. As a result, the terrapins can act hostile to the owners.
Do not worry about the bitings or any attack if you do not touch the diamondback terrapins unnecessarily or are gentle to them.
Again, diamondback terrapins can get involved in fights among themselves. Furthermore, crowded spaces, food scarcity, cravings for dominance, and sexual desires drive the terrapins to get aggressive.
How can you calm the terrapins? Or how to raise multiple terrapins without any fights? Follow my previous article on the diamondback terrapin’s behavior for answers.
Habitat Set Up And Related Care For Diamondback Terrapins
Now that you know the profile of a diamondback terrapin let’s jump into its requirements.
Tank Size: What Is The Ideal Tank Size For Diamondback Terrapins?
Diamondback terrapins are medium-sized turtles. Hence, they do not need a monstrous size tank. Instead, a minimum of 55-gallon glass aquarium is perfect for a 6 inches male terrapin. If your male terrapin is larger than this length, go for a bigger tank, about 65 – 75 gallons.
On the contrary, female diamondback terrapins grow larger than males. Hence, they need more space to thrive. The professionals suggest offering the females a minimum tank of 75-gallon. If the pets show signs of rapid growth, then switch to a 90 – 125 gallon aquarium.
Basking Area: Do Diamondback Terrapins Need A Basking Dock?
Diamondback terrapins bask under the sun in the wild from time to time. They use the rocks and logs floating in the current or the land area as basking spots.
You must place a basking dock when building an indoor habitat for diamondback terrapins. You can buy a commercial basking platform or use rocks, logs, plastics, metal sheets, foams, etc., as basting stations for the turtles.
Remember, basking plays a significant role in the diamondback terrapin’s life. It promotes digestion and activity level and prevents infectious diseases in the terrapin.
Basking Lamps: Do Diamondback Terrapins Need Heating Lamps?
We already know that diamondback terrapins are baskers. In the wild, they bask under the sun and soak in the heat and UV rays. But in captivity, the sunlight can not always get indoors. Hence, you have to make some other arrangements to fulfill the basking requirements.
Generally, diamondback terrapins need two types of lighting sources such as a heating lamp and a UV lamp.
Significance of Heating Lamp in Diamondback Terrapins:
Diamondback terrapins are cold-blooded creatures. Hence, they need external heating sources to warm up their bodies. As a result, terrapins can not function without sufficient heat.
A drop in temperature impacts the daily operations of the terrapins. For example, these turtles stop eating, slow their metabolism, sleep for longer hours, etc. All these are the signs that the pets are cold and preparing for hibernation.
See, hibernation is a natural process, but it can be a stressful state for the terrapins. Hence, owners must prepare their pets 1 or 2 months before hibernation. An unprepared turtle can die in the process.
Again, a slowed-down metabolism is not always good for diamondback terrapins. It lowers the immunity of the turtles, and so they get vulnerable to several diseases.
So, now you understand why diamondback terrapins require a heating lamp in their habitat. You can buy a quality heating bulb from the local pet store. Never try to compensate for the heating lamp with a regular home bulb.
The expected basking temperature for diamondback terrapins is the 80s to 90s degrees Fahrenheit. Again. The ideal air temperature for this species is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
You have to set up the lamp, maintaining a minimum distance from the basking platform. Also, ensure that the bulb creates a temperature gradient inside the habitat. This way, the terrapins can move from the hotter zone to the cooler zone as per their needs.
Significance of UV Lights in Diamondback Terrapins:
UV lights are also crucial for diamondback terrapins. It is because the UVA exposures keep the turtles active and mentally relaxed.
On the contrary, the UVB rays influence the production of vitamin D3 in diamondback terrapins. It consequently promotes calcium absorption in pets. As a result, the terrapins get healthy bones and shells.
So, what happens if the terrapins do not get enough UV rays? First, the lack of UV will mess up the digestion process and immunity of the turtles. Later, you will notice soft spots on the shell and weak bone structure in the pets.
Some reports claim that the lack of UV in hatchlings can lead to death or permanent disabilities. Thus, you must arrange a UV light for indoor diamondback terrapins. In an outdoor habitat, the sun is enough for UV exposure.
UV lamps are available at different percentages. 2.5 – 5% UVs are perfect for aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles. Again, remember to set up the light, maintaining a minimum distance from the dock.
Some lamps radiate both heat and UV rays. Those are wiser choices if you do not want to mess up the habitat. Find out different types of basking lamps with their features from this article.
NB: The lights should be kept on only for 10 hours a day. Keep the lamps off during the night, as the terrapins prefer a cooler environment for sleep. Also, replace the bulbs every 6 months.
Water Filter: Do Diamondback Terrapins Need A Water Filter?
Diamondback terrapins are semi-aquatic turtles, which is why the water quality matters to them. Unfortunately, these turtles can not stand filthy water. It increases the risk of infections and other skin diseases.
Installing a water filter can eliminate the chances of sickness and maintain a healthy environment.
Water filters come in different types and qualities. You should always go for the upgraded and powerful one. It is no use if the device can not handle the tank capacity.
The upgraded water filters offer several features. For example, you can maintain the pH level of water inside the tank. Usually, diamondback terrapins prefer a pH level of 7.5 – 8.25.
Though water filters eliminate the harmful germs and filths from the water, you still need to clean the tank once in a while.
Replace 25% of existing water with fresh tap water every week and perform a thorough cleaning twice every month. Do not change the water too frequently, as it can cloud the tank. Again, you need to clean the filter every 6 months.
I know buying the right water filter can be confusing. Hence, I have listed the top 5 powerful canister filters I use for my turtles. You can check out the list here.
Tank Heater: Do Diamondback Terrapins Need A Tank Heater?
While the heating lamps can warm up the basking area and the air, they can not pass the heat to the water area. As a result, the water stays cold.
Diamondback terrapins spend most of their hours in water. So, keeping that area warm is mandatory. Otherwise, the turtles will get cold and fall for diseases.
The ideal water temperature for terrapins is 70 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Many owners mix hot water with cold tank water to achieve the desired temperature. But this is not a recommended way.
Instead, install a tank heater to keep the water warm 24/7. A quality heater is expensive but worth every penny. The digital heaters can track the water temperature and maintain a suitable range for the terrapins.
A 250 – 350 watts water heater is enough for warming up a 55 to 65-gallon tank. You can install multiple heaters or use a more powerful one if you have a bigger tank. Learn how to buy a tank heater for the terrapins from this article.
Water Condition: Can Diamondback Terrapins Live In Freshwater?
Water condition is crucial for diamondback terrapins. As I have already mentioned, these turtles live in brackish water, especially in the wild.
Just because diamondback terrapins can stand salinity, it does not mean they can survive in the ocean. In reality, the ideal salt level for terrapins is less than the sea and more than usual river water.
It means that diamondback terrapins can not survive in the open sea. This is because the salt level is too high for them. But also due to the strong waves and exposure to marine predators.
The captive terrapins also require the same level of salinity to thrive. Hence, the experts advise mixing the marine salt with the tank water to maintain a salty environment in the habitat. Though brackish water is essential for the terrapins, they also need fresh water for drinking.
Some owners claim that they have raised their terrapins in freshwater. Well, I am not saying that it is impossible. However, you can definitely make your terrapins adapted to the freshwater.
However, salt water is necessary for the biological function of diamondback terrapins. Without brackish water, these pets can build up the skin and infectious diseases.
When you make the terrapins adjust to the freshwater, they can fall sick at the beginning. But there is a high chance that they will do just fine in the long run.
Forcing a diamondback terrapin to live in freshwater can be stressful for it. Hence, you should never try such a thing without consulting a vet.
I recommend raising the terrapins in salty water, just like in the wild. You can maintain the tank water salinity by mixing marine salt with the water. Offer salt water 6 days a week and fresh water 1 day.
Diet: What Do Diamondback Terrapins Eat?
Diamondback terrapins are omnivorous and eat both plant and animal matter. The diet list of these turtles includes,
- Marine worm
- Animal liver
- Brussel sprout
- Green beans
- Romain lettuce
- Relish lettuce
- Sweet potato
- Pears, etc.
So, the diamondback terrapin’s meals mainly consist of 3 items such as animal proteins, vegetables, and fruits. Apart from these, you can add pellets to the diet too. Again, supplements of vitamin D, calcium, and multivitamins are also mandatory for these turtles.
Diamondback terrapins are omnivorous, but their meals include a big chunk of animal protein. In addition, a little portion of vegetables is added to balance the diet. Pellets are also safe but make sure they do not exceed 25 – 30% of the meal.
Moreover, avoid feeding the terrapins any processed foods. Junk items, candies, bakery goods, dog food, fried items, etc., are poisonous to these turtles.
While feeding the terrapins, you have to maintain the ideal rules to determine the quantity. The 15-minute rule and the head methods are the two most effective techniques to measure meal size for diamondback terrapins.
As per the 15-minute rule, you have to allow the terrapins to eat food for only 15 minutes. Then, following the head method, offer the pets food that fits in a bowl about the size of their head.
Again, you can not feed the diamondback terrapins whenever you want. You must have a feeding routine for them.
The experts suggest feeding the babies every day and the juveniles every other day. Unfortunately, it means the terrapins lose their appetite as they grow old. That is why the adult diamondback terrapins can survive well on a thrice-a-week meal system.
Selecting a balanced diet and proper feeding routine are mandatory for diamondback terrapins. Otherwise, the turtles will fall for severe diseases like MBD, vitamin deficiency, obesity, loss of appetite, etc.
Substrates & Decoration
Diamondback terrapins do not necessarily need substrate in an indoor habitat. But owners layer up the bottom to make the habitat more appealing and aesthetic.
Soils and mud can make the tank water cloudy. Hence, you can use medium-sized gravels as substrates. Those gravels are safe for the terrapins, and the color of the substrate makes the enclosure vibrant.
The only drawback of using substrate is maintaining cleanliness. Turtle poops and food waste can get stuck in the gravel, which is hard to clean. So, you have to replace the substrate once in a while.
You may prefer substrate at the bottom of the terrapin’s enclosure if you want to add live plants. Putting plants gives the terrarium a more natural touch. As a result, the terrapins feel closer to home.
Not to mention the other benefits that come with adding plants. For example,
- Combating algae
- Increasing the oxygen percentage in the tank
- Providing hiding places
- Offering snacks
When selecting plants for the diamondback terrapin’s enclosure, make sure those are non-toxic. Get the list of safe plants for terrapins from this article.
You can also add smooth rocks and logs in the tank as hiding places.
Diamondback Terrapin Health Care
Diamondback terrapins have quite the ability to fight any minor diseases. But it does not mean the species has a free pass from sickness. NO!
You still have to look out for any signs of diseases in these turtles and take steps to stop them. The common symptoms that indicate sickness in terrapins are,
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of weight
- Discharge coming from mouth, eyes, and nose
- Foul odor
- Soft spots on the scutes
- Trouble walking
- Trouble breathing
- Diarrhea, etc.
Taking the terrapins for a regular checkup can prevent diseases from taking severe turns.
Moreover, as a responsible owner, you should have primary knowledge about the potential diseases of the terrapins. That way, you can spot the illness more easily.
The common health issues of diamondback terrapins are,
The lack of vitamin A causes vitamin A deficiency in terrapins. Loss of appetite, loss of weight, fatigue, mouth rot, and other infectious diseases are primary signs of this disease. Antibiotic shots with a vitamin A-rich diet can cure this condition.
2. Respiratory Illness
Untreated vitamin A deficiency can weaken the immunity of diamondback terrapins. As a result, they get infected by bacteria or fungi more easily. An infectious attack on the lungs can cause respiratory illness in the terrapins.
Trouble breathing, fear of water, lethargy, mucus from the mouth and nose, sneezing, wheezing, etc., are signs of respiratory illness in terrapins. Keeping the turtles in a warm environment and providing proper medication can recover sick pets.
3. Shell Rot
Shell rot is when bacteria or fungus make their way into the turtle scute via a scratch or crack. The infected area turns black, creating small pits. In severe conditions, the infection spreads to the internal organs and blood. Sometimes the plates fall off, exposing the internal organs.
Applying antibiotics and healing creams to the wound and keeping the terrapins in a warm place can help them recover. But, unfortunately, the cure is difficult if the case gets worse.
Feeding the diamondback terrapins the wrong diet can lead to obesity. Gaining weight is good for neither us humans nor the turtles. Obesity can cause kidney stones, liver failure, and other complexities in the terrapins. Following a strict diet can reverse the condition.
Do you know the signs of obesity? Then, follow this article for insight into the recovery of obese turtles.
5. Parasite Attack
Parasite attack is not uncommon in diamondback terrapins. A filthy enclosure is the main reason behind this condition. Diarrhea, weight loss, dehydration, vomiting, worms in poop, etc., are indications of parasite attacks. Deworming the terrapins once or twice a year can prevent and cure this disease.
6. Metabolic Bone Disease
The lack of vitamin D3 and calcium causes MBD or metabolic bone disease in the terrapins. It means the low quality or absence of UV light is the main culprit of this illness. Deformed bone, bumpy shells, lumps on spines, trouble walking, etc., are signs of this disease. Installing a high-quality UV and ensuring a balanced diet can make the pets better.
Diamondback Terrapin Community Habitat
Diamondback terrapins are quite friendly. So, raising multiple terrapins in a single enclosure poses no major issues, especially when you mix females and hatchlings. Adult males tend to dominate and bully the females and the young turtles. You can also raise a pair but ensure they are compatible with each other first.
Turtle fights are nasty and can be deadly. However, you can minimize the risk of fights by offering spacious tanks, larger docks, more food, and enough hiding spots. For more tips, follow this article on raising multiple turtles.
Again, diamondback terrapins also get along with other species like slides, cooters, map turtles, painted turtles, etc. But you can not always raise them together because of the different water condition requirements.
Diamondback Terrapin Reproduction Care
Diamondback terrapins become sexually active at the age of 4 – 6. Generally, males reach sexual maturity sooner than females.
If you house adult males and females together, the males will disturb the females for mating. Usually, spring is considered the breeding season for these turtles. So, the pets stay sexually active during those months.
As a newbie, you should not breed the terrapins. Mating can be stressful for females, and they can even get sick. However, you can carry on the breeding program if you have enough knowledge about it.
When choosing the breeding pairs, make sure the turtles are adult and healthy. In addition, experts advise putting multiple males for one female to increase the successful mating ratio.
Once copulation is done, separate the terrapins and enclose them. The gravid female terrapins lay eggs from June to July.
The mother turtles require soft, loose soil to lay eggs. Thus, you have to provide a nesting box attached to the main enclosure. Find out the step-by-step process for building and setting up a nesting box for terrapins from here.
The gravid turtles will dig their holes and lay eggs when the time comes. It takes several hours for the terrapins to deposit all the eggs. Generally, one clutch includes 25 – 30 or even more small-sized eggs.
After depositing eggs, the mothers pack the nest with loose soil and dirt. Then they leave the site and never come back.
In the wild, the eggs hatch naturally. But in an indoor habitat, you can not create the expected pressure or temperature in the nest. So, you have to carefully dig out the eggs with a spoon and put them in an incubator with a customized temperature. The babies will come out of the eggshell within 3 months.
Are Diamondback Terrapins Good As Pets?
Diamondback terrapins are friendly and docile. They are not aggressive like snapping turtles or softshell turtles. Also, you can watch these tiny turtles play in the water all day.
However, being friendly is not the only requirement you should watch out for when getting a turtle. But you should also consider its budget, maintenance, care sheet, etc.
Apparently, the terrapins are not cheap. You have to spend over $100 to get a healthy terrapin, and some subspecies cost more than $1000. You will get an overall idea of terrapin’s pricing from this article.
Moreover, diamondback terrapins require brackish water. It is not hard to maintain salinity in the tank, but it can be a hassle for a few owners. That is why this species is not for beginners.
The terrapin is a perfect match for you only if you agree to all these points. Otherwise, you should go for an easy-maintenance species.
Diamondback terrapins are different from many other species. From the unique look to the living condition, it is a delight to raise these turtles. As the species has specific requirements, you should review the care sheet before taking them in. If you can ensure great care, the terrapins will be the best pets you ever own.
This site is owned and operated by Muntaseer Rahman. Muntaseer is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, Tortoise Town, MyFahlo, Just Answer and few other sites. These affiliate advertising programs are designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to the specific sites. This site does not constitute pet medical advice, please consult a licensed veterinarian in your area for pet medical advice.
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