Where Do Diamondback Terrapins Live?

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Diamondback terrapins look amazing. There is no wonder why the species is in demand as a pet. But wait. Do you know which environment these terrapins prefer? Or where do diamondback terrapins live?

The diamondback terrapins prefer living in brackish water in both captivity and wilderness. These turtles can withstand high salinity, even ocean water, for months. But, again, if approached properly, terrapins might live in freshwater without any complications.

It is always wiser to research the geographical location and wild living arrangement of a turtle before taking it in. But hey! You do not have to go through the troubles. I have done all the homework and summed up everything about the native habitat of diamondback terrapins in the following write up.

So, do give it a read.

Where Do Diamondback Terrapins Live?

Diamondback terrapins are not like most other aquatic species and have specific water requirements. These turtles need salty water to grow, even in captivity. Hence, these terrapins can not just live in any natural water body but in sources that meet the desired water salinity.

In the wild, diamondback terrapins live in brackish water. It includes coastal salt marshes, tidal creeks, wetlands, mangrove swamps, and estuaries. The species also make a habitat in the islands, bay rivers, beachy shores, and mudflats.

Remember, the water requirement of diamondback terrapins does not include the level of sea saltness. Instead, the water source should have less salinity than the ocean and more than the freshwater bodies.

Maintaining the water salinity is crucial even when raising these terrapins in captivity. It is because these turtles might grow shell rot and other skin related diseases without the salty water.

Here is another thing you must know.

Diamondback terrapins also require fresh water for drinking. Hence, they choose a brackish water source to live in and make sure a freshwater source is accessible.

When in captivity, experts suggest following the 6 – 1 days rule. You keep your terrapin in salty water for 5 – 6 days and freshwater for 1 day.

The tolerance for brackish water is high for the diamondback terrapins. Even the hatchlings require salty water to thrive.

Strange behaviour is observed among the diamondback terrapins of Connecticut. Those turtles swim to the disposal area of the power station situated at the Connecticut shoreline. There, the terrapins enjoy the stream of warm water discharge.

The discharged water of the Connecticut power station is indeed polluted. However, the terrapins have the resistance to stand a level of pollution.

Furthermore, diamondback terrapins hibernate during the cold like most other species. These turtles choose a muddy area for the months-long sleep at that time.

Where Are Diamondback Terrapins Found?

The natural habitat range of diamondback terrapins starts from the Northeastern and Southern parts of the USA. These home areas are stretched far to the Florida Keys and Northern to Cape Cod. All the seven subspecies of the terrapins live in this wide range and even beyond.

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If we get more specific, you will spot diamondback terrapins in,

  • USA Atlantic
  • Massachusetts
  • Corpus Christi
  • Maryland
  • Delaware
  • Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • Columbia
  • Texas
  • Gulf coasts of New Mexico, etc.

The terrapins are also found in the water of Bermuda.

Diamondback terrapins have 7 subspecies. Each one has distinct characteristics, and they have been categorised mainly based on their distribution range. Here is a chart indicating the natural habitats of all diamondback terrapin subspecies,

Diamondback Terrapin SubspeciesNatural Habitat Range
Carolina Diamondback TerrapinSouth Carolina, Cape Hatteras to the Florida Keys, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Texas
Texas Diamonback TerrapinCape Cod, Massachusetts to the Florida Keys, Gulf Coast of New Mexico, Louisiana to Corpus Christi Bay
Ornate Diamondback TerrapinFlorida Bay, Florida Panhandle
Mississippi Diamondback TerrapinFlorida Panhandle To Eastern Part Of Louisiana
Mangrove Diamondback TerrapinMangrove swamps in lower Florida Keys
East Florida Diamondback TerrapinFlorida, Northern California, Southern Carolina
Northern Diamondback TerrapinNorthern Part of America

You might think the natural habitat matters a little to the diamondback terrapins and their flourishing features. But no.

Studies have proved that geographical location plays a role in deciding the size of the male terrapins. Hence, the origin of the turtles does carry significance, no matter how small.

Do Diamondback Terrapins Live On Land?

Diamondback terrapins do not live on lands but in salty rivers, swamps, estuaries, etc. Due to their aquatic behaviour, the terrapins need brackish water sources to swim and survive. However, they often migrate to freshwater bodies for drinking.

You know there are more than 350 turtle species out there. On a big picture, all of them fall under 3 categories,

  1. Aquatic turtle (Diamondback terrapins, mud turtle)
  2. Semi-aquatic turtle (Sliders, Painted turtle)
  3. Land turtle (Box turtle)

On the one hand, the aquatic turtles spend most of their life underwater. In contrast, the semi-aquatic species splits the time between swimming and basking. While these semi-aquatic turtles might spend a considerable time on land, the aquatic species struggle to cope above the surface.

Again, the land turtles barely swim. They live their life on dry land.

As you all know, diamondback terrapins are entirely aquatic. Hence, they come to the land to bask and soak under the sun. But unfortunately, these turtles can not live in a dry area like the land species.

The terrapins are consistent with basking. They absorb heat and UV rays during the activity, which helps them keep up their immunity. Besides, basking has a vital role in boosting the digestion of the turtles and building a solid skeleton structure.

Hence, both the water and land are essential to the terrapins.

If you are building an indoor enclosure, never forget the basking station and the lighting arrangements. The lights should be on 12 hours a day as the turtles come on the land between their swimming sessions.

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Again, never make the mistake of keeping the terrapins away from water unless they are sick. A diamondback terrapin might not survive a week without water for swimming and drinking.

Do Diamondback Terrapins Swim In The Ocean?

The diamondback terrapins prefer salty brackish water bodies to live. However, the ocean might be too exaggerated for them to choose as a habitat. It is because they do not have flippers like the sea turtles to swim through the waves and tidal currents.

Diamondback terrapins can withstand more salinity than most other turtle species. Therefore, these turtles can live in freshwater and the ocean. But the question arises will they survive in those environments?

The answer is yes and no.

In the wild, the terrapins live in the rivers and brackish marshes with heavy tides, which prove their worth as excellent swimmers. But, again, researchers have caught these turtles chilling in freshwater sources without facing any trouble.

Many turtle keepers have successfully raised diamondback terrapins in soft water with rare access to salty water. Again, on the other hand, the number of failures in such an attempt is not ignorable too.

The diamondback terrapins mostly live in mildly salty water. Right? However, recent studies have concluded that the terrapins are fully capable of living in the ocean too.

Confused? I bet you are.

Even though the diamondback terrapins have abundant options to make a home, they always go for intermediate salinities. It is because only brackish water fulfills their physical requirements.

So, if you free the diamondback terrapins in the ocean, they might live. But for how long?

These turtles have webbed feet, not flippers like the sea turtles. Though the terrapins have experience of swimming in high currents, it is not similar to the ocean waves. As a result, these turtles will fail to swim efficiently in the sea.

Again, the sea turtles grow about 6 to 9 feet. On the other hand, the terrapins get 11 inches big at best. Hence, they can not utilize their body size while swimming in high tides like the marine turtles.

Moreover, the sea predators are always looking for a new meal. The diamondback terrapins will make the perfect dinner for them, considering the size and incapabilities of coping in a marine environment.

As you can see, diamondback terrapins are swift swimmers and can withstand salinity. Yet, they are not an excellent match for swimming or living in the open ocean.

Where Do Terrapins Live In The Wild?

The wild terrapins have a wide range of habitat options, including wetlands, swamps, marshes, mangroves, estuaries, creeks, etc. These turtles live comfortably in brackish and salty water bodies. However, there must be accessible freshwater sources nearby to collect drinking water.

Unlike many other species, terrapins can make peace with high salinity. These turtles can even live in the ocean water for months without complaining.

Experts suggest that the terrapin skins are impervious to salt, and hence, they face no issue in high salinity. Again, the salt glands are also exceptional in this species, which helps them keep hydrated and healthy. Researchers have claimed that the lack of salty water might cause skin and shell diseases.

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Hence, a brackish waterway is mandatory for the wild diamondback terrapins. However, these turtles often look for a freshwater source as the salty water is not suitable for drinking.

The water salinity is also mandatory for raising the terrapins indoors, especially the wild breeds. Many turtle hobbyists have tried keeping this species in freshwater, and they have done the job quite successfully. However, it is not recommended to perform experiments with your turtles unless you are an expert or have consulted the vet.

Can Diamondback Terrapins Live In Freshwater?

The captive-bred diamondback terrapins can live in freshwater while the wild ones struggle to cope. However, migrating the wild-born turtles slowly into the freshwater might work in some cases.

I have already discussed the significance of salinity in raising a diamondback terrapin. In the wild, they prefer brackish water bodies and rarely look for freshwater sources for drinking.

The terrapins have high salinity resistance, and they can even swim live in the ocean. However, considering the need for both water types, these turtles choose less salty water sources.

Studies have suggested that the diamondback terrapins are capable of living in the freshwater too. But, during the first phase, the turtles might suffer from skin irritation and shell rot issues. Finding a brackish water body or migrating to a freshwater source is not a big deal for the wild terrapins. They do the switching as they see it fits.

However, in captivity, the owners often lose their sleep over this minor issue. So let me clear your confusion, once and for all.

Experts suggest keeping the diamondback terrapins in intermediate salinity. You can provide the quality by mixing marine salt with the tank water. The amount is not an issue here as the terrapins can withstand high salty water. In any doubt, consult your vet.

Again, you can definitely raise the diamondback terrapins in freshwater. Though the turtles might exhibit skin and shell disease symptoms, they will be fine in the long run.

However, I prefer to maintain a balance between the water body switching. So I keep the terrapins in salty water for 5 – 6 days and 1 – 2 days in the freshwater. Luckily, my turtles are doing fine.

I recommend you consult a professional first if you are thinking about changing the water requirement for the terrapins. However, salty water might be a must for the terrapin hatchlings.

Diamondback Terrapin Habitat Loss

Even though in demand, the terrapins are going through a rough patch. Recently, ICUN has tagged the species vulnerable. Loss of salt marshes, destruction of beachlines, and pollution of the water bodies are mainly to blame here.

However, many experts point their fingers to the large-scale terrapin harvesting until 2007 for this conservation state. The farm turtles were used for trading meats, shells, and bones.

Luckily, the concerned organizations have come forward to save the species. They have banned the illegal harvesting and poaching of diamondback terrapins in many states.


The natural habitat of the diamondback terrapins ranges from Massachusetts to California and even beyond. These turtles require brackish water to flourish and fresh water for drinking purposes. The terrapins have high resistance to salinity and can even live in the ocean for months.

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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