Florida’s Diamondback Terrapin

provided by Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife

Turtles, tortoises, and terrapins are all members of the Chelonian reptile family. The distinction between a turtle, tortoise, or terrapin comes from what habitat they have adapted to live in. The name “terrapin” is derived from the Algonquian word torope meaning “little turtle”. The name was originally used by early settlers in North America to describe these brackish-water turtles inhabiting neither freshwater habitats nor the ocean.

Diamondback terrapins are medium-sized turtles found in brackish water habitats. Five subspecies occur in Florida and three of those subspecies can’t be found anywhere else in the world! As one of the few turtles that can tolerate brackish water, these reptiles can be found in a variety of habitats along the eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico. The diamondback terrapin ranges around the entire coast of Florida, from the panhandle to the Keys and all the way up the Atlantic coast.

Diamondback terrapins have been observed living in salt marshes, wetlands, mangrove swamps, estuaries, lagoons, and even tidal creeks. They have been known to live up to 40 years in captivity and biologists estimate their lifespans in the wild range up to 25 years. Diamondback terrapins eat a variety of foods including snails, insects, crabs, clams, mussels, worms, fish, and a variety of aquatic plants including algae.

Diamondback terrapins are usually distinguishable by their patterned shell consisting of rings and “diamond-like” shapes and knobs along their back. Their shells are multi-colored and the outer rings are usually lighter in color than the inner rings. Their skin is often gray or pale with white or black spots. Their shell can be entirely black with a yellow or orange underside.

On March 27, a diamondback terrapin was admitted after being found in Naples with a fungal infection. Upon presentation, veterinarians noted necrotic areas of the shell that were discolored and in the process of peeling away. The hospital staff suspected the terrapin could have a chronic shell infection that was either fungal or bacterial. The patient was isolated in a tub where scrapings were gathered from both the carapace and plastron to be sent for lab testing to determine the cause of infection. The diamondback terrapin has been moved out to one of our outdoor turtle tanks to continue receiving supportive care.

Habitat loss, predation, road mortalities, boat strikes, accidental drowning from crab traps, and the pet trade all threaten the diamondback terrapin wild populations. Be sure to watch out for terrapins as you drive, specifically, along the coast in the spring and summer times. If a terrapin or turtle is spotted crossing the road, moving them across the road in the direction they’re heading is always helpful and life-saving.

THIS WEEK AT CROW (3/31-4/5):
There were 101 new patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital including 23 Virginia opossums, four mourning doves, seven common grackles, a red-shouldered hawk, three osprey, a chicken turtle, two northern mockingbirds, three eastern screech owls, and an anhinga. Recent Releases include seven mourning doves, two royal terns, a peninsula cooter, a burrowing owl, a bald eagle, a swallow-tailed kite, and a black racer. Check out a full list of CROW’s current patients and recent releases! Wildlife doesn’t have health insurance! Your donations help cover the costs of medical and rehabilitative care for over 5,000 patients admitted to CROW’s Wildlife Hospital each year! Want to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation? Stop by CROW’s Visitor Education Center at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road.

About Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW)
Established in 1968, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) is a teaching hospital saving the sick, injured and orphaned native and migratory wildlife of Southwest Florida and beyond.  Through state-of-the-art veterinary care, public education programs and an engaging visitor center, CROW works to improve the health of the environment, humans and our animals through wildlife medicine. For more information, or to plan your visit, go to http://www.crowclinic.org. If you find an animal that is in need of help, call (239) 472-3644 ext. #222.

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