The Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) is the State reptile and official mascot of the University of Maryland College Park (Chapter 476, Acts of 1994; Code State Government Article, sec. 13-313).
Chesapeake diamondbacks are distinguished by diamond-shaped, concentric rings on the scutes of their upper shells. They are predators whose preference for unpolluted saltwater make them indicators of healthy marsh and river systems. In winter, they hibernate underwater in mud. Around late May, diamondback terrapin emerge to mate, nest, and bask in the sun on coastal dunes or narrow sandy beaches.
Chesapeake colonists ate terrapin prepared Native-American fashion, roasted whole in live coals. Abundant and easy to catch, terrapin were so ample that landowners often fed their slaves and indentured servants a staple diet of terrapin meat. Later, in the 19th century, the turtle was appreciated as gourmet food, especially in a stew laced with cream and sherry. Subsequently, tremendous retail demand and heavy fishing of the terrapin nearly depleted its supply, and protective laws were enacted.
In 1891, some 89,000 lbs. of terrapin were harvested from Maryland waters. With few exceptions, annual harvests since 1956 have remained below 11,000 lbs.
Detailed information about the turtle's biology and living habits can be found in the National Aquarium in Baltimore's "Puffin Report" about the Terrapin.
April 1, 2001
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