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New rules for wild terrapin turtles in your home

Diamondback terrapin turtle
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
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Diamond terrapin turtles can no longer be captured in public by those without a special permit

Florida’s diamondback terrapin turtles, which herpetologists believe are the only tortoises in the world that live in brackish water, must be left in the blend of fresh and salt water that the slowpokes call home.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in December decided diamondback terrapin turtle numbers have dipped enough that the critters need protection to keep any more of them from being scooped up in the wild. For years their numbers have slowly declined thanks to, among other things, those with a taste for terrapin stew and anyone wanting one for a personal aquarium.

Collecting or possessing a diamondback terrapin is now illegal, but there are exceptions: for turtle researchers, for educational displays of the turtles, and for similar conservation-based programs. Possession in those cases must be done by people with a no-cost terrapin exhibition and education permit.

Diamondback terrapins are medium-sized turtles that live in brackish water habitats statewide, including salt marshes, barrier islands, mangrove swamps, tidal creeks and rivers. They eat a variety of foods including snails, crabs, clams, mussels, worms, fish and plants. Five of the seven subspecies occur in Florida, three of which can be found nowhere else

Throughout their range, diamondback terrapin populations are in decline due to habitat loss, unsustainable collection from the wild due to growing popularity in the global pet market, being eaten by predators including humans, and being hit by vehicles.

In addition to this new rule, the FWC is helping conserve terrapins by requiring all recreational blue crab traps to have rigid funnel openings no larger than 2-inches by 6-inches at the narrowest point, or a 2-inch by 6-inch bycatch reduction devices installed. The FWC thinks this will reduce the number of terrapins accidently captured in crab traps.

Did you know?

Terrapins are the official state reptile of Maryland, and:

  • The word “terrapin” comes from an Algonquin word for edible turtles that live in brackish water.
  • You can determine a terrapin’s age by counting the growth rings on its scutes (the thickened horny or bony plate on a turtle's shell.)
  • A terrapin’s scutes are unique to each animal, just like fingerprints are to humans.
  • Terrapin populations were decimated in the 18th and 19th centuries due to the popularity of terrapin soup.

People who currently possess diamondback terrapins as personal pets may keep them but they, too, must obtain a no-cost permit by May 31, 2022. To learn about the new rules, obtain a license and an application online visit MyFWC.com/FreshwaterTurtles .

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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