/ter"euh pin/, n.
1. any of several edible North American turtles of the family Emydidae, inhabiting fresh or brackish waters, esp. the diamondback terrapin: some are threatened or endangered.
2. any of various similar turtles.
[1605-15; earlier torope ( < Virginia Algonquian < Eastern Algonquian *to·rape·w variety of turtle > Munsee Delaware tó·lpe·w) + -in, of uncert. orig.]

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Any omnivorous aquatic turtle of the family Emydidae, especially the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin).

The diamondback inhabits salt marshes and coasts from New England to the Gulf of Mexico. It has raised diamond-shaped patterns on its brownish or black upper shell. The female attains a shell length of about 9 in. (23 cm); the male grows to about 6 in. (14 cm). The eight species of the turtle genus Pseudemys (or Chrysemys) are sometimes referred to as terrapins. They inhabit freshwaters from the northeastern U.S. to Argentina. The female's shell is 6–16 in. (15–40 cm) long. Infant red-eared turtles (P. scripta elegans) are sold in pet shops.

(Top) Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin); (bottom) red-eared turtle (Pseudemys ...

(Top) Leonard Lee Rue III from The National Audubon Society Collection/Photo Researchers
EB Inc.; (bottom) Leonard Lee Rue III

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 a term formerly used to refer to any aquatic turtle but now restricted largely, though not exclusively, to the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) of the turtle family Emydidae. Until the last third of the 20th century, the word terrapin was used commonly in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth countries as well as the United States.

      The diamondback terrapins inhabit salt marshes (salt marsh) and coastal waters of North America from New England to the Gulf of Mexico. They are moderate in size, with shell lengths of 10–14 cm (4–6 inches) in males and 15–23 cm (6–9 inches) in females. In addition, females often have a proportionately larger head, which may be associated with a heavier diet of mollusks (mollusk). In general, terrapins are omnivores (omnivore); they capture a variety of invertebrate prey and occasionally eat plant matter. Like sea turtles (sea turtle), terrapins must find egg-laying sites on beaches above the high-tide line. Most adult females nest annually from April through July, depending on latitude. Clutch sizes vary from 4 to 18 eggs (egg), and incubation typically lasts 80 to 90 days.

      The terrapin has been acclaimed as a “gourmet's delight,” particularly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and this gustatory popularity resulted in the overcollection and near extinction of many coastal populations. Efforts were made to develop a hatchery-farming system in the early 20th century. This project never attained commercial success, but harvesting pressure was reduced by the Great Depression and World War II, and terrapin populations largely recovered. At the present time, the popularity of the blue crab (Callinectes) and its manner of harvest present a new threat to terrapin populations. Terrapins enter submerged crab traps to catch the crabs and baitfish, ensnare themselves, and drown because they cannot reach the surface to breathe.

George R. Zug

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Universalium. 2010.

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • terrapin — UK [ˈterəpɪn] / US [ˈterəˌpɪn] noun [countable] Word forms terrapin : singular terrapin plural terrapins a small animal that lives in water and has a hard shell on its back. It is a type of turtle …   English dictionary

  • terrapin — noun Etymology: alteration of earlier torope, from Virginia Algonquian *to•rəpe•w Date: 1613 any of various aquatic turtles (family Emydidae); especially diamondback terrapin …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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