Most Marylanders are probably familiar with the concept of the terrapin. Maybe you're a fan of the UMD teams of the same name, which feature a fierce terrapin mascot. Or maybe you've seen one of these fascinating animals in your own backyard! But how much do you know about terrapins? Let's take a closer look at this reptile and appreciate how cool it truly is.
1. Not all creatures called 'terrapins' are closely related
There are a lot of animals with 'terrapin' in their names, and they live all over the world. So they all must be nearly the same...right? Well, not so fast. In fact, while they're all turtles, they may not be in the same family of turtles, and they're definitely not all the same species. The terrapin species that we recognize as the Maryland mascot is a local one, the diamondback terrapin (that's where the name of the UMD school paper comes from!).
2. Diamondback terrapins were almost hunted to extinction for their meat
Would you eat terrapin for dinner? You may think that turtle meat is too strange to consider, but it used to be a common dish in Maryland. Turtle soup and 'Terrapin a la Maryland' stew were popular because the diamondback terrapins were plentiful. But as human activities like hunting and habitat destruction reduced their numbers, terrapins become less commonly served.
3. Terrapins have disrupted air traffic
Could a terrapin stop a plane? Absolutely. When terrapins have somewhere to be, they get going, even if they're in the path of an airplane. More than 75 diamondback terrapins crossed the runway at JFK airport in New York in 2009, leading to a delay so they could be removed and returned to the wild.
4. These critters can live in salt and fresh water
Diamondback terrapins prefer brackish water -- water that is neither fully salt nor fresh. But they can get along in freshwater and salt water, making them versatile turtles. If you want to find one in Maryland, head to the Chesapeake Bay's tidal waters. During the winter, they tend to power down until warm weather returns, so you probably won't see many if you go looking right now!
5. Testudo, the terrapin mascot of UMD, has a rich history of his own
The diamondback terrapin isn't just the state reptile of Maryland; it's the mascot of UMD! We call him Testudo, though we're not completely sure where the name came from. According to UMD itself, it may come from the scientific word for turtles. Testudo was honored with a statue, which has had its highs and lows -- it's been stolen by other schools and defaced, but UMD students honor the turtle with nose rubs and gifts in exchange for good grades during finals.