Our Taste For Turtle Soup Nearly Wiped Out Terrapins. Then Prohibition Saved Them

By the turn of the 20th century, America's love affair with Diamondback Terrapin soup — a subsistence food turned gourmet fare — had left the turtle's population teetering. Booze ban to the rescue.
In less than a hundred years, thousands upon thousands of Diamondback Terrapins had succumbed to the American appetite, depleting the species. Source: Jesse D. Eriksen

In the mid-19th century, Americans developed a frenzied culinary affair with turtle. Almost overnight, the Diamondback Terrapin — a small coastal turtle found from Cape Cod to the Gulf Coast — went from subsistence food to luxury cuisine, showing up on menus from the White House to Gold Rush-era San Francisco.

The consequences were savage. By the turn of the 20th century, overharvesting had left the terrapin population teetering on the brink. Once available for a few dollars a dozen, the cost of the now hard-to-find terrapin skyrocketed. The future looked bleak for the Diamondback Terrapin. Then came the unlikeliest of heroes: Prohibition.

"Prohibition impacted the terrapin industry in the entire country in 1919 with the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution," says Maria Cathell,

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR2 min read
In Soccer's Equal Pay Suit, A May 2020 Trial Is 'Good Overall,' Says Alex Morgan
The co-captain of the World Cup-winning U.S. Women's National Team says the earlier-than-expected trial date for the team's gender discrimination lawsuit won't be a distraction for players.
NPR4 min readSociety
In Vermont, A Case Of One Man Whose Gun Was Seized Under Red Flag Law
While the political focus may be on mass shootings, states are far more often using red flag laws to prevent cases of individual gun violence, including suicide.
NPR5 min readScience
Scientists Attempt Controversial Experiment To Edit DNA In Human Sperm Using CRISPR
NPR visited the only lab in the world known to be trying to use the powerful gene-editing tool CRISPR to modify the DNA in human sperm. If successful, it could be used to prevent genetic disorders.