Terrapin Care

Setting up a Tank

Terrapin care tank setupThe first tank that you buy for your terrapin will probably become too small very quickly, in our experience you need to buy the biggest tank you can accommodate in order to prevent multiple purchases.

We had one terrapin in a 40inch tank with two, large external Fluval filters and still had to do a partial water change every week as well as a full strip down about every six weeks – including changing the charcoal in the filters. Big responsibility.

The tank will also need a basking area where the terrapin can get out of the water completely, with a basking lamp for heat placed high enough that they can’t reach it.

There will also need to be a UV lamp to replicate sun rays so that the shell can dry out in order to come off as the terrapin grows; if this doesn’t happen, the shell can lift up slightly and can get moss growing on it, parasite infestations and even deformities of the shell itself.

The hardier terrapins like Red Eared Sliders, Yellow Bellied Sliders, Box Terrapins and some Map and Fake Maps don’t require a heater as the lights give off some warmth and they would already be at room temperature in the tank.

If Musk or Soft Shell Terrapins are kept, a handy tip is to put the heater into a plastic cover to avoid damage to the glass, as terrapins can be quite rough.

There are around 250 species of terrapin – the best way to identify yours is to go on to Google as they have a great picture gallery.

If you decide to put stones in your tank, make sure they are bigger than the terrapin’s head to avoid them being swallowed. A terrapin has a fixed tongue so they can’t flick things out of their mouth and small stones could be a choking hazard.


two terrapins in tankFeeding Terrapins

When feeding your terrapin try to offer a good variety of food early on as they’re much more likely to eat a better selection if introduced from the offset – we have come across many a fussy terrapin in our time.

We feed ours krill, shrimp, prawns, white bait fish, raw mince, raw chicken, the white from hard boiled eggs (no yolk), lettuce, sliced carrots, baby spinach leaves, water cress and also some fruits – No avocado or rhubarb though, not sure if these are harmful to terrapins but, as they are to other animals, they are best avoided.

As with most things terrapin related, feeding is trial and error really and they won’t all like the same things either, try a few things from the list and no doubt you’ll find something they really enjoy.

We also give our terrapins calcium blocks from time to time. We did use Cuttlefish for a while but without any great success and find the blocks go down much better.

It’s worth mentioning that any food you do put in the tank should be removed after about half an hour if uneaten to stop it adulterating the water.

Dirty water = unhappy terrapin.


Cleaning the Tank

The cleaning of the tank can be very heavy work, not to mention time consuming, but it is a necessity to keep your terrapin in optimum health.

When cleaning your tank, be sure to use only water, as many cleansing products are highly toxic for terrapins.

It is also important to think about where you are cleaning the tank itself – using an outside tap is ideal and can be rather enjoyable in the summer. Come wintertime it’s a different story and the cold water quickly leads to frozen hands.

Having said that, it is not advisable to clean your tank, filter or any other terrapin related accessories in either your kitchen sink or bathroom as they carry a real risk of salmonella.

Talking of salmonella, we would like to point out that terrapins are a very bad choice of pet for children, despite what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would have you think.

They don’t particularly like being handled (anti-bacterial hand wash at the ready) this, along with the salmonella risk means that if you’re looking for something the kids can pet and play with then a terrapin probably isn’t the best choice.

A few years ago, and many tank washes later, we decided that the way forward for us would be to make a purpose built terrapin pond…..

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