How to Care for Terrapins

Updated April 17, 2017

Deciding to adopt a terrapin turtle is a large commitment. These turtles require lots of care and attention to ensure that they are well adjusted and happy, but they are also rewarding pets. These playful, intelligent animals can live up to 30 years with the proper care. When neglected, however, they can become ill quickly.

Purchase a large terrarium capable of holding water (not all are, so be sure to check the label). Terrapins can grow up to one foot long, so the ideal terrarium size is 36" by 18" by 16" for adults.

Line the bottom of the terrarium with small pebbles, and add foliage to help the terrapin feel at home.

Add a large plateau to the terrarium. It should stick above the water line so the turtle can bask in the sunlight.

Place the terrarium in a sunlit spot. Terrapins gain Vitamin D from the sun, which is essential for shell hardness. However, finding a sunlit spot is not always possible, and so it is necessary to purchase a UV lamp to place on the top of the terrarium.

Add water and fit a water filter to the terrarium. If you are bringing home baby turtles, the water should not be deeper than two inches. However, as they grow, the water can be as deep as their shell is wide. In addition, the water must be treated with a water conditioner to remove the chlorine and other harmful substances in hard water. The most popular water conditioner in pet stores is Reptisafe by Zoomed, which helps to stimulate reptilian slime coats in addition to neutralising harsh chemicals in the water. However, the conditioner Exo Terra is also a good choice, as it also acts as a calcium supplement, helping to keep turtles' shells hard.

Regulate the temperature of the terrarium. Terrapins thrive when their terrarium is between 23.9 and 27.8 degrees Celsius, though you may let it drop five degrees in the winter so your turtle can hibernate.

Select a terrapin. The best way to select a terrapin is to first meet it in a pet store. Do not order your turtle online. Although terrapins can live alone, these sociable creatures prefer to live in pairs, so keep this in mind when you are looking to adopt.

Feed your terrapin. Young hatchlings need a high-protein, high-calcium diet, and the best way to give them these nutrients is by giving them raw fish such as tuna or mackerel. Older terrapins can eat fruit and vegetables in addition to fish, and turtle food in pet shops can give your terrapin extra nutrients. (Please note that you must not rely on commercial food; turtles need a well-balanced diet.)

Observe your terrapin's behaviour. This is an ongoing process, but watching your turtle can help you identify any diseases or painful illness your terrapin may be enduring. For example, if your turtle stops eating and keeps its mouth open much of the time (as well as omitting a terrible smell), it may have a sore of the oral cavity. Cracked or deformed shells may be a sign of nutrient deficiency, and attempting to hibernate during the spring or summer may point to poor health. If you see your terrapin acting strangely, see a veterinarian immediately.

Change the water of the terrarium often. Leaving terrapins in dirty water can lead to infections. Also be sure to keep the water clear of droppings between changes.


If you decide to start off with baby turtles, a pair will need a terrarium that is 18" by 12" by 6", and then you can upgrade to a bigger home when they grow. Be sure to keep baby terrapins separate from adults to prevent biting or harassing behaviours..


Terrapin turtles are very fragile creatures, and so it is very important to not mishandle them. Holding your terrapin gently but firmly on either side of its shell reduces the risk of dropping the turtle. A bad fall can result in fatal breaks to the limbs, shell or neck, so this must be taken seriously. Children under 5 should not handle terrapins.

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About the Author

Andrea Hamilton has enjoyed being a writer since 1996. She has been published as a poet in "Fine Lines Magazine." Hamilton holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from Iowa State University and is pursuing a Master of Arts in creative writing from London South Bank University.