How to Care for Terrapins

Written by andrea hamilton
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How to Care for Terrapins
With the proper care, terrapin turtles make great friends for decades. (Yellow-bellied Terrapin image by Daniel Mortell from Fotolia.com)

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.

Skill level:
Easy

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Instructions

  1. 1

    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.

    How to Care for Terrapins
    Aquatic terrapins are capable of staying underwater for long periods of time. (Yellow-bellied Terrapin image by Daniel Mortell from Fotolia.com)
  2. 2

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

    How to Care for Terrapins
    Keep the terrarium habitat similar to the terrapin's natural habitat. (turtle 5 image by cherie from Fotolia.com)
  3. 3

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

    How to Care for Terrapins
    Turtles are cold-blooded animals that absorb their heat from the sun. (terrapin image by john barber from Fotolia.com)
  4. 4

    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.

    How to Care for Terrapins
    Terrapins must bask in sunlight to avoid Vitamin D deficiencies. (window image by aldaer from Fotolia.com)
  5. 5

    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.

  6. 6

    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.

    How to Care for Terrapins
    The terrarium's temperature must be closely monitored. (thermometer image by Alfonso d'Agostino from Fotolia.com)
  1. 1

    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.

    How to Care for Terrapins
    Terrapins enjoy companionship. (Turtle image by bokijono from Fotolia.com)
  2. 2

    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.)

    How to Care for Terrapins
    Your terrapin will grow a taste for greens as it gets older. (pot luck 2 image by Anton Chernenko from Fotolia.com)
  3. 3

    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.

    How to Care for Terrapins
    Terrapins retreat into their shell as a response to fear. (Turtle image by Sidoroff from Fotolia.com)
  4. 4

    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.

    How to Care for Terrapins
    Clean water helps prevent trips to the veterinarian. (turtle image by cherie from Fotolia.com)

Tips and warnings

  • 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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