How to keep a terrapin

Updated July 20, 2017

Terrapins are small, aquatic freshwater turtles often kept as pets. The term terrapin is a Native American word that literally means "little turtle." Several types of turtles are kept as pets and classified as terrapins, including the box turtle, map turtle, diamondback terrapin, painted turtle and the red-eared slider. The attraction of owning these beautiful reptiles is that they remain relatively small and are fascinating to observe. However, they are delicate animals that will not thrive if their specific needs are not met. Learning about the proper care of terrapins will help make you a responsible pet owner.

Select the proper size and type of tank prior to purchasing a terrapin. Terrapins need space to move around and swim; a tank that is 45 by 30 cm (18 by 12 inches) wide is a good size to start. If you choose a terrapin that is larger when grown, or multiple terrapins, you will need to select a larger size. The tank should have clear sides because terrapins need plenty of natural light to get vitamin D. Fish tanks or aquariums work best for terrapin tanks.

Set up your terrapin's tank with the items necessary for it to live and thrive. Provide aquascape consisting of plants and rocks to mimic the terrapin's natural environment. Place several large rocks in the tank to give your terrapin room to walk around out of the water. Supply at least 10 cm (4 inches) of water, which should be between 24 and 27 degrees Celsius.

Provide a filter for the water in your terrapin's tank. This device will help to keep the water clean in between tank cleanings.

Visit a reputable pet or aquarium store to find a pet terrapin to purchase to ensure that you get a healthy pet turtle.

Look for signs of concern or poor health before making your purchase. Terrapins kept in pet stores should be clean, active and lively; their eyes should be bright and clear. These signs indicate health in these small turtles.

Feed your pet terrapin a balanced diet. Terrapins are omnivores; they enjoy a variety of insects, fruits and vegetables. Live insects, snails, worms and pieces of raw, lean meat and fish will provide good sources of protein for your terrapin. Lettuce, tomatoes, berries, apples and bananas are some varieties of plant-based food to feed your little turtle. You can supplement a terrapin's diet with commercial turtle food available at your local pet or aquarium store.

Provide plenty of natural light. These reptiles enjoy basking on rocks in their tank in the sun for hours; they need sunlight to maintain good health. If you can not provide natural light, use a UV or fluorescent reptile light near your terrapin's tank.

Monitor your terrapin's health throughout its life. Any unusual signs, such as inactivity or lethargy, are symptoms that can indicate a possible health issue. Visit a local vet that specialises in reptile health if you have any concerns about the well-being of your terrapin.


Purchase a pet terrapin from a pet store that is familiar with reptiles and turtle. You will be able to get knowledgeable advice from the staff as well as a terrapin that is likely to have originated from a reputable source. Ensure you are ready to keep a terrapin for a long time before you purchase one as a pet. With proper care, a terrapin can live for 25 to 30 years.


Do not take terrapins from lakes or ponds to make them pets. They need to be left to reproduce in their natural environments. Always be gentle when handling these delicate, little turtles. Never let young children handle them, as they can accidentally harm the reptiles' fragile bodies.

Things You'll Need

  • Large fish tank or aquarium
  • Rocks
  • Aquatic plants
  • Tank filter
  • Light source
  • Food, insects, meat, fruit and vegetables
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About the Author

Jennifer Lynn has been writing as a correspondent and reporter since 1991. She has written for numerous newspapers and currently writes as a correspondent for Gannett. Lynn has a Bachelor of Arts with a focus on English from Ohio University, where she also studied journalism at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.