Care of Terrapins / Freshwater Turtles

'Care of Terrapins / Freshwater Turtles' image

Terrapins can live 15-25 years and can grow up to 12-13 inches in length. They reach sexual maturity at 3-8 years. Adult males can be distinguished by long fore claws and a longer tail


Natural habitat

Many terrapins / freshwater turtles come from the southern states of USA (from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico). By daytime they forage for food and bask in the sun and at night they retire to the bottom of the water to lie in the mud. Adults are omnivorous, meaning they eat both animal and vegetable food. Juveniles are mainly carnivorous becoming more herbivorous as they mature. In the wild they eat small fish, aquatic insects, tadpoles, frogs, snails and other pond life. Adults will eat aquatic vegetation, pond life and some dead organic matter

 Housing in captivity

The minimum tank size for a hatchling must be 76 x 30 x 30cm. The depth should be 1.5-2 times the turtle's carapace length. The tank should be cleaned once a week and gloves should be worn when cleaning the tank.

 Equipment checklist

  •  Filter - Terrapins are voracious feeders and rapidly foul the tank water so filtration is essential. Filter sponges should be cleaned every 4 days and replaced with new ones every 3 months.
  • Dry dock with basking light. Terrapins are semi-aquatic so provide a floating island or a rock / concrete block The basking light should lie over this dry dock and be kept on by day.
  • Heating - The water should be heated by a water heater with a 'hot spot' under the basking light. The water should be 28-29 C for hatchlings with a basking area of 29-32 C. An aquarium thermometer is essential to confirm the water temperature. The temperature can be cooler (21-26C) for adults.
  •  A UV light (Reptile UVB) is essential for shell growth and hardening.  It must be placed inside the tank as UVB cannot penetrate though glass and the bulb changed every 6 months. Juveniles should also get some natural sunlight every week to help their shell growth


Juveniles need Vitamin A and calcium for growing their bones and shell so food high in these ingredients must be fed. Feed turtle pellets, some live small fish, liver, earthworms, mealworms, chopped leafy greens. All diet should be supplemented with mineral / vitamins (eg Vetark Arkvits). Do not feed dried prawns /shrimps and muscle meats like beef and chicken as the staple diet as these lead to serious deficiencies!  Adults should be fed only every 2-3 days. Feed 30% turtle pellets, 70% vegetables (chopped leafy greens, kale, romaine/ red leaf lettuce, dandelion, water cress, parsley, shredded carrot,)