How to Care for Terrapins

By Kristie Karns

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Terrapins are saltwater turtles that can live for 20 to 30 years in captivity. These turtles can be kept in fresh water as well as brackish, but seem to do best in a combination of the two environments. Terrapins are large turtles when grown and the females can grow up to 9 inches long, which means that these creatures need a lot of room if kept indoors.

Aquarium Size

Terrapins need large aquariums to give them not only space to swim but also space to eat, drink and bask while out of the water. Since these turtles grow quite large, the females being larger than the males at around 9 inches, 100-gallon aquariums or larger should be used to house terrapins. Each section of the turtle's home should be about the same size, to provide ample room for all of his daily activities.

Healthy Terrapin Diet

Fruit, such as apples, strawberries and bananas, veggies such as kale and lettuce, and a variety of worms as well as cooked meats or small fish are the natural diet of the terrapin. Some owners feed their terrapins feeder fish, such as common goldfish or guppies. It is unwise to feed terrapins shellfish as those foods can transfer disease organisms to the terrapin. Calcium can be added to the terrapin's diet with powdered bone meal.

Heat Lamp

Terrapins can't regulate their body temperatures and draw heat from the sun to stay alive. The pet owner must provide that sun in the form of a heat lamp capable of 40-watt output that contains UVA and UVB waves. Set up the lamp 10 inches above a basking area where your terrapin can build up his body temperature when he is not swimming. Terrapins spend some time each day just basking, so an adequately sized basking area needs to be provided, such a turtle island purchased from a pet shop, a log or stone. Keep the overall tank temperature between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit with a separate heating unit.

Tank Cleanliness

Terrapins are messy eaters due to the way they eat, which is to bite food into small pieces. The unwanted portions float in the water and rot unless the pet owner removes them after the terrapin is finished. The swimming area needs to be cleaned every day and the drinking water needs to be cleaned as well. Remove feces from the basking area, swimming area and food area every day to keep the tank clean.

Hands Off Pets

Terrapins should not be handled a lot, for two reasons. They don't like being touched, and terrapins can carry salmonella bacterium, and shouldn't be handled unlessyou wash your hands immediately after touching a terrapin. Never handle a terrapin, and then prepare or consume food without first thoroughly washing the hands. Handle a terrapin only when absolutely necessary and briefly, like when the tank is being cleaned. Have another tank handy for those occasions.

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