Correctly identify the species of your pet terrapin is especially important as a pet owner. It allows you to research and learn how they live in the wild, and allows you to recreate the best environment possible for them in your own home.
Terrapin means a fresh water turtle, tortoise means it lives on the land. Turtle should mean a sea turtle, but this term turtle is often used for all of them, especially in America.
If you are unsure or are struggling to identify the species of your pet, then please do book an appointment to see one our specialists. During the consultation we may be able to identify it’s species straight away, but if it’s a rare breed we may need to take photographs and send them to an expert who can help.
Terrapins are typically freshwater animals but some species may spend a varying amount of time on the land or in the water. For example, Musk Turtles (Sternotherus) prefer to spend most of their time in the water whereas the Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora galbinifrons) will spend virtually all of their time on land.
In general most terrapins have the following basic requirements:
In their natural environment, terrapins generally live in and around fresh water systems such as rivers and streams. These water sources are flowing water, so a terrapin will be used to it being ‘clean’. Therefore you need to provide a tank of fresh, clean water for your new pet. If you have a smaller sized tank, then water may be kept clean by changing it every day. However, if you have a larger tank then having a proper filtration system would be the easiet option.
The water should normally be deep enough to allow normal swimming behaviour. If your pet is too sick to be able to swim normally, our vets will be able to give you advise on the best amount to use.
Most terrapins will bask on the land to warm themselves up and return to the water to cool them down. In the wild, some species of terrapin only spend a small amount of time in water, so will only need a soaking corner.
If you have any questions about specifics of water management, please make an appointment and one of our vets will be able to help.
Nearly all species of terrapin need a a dry area or dry patch of land to clim onto. In the wild the terrapin would normally bask in sunlight on the riverbank or on a log or rock to warm up, therefore in your home you will need to provide the captive equivalent. This is a dry area with a heat source where they can ‘bask’ out of the water.
Some species need a bigger land area to walk around and explore.
Is essential that terrapins have the opportunity to dry their shells. If a terrapin’s shell is permanently wet this can lead to shell problems.
Like all reptiles, terrapins are classed as ‘cold blooded’. This means they do not generate their own body heat so you must provide them with external sources of heat in order for them to regulate their own body temperature.
As stated above your terrapin will climb out of the water to warm itself up.
You must provide your terrapin with a ‘temperature gradient’, as this allows them to regulate their body heat. Part of the enclosure should be warmer than the rest, as this allows your terrapin to move there when the temperature is correct for it’s needs at that time of day.
Creating a temperature gradient means you need to position a light bulb or a special ‘heat’ light over the dry area. The light or heater should have a power rating of >50 watts. This measure of power in watts determines how much electricity the light uses, and how much energy is finally converted into heat. The higher the power rating the hotter your light or heater will be.
In the Molesey Vets Retail Pet Shop, we stock lights and heaters of 50, 60, 75, 100 and 125 watts, each designed to meet the needs of your pet terrapin and its tank. We also sell thermometers so you can make sure you have got it right.
Each species requires slight different temperatures to thrive, but in general we recommend a water temperature of about 26-28 C with a land basking hot spot of 32 C.
If your terrapin lives in a tank in your apartment, remember to keep it away from any air conditioning in order to prevent the water or air becoming chilled.
Do not place it too close to the window or it may become overheated.
You will also need to provide ultraviolet (UV) light for your terrapin alongside the heat lamp.
Most animals, humans included, need some ultraviolet (UV) light on their skin. The body used this UV light to produce and activate some vitamins. For many animals their skin is very sensitive to UV light, and over exposure can cause problems such as burning or even skin cancer. However, reptiles such as your terrapin have developed over time to be resistant to UV light, and this lets them bask in strong sunlight for long periods of time. This means for their vitamin activation needs, they need much more UV light.
We cannot see in the UV range, but as with all light there are different wavelengths and different ‘colours’.
The UV spectrum is divided into 3 areas: UVA, UVB and UVC.
UVA is the closest to visible light in wavelength and properties.
UVC is furthest from our visible range and closer in wavelength and properties to harmful radiation such as X-rays.
UVC is dangerous to living animals, and can cause cell damage.
The skin needs UVB to activate the vitamins in the body. This is important as many lights which claim to produce UV light, may only generate UVA.
A proper UVB light is an important addition to the housing setup for your terrapin. A variety of UVB lights are available, each with their own UVB output.
We stock UVB fluorescent tubes as well as compact bulbs which emit UVB of different strengths.
When adding UVB light to their enclosure, it must be positioned within 30 cm of your terrapin for it to absorb the UVB. We recommend you change the UVB lights every 6 months to ensure that your turtle is receiving adequate levels of UVB.
If you are unsure on whether you are providing the right levels of UVB, or have the correct light, then please do book a consultation with one of our vets. During the consultation please bring along any lights you have already purchased for the vet to determine if they are suitable or not. At Molesey Vets, we do have a UVB meter which can be used to check the output of your bulb.
You may have guessed from all this information, keeping a terrapin is not ‘easy’. Owners frequently find that they have to spend a lot of money providing the correct environment for their pet compared to how much their terrapin actually cost.