are approximately two hundred and fifty terrapins and turtles
in the world. The difference between turtles and
is highly debated, and in America any chelonian (shelled reptile)
that’s not a tortoise is called a “turtle”.
Some “turtles” are very aquatic and some are not,
the same goes for terrapins. The way to tell how aquatic or
terrestrial a turtle or terrapin is, is to look at the feet,
webbed feet suggest a more aquatic lifestyle. Another good
way to tell is to look at the shell shape. A more raised shell
would suggest it’s more terrestrial, as would a flatter
streamlined shell suggest an aquatic species.
Putting the confusing bit to one side how do you keep them?
The more aquatic species can be kept in suitable sized aquariums
with access to land for basking, this can be achieved by
using a banked area of gravel, floating cork bark, or purchasing
an aquarium with a silicone ramp and land area. Species that
grow large will require set-ups on a grander scale eventually
like indoor heated pools. More terrestrial species like box
turtles can be kept more like land tortoises, but with much
higher humidity levels, and large bathing pools. Remember
that having high humidity will ruin wooden vivariums quickly,
so plastic or glass would be much better. Whether aquatic
or terrestrial both enjoy and need to bask under a heat lamp.
UV lighting is a must and should be provided 10-12 hours
a day and replaced every six months.
Heating aquarium water is easily done with
aquarium heaters these should be guarded if used with larger
turtle species. The aquarium water should be kept at approximately
80-85ºF and the basking area heated with a lamp or ceramic
heater should be controlled to turn off at around 88ºF.
Research the species you are intending to keep for the correct
temperature, as some species will like it a little cooler
or hotter as the above temperatures are averages only. Turtles
are messy and need clean water, a good filter should be used
I recommend under-gravel filters, but many people prefer
external or internal filters. Which ever method you use the
filters will need to be maintained on a regular bases and
water changes done weekly. The gravel used should be large
enough so the species can not eat it by mistake. For soft-shelled
turtles sand should be used, not builders but sand purchased
from a reptile suppler. UV lighting is a must and should
be provided 10-12 hours a day and replaced every six months.
Ask the turtle supplier what the species has been feeding
on, good quality turtle foods are available as tinned, dried
Traditional vivariums of wood need
treating to stop water spillages and the high humidity from
ruining them; a better alternative would be plastic or glass
vivariums. As glass does not hold heat well and is difficult
to heat (the glass could crack) plastic vivariums are the
cages of choice for terrestrial turtles. Like aquatic species
terrestrial turtles require a basking area heated with a
lamp or ceramic heater, controlled to turn off at around
88ºF. Night-time heating can be provided by the use
of a heat mat, however overhead ceramic heating would be
much better. UV lighting is a must and should be provided
10-12 hours a day and replaced every six months. A deep substrate
of orchid bark should be provided with cork bark and or other
hides and plastic plants to make a natural looking home.
Some species are naturally shy, so giving them plenty of
hiding areas will make them feel at home. A large pool, large
enough for the turtle to bathe in is needed, and the water
should be changed daily. Ask the turtle supplier what the
species has been feeding on, good quality turtle foods are
available as tinned, dried or frozen. Terrestrial turtles
will often take fruit and live foods such as mealworms too.
Q Do turtles/terrapins grown to the size of the tank?
A No, turtles/terrapins will continue to grow to there adult
sizes no matter what size cage they are kept in.
Q The baby aquatic turtles look very cute, do any species
stay that size?
A No, baby turtles are babies and will reach there adult
size in 3-5 years.
Q I want an aquatic turtle that stays fairly small, what
species should I avoid as they get very large?
snapping turtles, Fly River turtles, soft shell turtles,
mata mata turtles. Also most “sliders” i.e. red-ears,
yellow belly and cooters will reach an adult size of around
Q What species stays fairly small and I can keep in an aquarium
A Map turtles stay fairly small at around 10-15cm depending
on the sex, males are smaller than females. African side-neck
and helmeted turtles adult size is around 12cm. Other species
are available ask your supplier as all baby turtles are seasonal.
Q I have heard that turtles give you salmonella, is this
A Turtles can carry the bug that can cause salmonella, but
so do coins, eggs and just about everything else. As long
as you practice good hygiene there is very little risk to
health. The vast majority of captive bred baby turtles are
hatched using the Siebeling Method making them guaranteed
Lots of turtle and terrapin are available as captive bred
babies, these look very cute when their small, but they do
grow! Only take on a turtle if you can guarantee to look
after it for the rest of its adult life, this can be 30 years
plus! Releasing them into the local river is not an option,
and carries environmental and criminal consequences. Turtles
have great characters and do extremely well in captivity,
they do recognize feeding times, and are great fun to watch.
They make great pets as long as you choose the species best
suited to the environment you can provide.