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There are approximately two hundred and fifty terrapins and turtles in the world. The difference between turtles and terrapins 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.

Aquatic species
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 or frozen.

Terrestrial species
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.

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?
A Avoid 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 20-30cm.

Q What species stays fairly small and I can keep in an aquarium for life?
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 true?
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 salmonella free


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.

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