Caring for Terrapins - Beginners Guide To Keeping A Pet Terrapin

Terrapins are semi-aquatic ‘turtles’, meaning they are a hybrid of land and water animals. Simply put, they are in between a turtle and a tortoise. There are many different species of terrapins. In Singapore, the only legal terrapin species allowed is the Red Eared Sliders.

Terrapins make popular pets due to their small stature and long life span. While they do not require as much attention as compared to larger pets like dogs and cats, it is imperative that a clean environment is instilled still. Proper care like purchasing a roomy tank, installing an island and ensuring clean and ample amount of water will establish the well-being of your hard-back friends.

how long do they live?

Have you ever met a person who had lost a terrapin due to old age? Never. Because your terrapin will still be there when you get married and have kids. If you already have a child, your terrapin will be there for his university graduation. Because a terrapin is known to live for 20-40 years, leaning towards 40 years for terrapins in captivity. To put things into perspective, a hamster’s lifespan is 2-3 years and a dog’s/cat’s lifespan is 10-15 years.

Females are the larger of the species at 25cm. Males grow to around 21cm.


Tanks are homes to terrapins. Like humans, terrapins too get claustrophobic when kept in a small space. Not to mention, terrapins grow to an incomparable size when placed in the right environment. Owners need to ensure the tank is roomy enough to accommodate their terrapins’ growth! Terrapins are known to grow up to 22cm. Keeping them in a small tank might lead to depression or even appetite loss. Opt for a tank made of clear glass as it allows the terrapin to receive natural light and bask in the sun’s rays.

clean available water

Ensuring a right level of water is important, as terrapins will only feed when in water. Oddly enough when terrapins encounter food on land, they would first drag their food into the water by habit before devouring their meals whilst half-submerged. As is the case with terrapins, their messy eating habits leave unwanted food pellets or meat floating about, potentially dirtying and contaminating the water. While a water filter may not be on the top list of essentials for terrapins, this nifty gadget could save owners a lot of hassle and time.


Terrapins require a varied diet. A quality dried terrapin food should be used alongside thoroughly defrosted freshwater fish and live invertebrate foods.

Supplements are required to provide the vitamins and minerals not available in captivity.

common health problems

Terrapins may contract illnesses and diseases. The most common disease is the metallic bone disease (MBD), which arises from a lack of Vitamin D3 and calcium from being isolated in a home without frequent exposure to natural light. MBD can be easily identified when the shell of your terrapin is unusually soft and flexible. However, this Vitamin D3 deficiency could be easily controlled without vitamins or calcium pills; a simple basking lamp or exposure to natural sunlight would do the trick. 

water heater / island

Terrapins are not fussy creature and could cohabit in almost any environment that life throws at it. However, to make your scaly friend as cushy as it can be, installing a water heater is a great idea as terrapins enjoy dipping in warm water. Following their swim, installing a little mound of sand or rock for your terrapins would go a long way in keeping them happy – terrapins like other reptiles enjoy basking out in the sun, getting adequate exposure to UV light and keeping their shell free from fungus growth.

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