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Taking care of your terrapin

We at Brittas Vets have seen a lot of red and yellow bellied terrapins over the past year. Terrapins are interesting and active pets but they must be cared for properly!

Red and Yellow bellied terrapins are freshwater inhabitants, are native to North America, grow to > 25cm in length, are usually happy to live in groups and can have a life span of 30 years.

The Aquarium

The aquarium is usually glass so that we can see the terrapins swim and play.

For every 1cm of shell length a terrapin needs 100cm2 of floor space.
Fill with water at least as deep as the largest terrapin is wide.

The tap water must be treated to remove chlorine.
A water filter must be fitted to remove waste.
A water heater must be fitted to keep the water between 24-28C in daytime and 21-25C at night time, using a thermometer to check.

There must be two light sources, one UV light and one Spot light for basking at 30-35C. These can be bought separately or as a combined fitting.

Terrapins need a haul out area, which can be a ramp fitted in the aquarium, or made from stones that gradually increase in size to allow the terrapin to crawl out of the water. The hot spot should be over this area.

Bark or plants should be added for shade.

Do not have the aquarium close to heaters or direct sunlight.


Terrapins are omnivores, eating freshwater fish, shrimp, fruit and vegetables. Terrapins require vitamin and calcium supplements in pellet form every second day.

Feed adults 3 times a week and young terrapins daily.

It is best to remove terrapins from the aquarium, place them in a plastic container possibly a lunchbox and give them enough food that can be consumed in 5 minutes. This stops contamination of the aquarium.

Cleaning the Aquarium

  • Clean the filter daily.
  • Change the water and clean the glass surfaces monthly.


Terrapin health depends greatly on providing the correct environment and diet. Purchasing a terrapin itself is inexpensive but the cost of an aquarium must be factored in.

The majority of sick terrapins brought into us in Brittas Vets over the past year required correction in their environment or in their diet as outlined above.

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