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Caring for a terrapin

Pond terrapins or 'sliders' (Trachemys scripta) include red-eared sliders, yellow-bellied sliders and Cumberland sliders. They're a type of hard-shelled, small turtle.

Terrapins' needs are complex. Find out how to meet your pet's needs by mimicking their natural environment, as much as possible.

basking baby cumberland slider turtle under heat lamp

All about terrapins

A healthy terrapin has clear, bright eyes and a smooth shell. The skin should be smooth and without blisters, which could be a sign of infection.

  • The lifespan of a pond terrapin/slider is around 30 years in captivity, so it's essential that you're able to provide the care they'll need for their entire life
  • Females are the larger of the species at 25cm. Males grow to around 21cm

How to look after a terrapin

You should house your terrapin in a large tank or aquarium or a secure outdoor pond with heating and lighting.

They'll need:

  • A terrapin tank that's secure and free from hazards, children and other pets.
  • Temperature: a terrapin will need a temperature gradient with a 'basking zone' where they can absorb warmth along with an area where they can cool down. The heated zone should be provided by a heat lamp with a thermostat at 30-32°C. You must check the temperatures at least once a day.
  • Light: you should fit a seven-12% reptile lamp over two-thirds of the tank to create a wide area of UV. The output of UVB (essential for your terrapin to store and use calcium) decreases over time, so the lamp must be replaced regularly.
  • Water: terrapins need constant access to clean water so you need a powerful filtration system. We advise using water testing kits to ensure the water is low in ammonia and nitrite.

What do terrapins eat?

Terrapins require a varied diet. Give them quality dried terrapin food alongside thoroughly defrosted freshwater fish and live invertebrate foods. They'll also need supplements to provide the vitamins and minerals they don't get in captivity.

A varied diet is essential to prevent thiamine poisoning, metabolic bone disease and eye problems. Monitor your terrapin's health daily and ask your specialist reptile vet for advice if you're concerned.

Do terrapins make good pets?

Terrapin ownership isn't something to be undertaken on a whim. They require lots of care and equipment to keep them healthy for life. Terrapins shouldn't be petted and they're especially fragile when they're young.

If you keep more than one terrapin, you'll need to provide a basking spot for each animal and make sure they're getting enough food, or they may become aggressive towards each other.

Reptiles can carry salmonella. Wash your hands before and after handling the terrapin or its equipment to reduce the spread of infection.

In July 2016, the European Commission published the first list of Invasive Alien Species of Union Concern, which came into force on 3rd August 2016. Red-eared/yellow-bellied terrapins or 'sliders' are included on this list.

Read about what these regulations mean for you as an owner.

For more advice on caring for your terrapin, download our Terrapin care sheet.

Find out more