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The vivarium

  • Terrapins need a land area in their glass tank on which to rest, bask, and walk around and an area of fresh water in which to feed and swim. Provide a ramp for easy access between the areas. A ratio of 70 percent land to 30 percent water is adequate. Allow 1 square metre per terrapin. A good-sized glass tank is 150 centimetres × 60 centimetres × 60 centimetres high.
  • Do not use a glass or watertight cover for the tank. A metal cover is preferable.
  • Terrapins need a full-spectrum light to mimic the radiant energy of the sun, which is necessary for them to manufacture vitamin D, which is important for good bone and shell health. The light is usually contained within the cover. It should be situated over the land area on a timer switch to regulate the night/day cycle.
  • Use a tank thermometer to measure the temperature. For their body systems to function, terrapins need an ambient temperature range of 20–30°C for adult terrapins and slightly higher (25–30°C) for juveniles. A water heater will maintain the water temperature at 25°C, but a tank in direct sunlight, especially during the summer and by a window, may overheat.
  • A water filtration system removes small particles of debris and clears the water, but even with filtration, tank water needs changing regularly. Large external tank filters are best. A hose sucks up water from the bottom of the tank, passes it through a filter that removes the waste matter and dissolved toxins from the water, and pumps the cleaned water back into the tank.
  • Gravel rocks are easy to clean. Too many large rocks may impede under-gravel filtration systems. The amount of gravel needed depends on the type of filtration system.

Maintaining the vivarium

  • Uneaten food and faecal material left in the water during warm conditions provide the ideal media for pathological (disease-causing) bacteria to grow. To manage terrapins successfully, keep the water clean.
  • If there is no filtering system, remove faecal material every day and remove any uneaten food after twenty minutes. Clean the tank and the rocks and replace the water twice a week.
  • With a filtering system, replace half of the water each week. If gravel is used in the tank, rake it through so that the debris is removed with the dirty water. Remember to replace it with clean, warm water.
  • Clean and/or replace the filter medium regularly, usually every two to four weeks. Read the filter instructions carefully. If you use under-gravel filtration, do not soak the gravel in bleach solution during cleaning because this kills useful bacteria. Instead, wash it gently with unchlorinated water until the water runs clear.
  • Clean the tank and its contents about every two weeks, depending on the type of filter used. Use buckets, towels, sponges, salt, and bleach. To do this:
    • place the terrapins in one bucket, the tank materials and equipment in another, and reusable gravel in a third bucket
    • soak the tank equipment and gravel in a weak bleach solution of 10–20 millilitres of bleach per litre of water for fifteen minutes
    • wipe the equipment over and rinse it several times in clean water
    • refill about a quarter of the tank with clean water and use salt to remove deposits from the glass
    • rinse the tank thoroughly with clean water and dry it
    • refill the tank with warm water at 25°C and replace the remaining tank materials and equipment before putting the terrapins back. Rain or filtered water is the ideal, but if only tap water is available, ensure that it stands for twenty-four hours beforehand to dissipate the chlorine.
  • Wash your hands after cleaning the tank.