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How to care for terrapins

Feeding

  • Terrapins are omnivores and are messy feeders. An adult terrapin's diet may include fresh, small, whole fish, whitebait, tadpoles, freshwater shrimp, freshwater snails, tinned dog/cat food, dry cat food (soaked in water for five minutes), trout pellets, earthworms, cubes of cheese and hard-boiled egg, watercress, duckweed, silverbeet, or spinach. Commercially prepared foods are also available. Terrapins may swallow small-sized gravel if their diet is inadequate.
  • Adults may be fed small daily meals or a larger meal every two to three days. Juveniles should be fed daily, separately from the adults.
  • Terrapins feed in the water by sight. Ideally, feed them in a second tank of deep, warm water. This helps to keep the main tank clean and provides deep-water swimming exercise. You could use a bucket of warm water instead. If it is not practical to provide a second tank, remove all uneaten food after twenty minutes.
  • Food should ideally be in cubes of 0.5 to 1 centimetre so that the terrapins can grab and swallow it. They will grip and shake larger bits of meat to break off smaller pieces.
  • Place vitamin and mineral supplement powders inside cubes of food so that these supplements are not lost into the water.
  • Do not put your fingers into the feeding tank. Use iceblock sticks to introduce the food.

Handling

  • Terrapins are strong and can be aggressive. They can and do bite. A useful way to hold them is to hold their carapace (shell) between your thumb and forefinger just in front of their hind legs. After they have been held on their backs for fifteen to twenty seconds, they will remain quiet for a short period of time when righted.
  • Limit the time that terrapins are handled, and always wash your hands thoroughly afterwards because terrapins can carry salmonella. Symptoms of salmonellosis infection usually include vomiting and diarrhoea.

Health

  • Maintaining high standards of hygiene and nutritional care is required for terrapins' good health. Nutritional diseases of the skin, eye, shell, and bone caused by inadequate amounts of vitamins A, B, and D and incorrect levels of calcium and phosphorus are the most common problems.
  • Inadequate hygiene may also cause terrapins to contract bacterial and fungal illnesses.
  • Ill terrapins that need nursing and medication should be kept in ambient temperatures of 25–30°C. This keeps their body metabolism up and ensures that medications have an opportunity to work.
  • Prevention is the best cure. During their daily health check, look for normal activity and appetite. Check that the terrapin's eyes and nose are clear of any discharges and that its faeces are normal. Its shell should be firm and solid to touch and its legs strong. At any sign of illness, or if you have questions, consult a veterinarian.

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