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Interesting facts about terrapins

  • The terrapins kept in New Zealand are red-eared terrapins (Pseudemys scripta elegans). Terrapins are native to the warm tropical areas of South-east Asia and Central America.
  • The names terrapin, turtle, and tortoise can cause confusion. Turtles are sea chelonians, tortoises are land chelonians, and terrapins are freshwater chelonians that spend some time on land. All chelonians have hard shells to provide protection, and these make up 30 percent of their body weight. Unlike claws, nails, and beaks, a terrapin's shell is living, and so it should never be cut or trimmed because this would cause the animal extreme pain.
  • The horny (cartilaginous) beak of a terrapin grows continuously.
  • Terrapins are ectothermic, and so they depend on the environment to provide their body warmth. In their natural environment, they would bask in the sun to gain heat and shelter in shade to promote heat loss.
  • Terrapins are aggressive and will bite. They may also 'bark' when angry.
  • Terrapins in New Zealand are usually infected with salmonella bacteria. This is a zoonotic disease, which means that contact with infected animals can infect human beings.
  • Male red-eared terrapins have very long claws on their forefeet and longer, thicker tails than the females. It is difficult to tell the gender of a terrapin until it is eighteen to twenty-four months old. Females may breed at three to four years of age, but this timing seems to be related more to size than to age.
  • Females may produce fertile eggs several years after mating. A special sandpit is needed for a nest. The females will dig a nest about 10–15 centimetres deep into which they first urinate and then lay their eggs. They then carefully cover their eggs. The eggs need incubation temperatures of 29–32°C for sixty days before hatching.
  • Terrapins may live for up to thirty years.

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