Do Terrapins Make Good Pets?

Smiling Terrapin

Many parents consider something like a terrapin as a first pet for their kids before moving on to something like a cat or dog. But do terrapins make for good pets?

The answer to that question really depends on what you actually want from a pet. TerrapinsOpens in a new tab. are considered great starter pets for kids, but they are not pets that should be handled as one would with a rabbit or hamster, for example. If you are looking for a more interactive pet, then a terrapin is probably not the best choice. Having said that, if you want to teach your child or children about caring for another creature while giving them some of the responsibility, a terrapin is an excellent option. Furthermore, terrapins are fascinating little creatures that most kids just love to observe.

What You Need to Know About Terrapins

With the right care, terrapins can live up to thirty years in captivity. Females are larger than males and can grow to around 25cm; males typically reach lengths of about 21cm.

Terrapins actually have complex requirements, so it is important that you have the right setup if you are thinking of obtaining one. To ensure your terrapin remains healthy, you are going to have to create an environment that is as close to the creature’s natural habitat as possible. Most importantly, terrapins require water to swim in and ‘land’ to bask on.

You will need a glass tank or enclosure that has been specifically designed to hold water. You will also need a water heater to keep the water temperature around the 75-80F mark. Another crucial purchase is a water filter as terrapins are terribly messy. They eat and poop in the water they swim about in, so as you can imagine, it can get dirty quickly. Even with a good filter, you will still need to change the water regularly to keep it clean. You can find a great selection of water heaters hereOpens in a new tab. and filters hereOpens in a new tab. – both on Amazon and both open in new tabs.

Your terrapin is also going to need a basking zone where temperatures hover around 86F to 90F. You can use a large rock, piece of wood, or ramps to create this basking zone. Alternatively, you could purchase a specially designed terrapin tank that comes with a wet and dry zone (see hereOpens in a new tab. on Amazon).

Above the basking zone, you will need a heat lamp (hereOpens in a new tab. on Amazon) to create the desired temperature. It is also a good idea to invest in a reptile lamp that provides UV light (hereOpens in a new tab. on Amazon). Terrapins need UV light to stay healthy.

Feeding Your Terrapin

Another question that would-be terrapin owners ask is what to feed these small reptilesOpens in a new tab. with. In their natural environment terrapins eat fish, worms, snails, insects, and plant matter.

Fortunately for terrapin owners, these creatures eat lots of different foods when in captivity. You can provide fish such as tuna, trout, mackerel, and prawn, as well as raw meat such as chicken and pork. There are those that like to offer mealworms to their terrapins to eat. Indeed, terrapins seem quite partial to mealworms

Fruit and vegetables can also be offered to terrapins. They enjoy lettuce, leafy vegetables, raspberries, strawberries, pears, and apples.

It is also important to ensure that your terrapin is getting the right supplements to keep its shell healthy. You can buy commercial terrapin food as well as supplements that will provide calcium to help keep its shell healthy.

Handling Terrapins

As mentioned above, terrapins should not be handled unless absolutely necessary. They are aggressive creatures and will nip if they feel threatened. They should definitely not be handled by young children as a bite can be quite painful.

If you do need to handle your terrapin, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards with warm water and soap as, like with most reptiles, terrapins carry salmonella.


If you are considering a terrapin as a pet, you should be prepared to commit to a period of up to thirty years, which is exceptionally long for a pet. You should also be fully aware that these creatures are messy, and their environment will require regular cleaning. You should also be aware that they can grow quite quickly, so you will either need to invest in a large tank from the outset or purchase a bigger one as yours grows.

If you are still keen on a terrapin as a pet, you will not be disappointed. They are fascinating creatures that will entertain you by digging, swimming about in their tank, or basking on their rocks. And to top it off, they eat a varied diet of foods that you are likely to have in your home already.

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I am a content creator by profession but exotic animals are one of my great passions in life. Over the course of my adulthood, I have had the pleasure of looking after stick insects, terrapins, an Egyptian tortoise, giant African land snails, a crested gecko, a Chilean rose tarantula, a couple of curly-haired tarantulas, and a selection of millipedes, centipedes and worms!

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