Terrapin and turtle information and care sheets



When setting up your tank, pond, or tub, there are species-specific requiremets, but there are several "standard" items while you'll need to consider. Firstly and most importantly is the "tank" itself, whether it be an actual tank, a pond (indoor or outdoor), or a large plastic tub. Depending on the terrapin you have, depends on which would be best, with large "footprint", shallow tanks and ponds being great for muds and musks, and deeper tanks being best for sliders, cooter, maps, and other such species. If you're using an outdoor setup, you also have to consider the position in terms of getting the right amount of sun, avoiding as many falling leaves as possible, and shelter from cool winds, as well as whether you have it raised, sunk into the ground, or a little of each.


Once you have your tank in place and set up, you need to consider filtration. While there are many filters available "off the shelf" for various applications from small tanks to large ponds, it is sometimes easier and / or cheaper to build your own filter, especially with large ponds or "koi tubs". While it is possible to maintain good water quality without a powered filter, this takes a lot of time, effort, and knowledge to set up and so is not recommended for beginners. For beginners we recommend an external filter rated to at least twice the actual amount of water in the tank, and these are discussed further within the care sheets, and on the forum.


After filters, comes heaters, although these aren't always necessary depending on species and age. While some species will likely always need a heater, a lot of the more common will be fine at room temperature providing they are healthy and have a basking area at the correct temperature, although we recommend a slightly higher water temperature for very young turtles also. How powerful a heater you need depends on water volume and how much you need it to warm the water, which a rough guide being 1-2W of heater per litre of water for 5-10C of heating.


Lighting is the next major section to deal with, and once again varies with species so is dealt with in more depth in the care sheets and on the forum. Generally speaking though, you'll need to heat the basking area (most easily done with a household spot bulb), and provide UVB via either a tube, compact fluorescent, or MVB which provides heat and UVB combined. You might also consider ambient lighting, although too much light will encourage algae growth which many people find to be at the very least unsightly, if not plain irritating. Clamp lamps are a favoured method for basic heat lamps and compacts as they are cheap and easy to set up, though it's best to add some extra security as they can sometimes slip. Tubes are more difficult due to needing the tank lid-less, and also "waste" a lot of the light due to their length, and even more so without a reflector to keep the light pointing in the one direction.

MVBs, and other high wattage lamps, require ceramic fixtures and special cabling due to the amount of heat they produce, and personally one of the easiest and best ways to do this is to buy a "brooder lamp", which also come with plenty of cable and a chain / hook to hang it from. MVBs must also be hung vertically rather than other lamps which can go at an angle, although they can just as easily be hung from a wall bracket as they can from the ceiling. However you choose to light your tank and basking area, don't forget to leave enough space to raise / lower the heat lamp to adjust the temperature, although normal household spots can be wired through a dimmer switch for this purpose. Many people will use a timer for their lights to maintain a good, consistent, "daytime", and may adjust also adjust the times for the seasons.


Substrate is the final major consideration as the wrong choice of substrate can not only be expensive, but can also make cleaning a lot harder, or even be a health risk to your terrapin. For some species, such as softshells, you're limited to sand as a substrate, but it also makes a good substrate generally as it is pretty easy to clean, looks great, and is natural for them. Actual "aquarium sand" is usually very expensive, but play sand is just as good provided you rinse it out several times to remove the silt, and it is also much cheaper. Large pebbles or slate chippings are also both good substrates as they look good, give the terrapin(s) something to root around in, and are fairly easy to keep clean as long as you only use a single layer. You can buy polished larger pebbles as well, although these tend to be several times more expensive and won't make that much difference. Gravel is a bad idea as it traps a lot of muck, is much harder to clean, and can be ingested causing impaction, or even death.


Finally, we come to "accessories" such as airstones, "Turtle Docks", and general tank ornaments. Airstones are actually an important part of helping keep the tank clean, so if your filter outlet it below the water-line, then an airstone would be a useful purchase to help maintain healthy bacteria colonies in your filter, and break up and surface oils and proteins on the water. The ZooMed "Turtle Dock" is a simple and handy basking platform for small terrapins, and they also produce a larger, corner dock which can handle slightly larger terrapins, but above 5-6" and they're going to sink it. At this point, or even before, it worth considering an above tank basking area, which can simply be made for £20-60 depending on the size of the tank, the materials you use, and how much you decorate it.

Additional "tank furniture" such as ornaments, hides, bogwood, and similar are fine as long as they are safe such that your turtle cannot get trapped in or under them, and cannot knock them over potentially trapping them, or cracking the tank. ZooMed also do a floating "Turtle Log", and this is one example of something which can become dangerous, as small terrapins can swim through it, but slightly larger ones could potentially get trapped inside and drown. A large piece of corkbark could make an alternate in-tank basking area, and should certainly be used over attempting to stack blocks or bricks until they reach the surface. Hides can also be very useful as hiding places for fish so that they can escape the terrapin(s).