You may find it very confusing to distinguish between turtles, terrapin turtles, and tortoises. In general, turtles are collectively referred to as terrapins. To know more about them, read this PetPonder article.
Did You Know?
Terrapin is an Algonquian Indian word for ‘turtles’ and is derived from the word Torope, which represents the small, hard-shelled, and edible type of turtles, which prefer to stay in brackish water.
Turtles are a group of reptiles that belong to the order Testudines and superorder Chelonia, but terrapins come under the Emydidae family. They are one of the earliest reptiles, in which many species have become already extinct and some are on the verge of extinction. As per the conservation data, about 315 species of terrapins are surviving till date.
Terrapin turtles, one of the oldest living creatures on earth, date back to around 215 million years ago. As a fun fact, terrapins back then had small teeth and a larger body, while today, they are quite smaller and have no teeth. They are recognized by their shell that they carry on their back in which they withdraw if they sense some danger, or when they have to sleep. The weight of the shell is one of the reasons why turtles walk so slowly.
Terrapins are quite small in size and grow in between 5 to 9 inches. The domed part on top of the shell is known as carapace, and the lower part is called plastron. The shell has a bony portion, which is covered with scutes (plates), and it offers some additional protection to the terrapins. The small shell that we see on the back of the terrapins is made of 60 different bones, which are connected altogether. Terrapins are quite slow, but they possess a very good eyesight and sense of smell.
Terrapins are mostly found along the Atlantic Coast of the eastern United States from Cape Cod to Florida as well as from the Gulf Coast to Texas. They are also found in some other countries, but not a single one lives in Antarctica and Arctic, as they can’t survive in severe cold conditions.
The mating season of terrapins is mostly between April to July. Gestation takes about 60 days, and the size of the clutch is around 8 to 12 eggs. The female terrapin lays the eggs once, or sometimes twice a year. The eggs are oblong-shaped and pinkish-white in color. The young hatchlings weigh around 6 to 10 grams, and are about an inch long. In fact, it has been observed that the nest temperature can determine the sex of the terrapin, i.e., if it is quite warm, it’s mostly a female terrapin.
The Terrapin Delicacy
Over a century ago, terrapins were more famous not as pets or reptiles, but more as a tasty soup dish. Being considered as a protein-rich delicacy, terrapin turtles were hunted rigorously. As a result, its population has been reported to have decreased significantly in the last few decades. A lot of rules and regulations were made after that so as to protect terrapins and their consumption.
Most of them get killed by drowning in the crab traps. Terrapins can survive in brackish waters, specially the diamondback, but if the sea level rises and increases the salt content, it will affect the survival of terrapins. Most of these terrapins die when they enter into areas where structures/buildings are under construction, or roadsides that have been increasing everywhere, or if they come under vehicles. Oil spills have also been one of the threats to the life of terrapins.
Box Turtle, Red-eared Slider, Painted Turtle, Map Turtle, and Diamondback Terrapin are some of the common species of terrapins. All of them have got their names from their appearance; mostly, the color and pattern of the shell, the color of eyes or ears, and so on. Among these different types, the diamondback turtle (Malaclemys terrapin) is a near threatened species.
Terrapin Turtles as Pets
In case you are looking for a long-term exotic pet that you can enjoy for a lifetime, turtles and/or terrapins are the ideal choice. Terrapin turtles are native to the brackish waters of southern and eastern United States. For every novice hobbyist, how to care for a turtle must be the first question that comes to mind when they think of rearing them. Similar to other aquatic pet turtles, terrapins require minimal care. They have a lifespan of around 30 years―that means if you are thinking of keeping one as a pet, then you are taking a long-term responsibility. Discussed below are some of the maintenance tips that you can follow.
Generally, terrapins are purchased as hatchlings. So, you need to check that the terrapin you buy should be healthy. It should look alert and have bright eyes as well. The mouth and nostrils should look clean. The legs, head, and neck should not have any injury or damage, and most importantly, the shell should be hard and without any cracks.
One of the facts is that the adult females (about 7.5 – 9 inches) are larger in size than the adult males (about 5 inches). The perfect aquarium size also depends based on the number that you will be rearing. For a pair of terrapins, a tank with the size of 24 x 12 x 12 inches is quite suitable.
Terrapin turtles, like any other turtle species, prefer swimming in water as well as basking in land. So, the best way out is to construct the aquarium in such a way that two-third space is kept for swimming and remaining one-third is for relaxing over the rocks. Keep the tank in a quiet corner of the house, and it should be dark in the night.
For any type of pet turtles, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light is essential to keep them healthy. It is better to place the tank in an area that receives direct sunlight. Or else, you can install UV bulbs at a height of approximately 12 inches from your pet turtles.
The ideal temperature for rearing is 77 – 95°F. During summer, you may not require an aquarium heater, but it’s a necessity in the winter season. Otherwise, these turtles remain sluggish and at times, stop feeding at low temperatures.
The diet includes mollusks, small fish, crustaceans, and fiddler crabs. Other food options are algae, earthworms, green vegetables, and fruits. Feed your pet two to three times a week, and while feeding, you can use a separate tank to minimize soiling in its normal enclosure. Wait for defecation, rinse the pet, and keep it back in the tank. Ask the pet expert about some dietary supplements (if any) and feeding quantity for your pet.
Even if the shell of terrapins is hard, still it is very necessary to handle it very gently. Hold both the sides of the shells tightly, and then pick them up. Their legs, neck, and head can get damaged if they are dropped, so you need to be very careful. Always keep them clean and wash your hands before and after handling them.
The mating season of terrapins is mostly between April to July. Gestation takes about 60 days, and the size of the clutch is around 8 to 12 eggs. The female terrapin lays the eggs once, or sometimes twice a year. The eggs are oblong-shaped and pinkish-white in color.
There are no special maintenance tips for keeping them as pets. Nevertheless, cleaning the aquarium once in a month is essential to avoid any health problems. You can fix a filtration system to maintain optimal water quality. Salmonella growth is another factor to watch out for while rearing terrapins.
It is claimed that terrapins grow bigger when kept in warmer environment compared to those reared in colder conditions. Seek advice from pet retailers regarding the habitat, optimal tank conditions, and feeding habits for rearing terrapin turtles.