Baby Terrapin Care

Baby terrapins, like any other baby animal, are very cute. They are as small as a 50p coin and make you want to pick them up and cuddle them. And yet, they are quite fragile and require special care and attention.

Of course, the chances of you coming across a baby terrapin are increasingly slim nowadays, given that breeding terrapins in Britain is illegal.

Terrapins are considered an invasive species with unknown consequences on local flora and fauna, so it has been illegal to sell or breed terrapins in the UK since August 2016. Owners who have had their terrapins before the ban are allowed to keep them as long as they do not release them in the wild or breed them.

Even so, it is believed that there are some 4,000 terrapins in the wild in the UK, most commonly around big cities—and some of them have probably been breeding. While adult terrapins have been abandoned by their owners and left to fend for themselves in circumstances that are less than ideal for their survival, baby terrapins have been born in the wild.

So, what should you do if you come across one?

Hatchling care

As a rule, you should never disturb terrapins during hatching. You should keep the hatchlings in the nest till the yolk sac attached to the navel dries and detaches off.

Records show a very high rate of fatality among baby terrapins because of poor husbandry and lack of knowledge. Neglected baby terrapins easily fall sick and may die soon.

After hatching, the baby terrapins do not eat for about seven days as the nutrition comes from the yolk sac attached to them.

Tank size

Water in the tank

Should you rescue a baby terrapin, you will need a relatively large tank, ideally around 80 litres.

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Despite the fact that hatchlings are so small and fragile, they will need water to swim in. The water should be deep enough for the hatchling to swim but shallow enough for it to be able to get in and out of the water safely and climb onto a basking platform dock.

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The consensus is that the depth of the water should be greater than the width of the hatchling but not as deep for it to risk drowning.

Tank decoration

You can decorate the tank with rocks, sand, and plants. It is good to make the tank interesting for the terrapin, with plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. We strongly suggest against putting real plants, as they will soon be eaten by the terrapin. Terrapins are omnivores and happily munch any vegetation in sight.

You can disperse sand, pebbles, or a special substrate on the floor of the tank to make it more interesting to the terrapin.

Basking area

Terrapins like having access to water and land and need both to thrive, which is why their natural habitat is in estuaries and where rivers meet the sea.


Your terrapinarium must be equipped with a filtration system that will clean the water inside the tank and keep it healthy for the terrapin. Terrapins live in brackish waters which are renewed naturally but tanks have stagnant water, hence the need for filtering it.

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Heat lamp and UVB lamp

Terrapins are cold-blooded creatures and they can’t keep the temperature of their body constant. You need two types of lamps for your baby terrapin.

Your terrapinarium should have a UVB light over the basking area where the terrapin will sit and take in the light.

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Heat lamp for terrapin hatchlings

A heat lamp will keep the temperature inside the tank optimal for terrapin survival. That means around 27 to 28 degrees Celsius, which can be lowered during the night.

UVB lamp for terrapin hatchlings

A UVB lamp provides the terrapin with the necessary UVB rays to absorb calcium D3 and fortify its shell. Vitamin D3 is necessary because it helps with calcium; the shell of terrapins needs calcium to grow and stay robust.

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Complete terrapin diet

After their first seven days, terrapin hatchlings must be fed daily with cooked or raw minced (to avoid choking) meat, fish, and tadpoles along with a drop of cod-liver oil. They are omnivores, so they eat meat, fruit, and vegetables, as well as fish.

You should cut down the food into smaller pieces that fit their mouth. Once they bite, the rest of the food drops to the bottom of the tank and slowly disintegrates. The smaller the bite, the less food will accumulate in your tank.

Feed daily

Baby terrapins must be fed every day and their diet must be protein-rich. As they grow up, they can be fed every two to three days and their diet becomes more plant-based.

There are plenty of terrapin pellets available from pet stores. You can give your baby terrapin a mix of pellets, fresh fruit, and vegetables, as well as small fish and seafood. You can also add vitamins and minerals to their diet for optimal growth.

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Interestingly, baby terrapins never eat in cold or dark water, so you should have plenty of light around your tank and pleasant temperatures for terrapin survival.

Terrapin treats

Terrapins like the thrill of the catch—after all, that is how they live in the wild. You can offer your baby terrapin live small fish as a treat from time to time.

Food quantities for terrapin babies

It can be difficult to evaluate how much food you should give your terrapin. The consensus is that you should give your terrapin food that equals the size of its head. If you can find a small cup that is approximately the size of your baby terrapin’s head, you have the perfect measuring cup for its food.

Petting a terrapin hatchling

It is best to leave your terrapin in peace in its terrapinarium.

Because terrapin hatchlings are so cute, it is almost impossible to restrain yourself from petting them and handling them. And yet, terrapins do not really like being lifted out of their tank and handled. It stresses them and could make them unhappy.

Terrapins and other animals

Terrapins can be quite aggressive as they grow old. It is best if you don’t have adult terrapins with baby ones in the same tank.

Other pets can be curious about the terrapin tank. If your cat, dog, or other animal is inquisitive about the little terrapin in the water tank, take precautions.

Growing a terrapin in a tank

With careful and proper handling, a male terrapin can grow up to 18 cm (7 inches) and the female one up to 30 cm (12 inches). The terrapinarium should be well equipped with systems to maintain the right water temperature, water filter, basking area, and light for the hatchling.

For a juvenile terrapin, you should keep the depth of water in the tank around the width of its shell. For a hatchling, it should not be more than 5 cm. You shouldn’t keep any structure within the terrapinarium where they can get trapped and suffocate.

Give them the care they deserve because it is a pleasure to observe a baby terrapin growing into a healthy adult day by day. If you want to know more about taking care of your terrapin, check out my full terrapin guide review or subscribe and DOWNLOAD The Complete Turtle & Terrapin Guide Book:

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