Feeding Terrapins (& Terrapin Food Advice)

Feeding terrapins

If there’s one major downside to keeping terrapins is their feeding habits. There are a number of reasons why feeding terrapins has its challenges:

Terrapins are carnivorous. In other words you’re going to need to feed most terrapins some kind of meat. This isn’t just expensive – it can be messy too.

Terrapins are messy feeders. If you’ve kept a carnivorous lizard in the past you’ll know that they snap up a cricket in the blink of an eye and then it’s all over. Terrapins are different; they tend to grab hold of a food item and then claw madly at it to break off the part still sticking out of their mouth. This invariably falls to the bottom of the cage and is wasted.

Terrapins are aggressive feeders. While some of the smaller terrapins can be safely hand-fed with choice morsels of food, others can be quite aggressive and very quick to strike at food. You wouldn’t want a foot-long terrapin accidentally hanging off your finger.

Terrapins feed in the water. Most terrapins eat while swimming around in their water. This can make adding dietary supplements a challenge. In the lizard world we often “dust” crickets with mineral supplements; clearly in an aquarium this powder will quickly wash off.

Combing all these factors the single biggest problem of all is that the meat that your terrapin doesn’t eat can quickly go stale at the bottom of their tank. This can lead to a smelly cage and excessive cleaning. Unless you want to be carrying out a full water change on your terrapins every few days you would be well advised therefore to adopt a stringent feeding process that will make your life as easy as possible while keeping your pet healthy.

The following tips, therefore, serve to provide some useful tips that will help you do just this…

Experiment with Pre-Packaged Food

Terrapins (or turtles as the Americans known them) have been popular pets ever since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shot to fame in the early 90s. Over those years a number of manufacturers have developed “complete” foods for terrapins. These typically come in pellet form in a nice neat jar. All you need to do is to dole some out at the appropriate time.

These pelleted pre-packed foods have a distinct number of benefits.

Firstly, as a “complete” food they contain all the nutrients that you pet needs – no need to worry about dietary supplements. Secondly as they are dried foods they have a far longer shelf life than some fresh liver or chopped chicken. This can mean better value for you.

Lastly, because they are processed they tend to make less mess of the water, so less cleaning is required.

So that’s the good side – but what about the bad? Well for one many of these diets are far from cheap – the price of a tub of turtle food may make you baulk. Secondly in our experience not every terrapin will take to pellets – some simply won’t show much interest.

The reality is that pellets can make your life easier if your terrapin will take to them. Normally it is worth at least trying because such a feeding regimen will make your life so much easier.

Try Gut-Loading

There are a range of foods that terrapins might eat. These range from slices of finely-chopped lean meats through to live insects. While insects certainly bring with them their own problems their distinct benefit is that they can be “gut loaded”.

In essence mineral powders are available which you can feed to the insect prey before it goes into the tank. When your terrapin then eats the insects they will receive the dose of vitamin supplements that would have washed off if you instead used a dusting powder.

Use a Separate Feeding Tank

As terrapins are such messy feeders some keepers opt to use a specialist feeding tank. This is simply a bare tank into which terrapins are placed for feeding. They are allowed to make their customary mess in this tank and then moved back to their permanent home afterward.

The theory of these feeding tanks is that they should be far easier to clean than permanent tanks. The other viewpoint is that you risk getting bitten when handling terrapins before or directly after eating.

Use a Sterile Tank

An alternative to the separate feeding tank is to maintain your terrapins permanently in a sterile tank environment. This means no plants (real or artificial) and no gravel. Instead the floor is the tank remains simply as plain glass. In this way a low-cost gravel cleaner can be used after feeding to rapidly remove discarded food particles and so keep the tank smelling fresh.

Variety Is the Spice of Life

The final point worthy of mention is that if you opt not to use a complete pelleted diet then you should aim to offer a variety of foods to your terrapins. Focusing on just one type of food – such as live mealworms – risks dietary deficiencies. However by offering a varied and balanced diet your pets will stay healthier.

Frequently Asked Questions

Lastly to round off this article it makes sense to answer a couple of the more commonly-asked questions about feeding terrapins…

How Often Should Terrapins Be Fed?

The best answer here is that assuming your terrapins aren’t getting fat then you should feed them as often as they’re hungry. You can tell when terrapins are getting overweight and you will see little fat pockets gathering around the base of the legs where they leave the shell.

Otherwise the best strategy is to regularly offer food to your terrapins and let them set the schedule. In general this is likely to be every day or two in healthy individuals kept at a suitable temperature.

Generally speaking the smaller the animal the more often it will need to feed. So hatchlings may feed every day, while adults may pig out a few times a week and then go for a few days without eating. Again: unless your terrapin is getting fat then feed on demand.

How Should I Feed My Terrapin?

Due to the mess that can be created when feeding terrapins they shouldn’t be seen like rabbits or hamsters where food should always be available. Instead terrapins should be fed at specific times, with any uneaten food removed shortly afterward.

Generally it is easiest to feed when you get home from work/school. Keep on feeding small amounts for a few minutes until your terrapins start to lose interest. Then stop, clean up, and try them again the next day.

What Foods Can Terrapins Eat?

As carnivores terrapins need to be fed primarily on meat. This can be given in the form of sliced meat such as chicken or liver, in the form of pre-packaged pellets or in the form of live insects such as crickets, locusts and mealworms. If you are not providing one of the complete pellet foods then it is wise to feed a wide variety of foods each week in order to satisfy all your terrapin’s nutritional requirements.