Diamondback Terrapins

Basic Care for Pet Diamondback Terrapins

Diamondback terrapin
Clara S. / Flickr / CC By 2.0

Diamondback terrapins are small aquatic turtles. They differ from other common pet aquatic turtles, like painted turtles and red eared sliders, because they live in brackish water. They are named for their diamond shaped pattern on their carapace and are some of the most beautiful turtles native to the United States.

Diamondback Terrapins

  • Name: Diamondback terrapin, terrapin, Malaclemys terrapin
  • Size: Females will grow up to eight inches long and males will be about five inches long
  • Diamondback Terrapin Housing

    Pet terrapins require brackish water (as they do in the wild) but many owners of captive born diamondbacks have also had success keeping their turtles in freshwater. Since creating a brackish environment is not a difficult thing to do and it is more natural for terrapins, I recommend brackish water (with a specific gravity of 1.014-1.018) for your diamondback terrapin. There is no downside to providing a more natural environment and some owners who keep captive terrapins in freshwater end up switching to brackish water when their turtle ends up with shell rot or buoyancy issues.

    Being an aquatic turtle, diamondback terrapins need a tank that is primarily water with a place to get out of the water and dry dock. A large enough tank that will allow your turtle to dive and swim with either a rock beach, large rock, or floating dock that will let your turtle get out of the water is necessary. Usually a 75 gallon or larger fish tank is used.

    Water filtration is crucial to a diamondback terrapin's environment. Dirty water will lead to skin and shell problems including shell rot. There are a variety of submersible, canister, and traditional water filters that you can choose from.

    Crushed coral is recommended to be used on the bottom of the tanks. It serves a dual purpose as both a substrate and a calcium supplement. Diamondback terrapins like to munch on the coral and they benefit from the added calcium in their diet and the natural wear they get to their beaks from eating it.

    Diamondback Terrapin Lighting

    Like other aquatic turtles, terrapins require both heat lights and UVB lights. They don't need terribly warm water (in the upper 70's will do) but they do need to be kept from getting too cold. This is where the heat lights come into play.

    During the day, white heat lights can be used to add extra warmth to your tank, but at night you should use a ceramic heat emitter, blue or red heat light so you don't stress your turtle out with light during the nighttime. Water heaters designed for fish tanks can also be used to keep the water warm but make sure the ambient temperature outside of the water is kept in the 80's.

    UVB lights specifically designed for reptiles should be kept on for about 12 hours a day and kept about 10-12 inches from where your turtle basks. This will enable your beautiful terrapin to grow, stay strong, and properly convert the vitamin D he takes in to use in his body. Without UVB lights your turtle will develop metabolic bone disease and not grow properly.

    For more information on terrapin lighting, read Turtle and Tortoise Lighting.

    Diamondback Terrapin Diet

    Unlike most other pet aquatic turtles, diamondback terrapins primarily eat meat. In the wild they eat a variety of small seafood and graze on some plants. In captivity we feed them turtle pellets, dried shrimp, smelt, snails, and other accessible sea food. Unnatural food to diamondback terrapins such as chicken and beef should not be fed.

    Terrapins are not for everyone but if you are looking for a more advanced aquatic reptile, consider a pet diamondback terrapin.