A Detailed Guide on Keeping Diamondback Terrapin As Pet

Diamondback Terrapin, popularly known as DB Terrapin, is one of the most popular and widespread pet terrapins in the US. Their popularity is largely attributed to their beautiful appearance, and often, people claim that the diamondback terrapins are among the most beautiful native turtles in the mainland USA.

Nonetheless, when you want to purchase a diamondback terrapin as a pet, you need to consider a hell of a lot of things. It includes the legal information to keep the DB terrapin, its care, diet, purchasing procedure (since you can’t get all sorts of DB terrapin), its sizes, and what not!

The irony is that DB terrapin, despite being so popular among turtle and terrapin owners, only limited information on keeping the diamond terrapin as a pet is available on the internet. Lately, we have received many questions on the actual procedure to maintain and care for the diamondback terrapin from newbies and even expert turtle owners.

So, we decided to develop all possible information on the famous, gorgeous, and beautiful looking diamond terrapin, including its legitimacy as a pet, diet, care, hibernation, breeding, size, diseases, and everything you might expect.

So, let’s start it.

A Detailed Guide on Keeping Diamondback Terrapin As Pet
Image Source: https://www.thebermudian.com/home-a-garden/nature/wildlife-101-diamondback-terrapins-with-dr-mark-outerbridge-2/

An Overview of Diamondback Terrapin

You will see the diamondback terrapin mostly in Bermuda as well as in the eastern and southern United States. It is a native species in these regions. Also, the diamondback terrapin lives mainly in the brackish marshes near the coastal tidal prone areas.

Diamondback terrapin got their name because of the prominent diamond-like shapes visible in their carapace. The carapace is mostly colored from whitish to grayish. It has various patterns of impressive streaks and spots that look like a diamond.

Also, the word ‘terrapin’ is used to most conclusively address the DB terrapins too. Terrapin is an elongated Indian word that means ‘little turtles.’ Their size has indeed been attributed to their name.

In fact, a DB terrapin will not grow over 5″ to 6″. Usually, fully-grown adult male DB terrapin carapace is averaged 5.1″. The females are much bigger than the males and have a usual carapace length of about 7″.

Nonetheless, if kept well and provided with the right food, female diamondback terrapin may grow even more prominent. The largest recorded female DB terrapin had a staggering size of about 9.1″.

What’s more, the size variation of the Diamondback terrapin is significantly noticeable with its native origin. The species living in the warmer regions and water grow larger than those living in colder water in the northern locations.

Also, DB terrapins are adept at living in the slightly marine environment near the shores despite having a resemblance to their freshwater cousins. The terrapins are known for their swimming skills. You will see hind feet with a strong web without any flippers. It helps them swim for long hours and swiftly too.

Another striking benefit of owning the diamondback terrapin is its exceptional resistance against different water conditions and diseases. It thrives easily in the full-strength saltwater and doesn’t catch any diseases quickly too.

Is It Legal To Keep DB Terrapin?

According to the US’s federal laws, it is 100% legal to keep the diamondback terrapin as a pet. However, it is subjected to a few rules you will have to abide by strongly since any authority may inspect the terrapin.

The most common and must obey rules to own a diamondback terrapin are-

  • You can’t buy the wild species. You will have to purchase the DB terrapin that has been bred purposefully for a pet in captivity.
  • You can’t possess more than diamondback terrapin without the environmental and wildlife authority’s permission in your locality.
  • It is strictly unlawful to directly get any diamondback terrapin directly from the wild since it is a native species.
  • You must own a diamondback terrapin sized over 4″. So, it implies that you will have to purchase an adult diamondback terrapin from the pet store. You can’t get the baby terrapins since it is against the conservation law.
  • If you want to breed and trade the diamondback terrapins commercially, you must own departmental permission from the official authority. A permittee will be able to hold, breed, sell, resale, and keep the diamondback terrapins. However, even a permit doesn’t allow you to get the species from the wild.

Once you understand these rules and obey them properly, owning and keeping a diamondback terrapin as a pet is 100% legitimate.

Note:

US federal and state laws are stringent for any native turtle species. Hence, you must understand the law when you want to own any native turtle species as a pet. The diamondback terrapin laws are also applicable for southern and eastern painted turtles, wood turtles, box turtles, painted turtles, midland painted turtles, and native turtle species.

You will have to purchase the turtles at least 4″ in size. Also, you can own only one piece of these turtles without any permission from the authority. And none of these species are permitted to get from the wild.  So, when you choose any of these native turtle species, including the diamondback terrapin, make sure you don’t violate these rules.

Where Can You Buy A Diamondback Terrapin?

DB Terrapin
Image Source: reptilesmagazine.com

There’s no doubt that diamondback terrapins are one of the fastest-growing popular turtles in the US. Their growing fame and demand as pet turtles have made the availability of such turtles widespread. Thus, they are obtainable from local pet stores easily. Also, you can buy the diamondback terrapin from online stores.

Nonetheless, you must strictly consider a few factors while purchasing the diamondback terrapin from any virtual or real stores.

  • The store must have a proper license and permission to sell the diamondback terrapins.
  • When you buy a DB terrapin, make sure you get it from a reputable pet store. It is crucial since many local and smaller stores might not have permission to sell the DB terrapins. Also, when you purchase the turtle from the reputed stores, you ensure getting a disease-free and healthy DB terrapin.
  • Never forget to measure the size of the DB terrapin since you can’t own these species under 4″ length.

Many pet stores will sell and deliver the diamondback terrapin directly to your address. I have brought mine from PetCo. They have a variety of turtle species along with the diamondback terrapin for you to choose from quickly.

How Big Does A Diamondback Terrapin Get?

Diamondback terrapins are small-sized turtles. In fact, the word terrapin itself refers to ‘small turtles,’ which has been derived from the Indian language. So, you shouldn’t expect the DB terrapin turtles to grow bigger.

Also, males are considerably smaller than the female DB terrapins. The average size of an adult male terrapin is about 5.1 inches. On the contrary, females will grow up to 7.5 inches easily. Also, the size of the DB terrapins varies according to their origin and water temperature.

The species coming from warm temperatures are larger in size than those coming from colder climates. Hence, you will see that the diamondback terrapins are getting larger as their location starts moving towards the north, where the water temperature is close to tropical regions.

Reportedly, the largest female terrapin was recorded to be 9.1 inches. Also, you will see many female terrapins growing close to 8 inches.

Another consideration to make to determine the diamondback terrapin size is its weight. Male DB terrapins have an average weight of 300 grams. The female DB terrapins will have an average weight of 500 grams.

Nonetheless, the largest female DB terrain weighted at a staggering 1000 grams or 1KG. The smaller size means that you can keep the diamondback terrapin in a relatively smaller aquarium or tank. We will discuss the diamondback terrapin aquarium set up in the related part of the article.

Behavior and Temperament of Diamondback Terrapins

TerrapinsDB terrapins are mostly docile and easy to take care of because of their friendly nature. You will see that the DB terrapin is highly social and at times, interact with its owners. They love and prefer the company of its owners.

Also, they consider their immediate family as their siblings and parents. Also, the DB terrapins are famous for sharing their food, residence and even the basking spot extensively. You will see them piling on top of another to maximize the advantages of the nearby basking spot without having to go to search another one.

When it is bright sunlight outside, these little turtles would like to bask in bright sunlight. Also, they won’t mind basking under artificial light or lamp. So, when you want to bring a diamondback terrapin as a pet, you must install a heat lamp to offer the turtle optimal heat and basking facility.

Additionally, DB terrapins love to live a social life and are often found in the group in the wild. So, while planning to make an aquarium or pond for these turtles, make sure you have enough space. It will help them live and strive happily in a group.

Although you can pet and rear a single DB terrapin, it is not positively encouraged. These turtles are exceptionally social and do better when you raise them in a group. However, if you lack sufficient space for all the terrapins, it is better to present a single one.

It is because, in a congested and overcrowded place, one DB terrapin will nip and scratch on other tails to get his proper position inside the terrarium.

Diamondback Terrapin Habitat

Turtle tank setupDiamondback terrapin is one of these very few turtle species that truly thrive in the coastal brackish water. These little species are developed to live and swim happily in the full spread saltwater. However, you will see their resemblance with the freshwater species as well.

Over the last few million years, the DB terrapin has developed to adept with changing environments. So, they can live without much issue on various water salinities. During the evolutionary period, their skin has largely become impermeable to salinity. So, they can easily live for extended hours under the full saline water.

You will find lachrymal salt glands in the diamondback terrapin. The turtle uses them while they feel dehydrated to keep them alive and it is not present in the freshwater relatives of the DB terrapins. Also, the turtle is capable of differentiating between the salinity level of the water sources. It even shows exceptional attention to freshwater sources.

You might seem them licking the freshwater surface that usually accumulates over the saltwater after rainfall.

Also, the DB terrapins have hind feet with a strong web that helps them swim vigorously in the water. The females have a powerful and ultra-strong jaw that can tear apart snails and clams easily.

Tank Setup For Diamondback Terrapin

When it comes to setting up the tank for diamondback terrapin, most people are confused on one question, “Whether to add salt or not in the DB terrapin aquarium which is preferable?”

Unfortunately, this question doesn’t have any direct answer. Hence, it is better that you thoroughly understand the proper set up of the diamondback terrapin tank or aquarium. The standard consideration to prepare an aquarium for the little turtle is described below-

The captivated DB terrapins are happy to live in brackish water. So, you will have to match the water salinity of the tank or pond with that of their wild habitat. I have seen many DB terrapin owners who said that they had been forced to get back to the brackish water after a few months of keeping the diamondback terrapin in the freshwater.

The owners had to provide brackish and saltwater to the DB terrapin since it showed severe health complications when kept in freshwater.

Tank size:

Best Turtle Tank SetupMany DB terrapin owners keep their turtles in the regular fish tank, and it is not inappropriate at all. All you have to do is to ensure that the tank is spacious for the DB terrapin. The ideal rule is that for per inch of the terrapin carapace length, your tank must have 10 gallons of water holding capacity.

Since a DB terrapin average size is 5.1 inches to 7 inches, you should select a tank with 75 gallons of water. And for each additional species, you will have to add another 30 gallons to 35 gallons of water in the tank size.

Thus, you might need a massive 150 gallons of tank water accommodation capacity to keep two to four adult DB terrapins. It is vital since these turtles are highly sociable and thrive in a group.

Tank height and length:

The terrarium or tank for the diamondback terrapin must have sufficient height and length. It will allow the turtle to swim and move freely inside the tank. Also, proper depth and wall height ensure that the DB terrapin won’t escape the tank.

When choosing the right tank for the terrapins, you can follow the rule of carapace length. Ideally, the tank depth must be at least three times the length of the diamondback terrapin’s carapace length. Also, attach a wide and flat surface where the terrapin can live to hall out of the water effortlessly for proper basking. If you own multiple DB terrapins, the location needs to be spacious for the group basking.

Water salinity:

You should always fill the DB terrapin tank with brackish water. Also, never forget to dechlorinate the water before pouring it in the tank. It is essential since excess chlorine will impact terrapin health, especially its carapace.

Also, when you pour water in the tank, ensure that it is clean.

Tank water filtration:

Another crucial factor to consider while setting up the diamondback terrapin tank is the filtration system of it. The water filtration is of extreme importance for the terrapins’ tank. It is because that the DB terrapins are exceptionally messy. When they eat inside the tank, they will soon transform the tank into a chaotic and dirty place.

When you do not choose a proper tank filtration, it makes the water dirty. The dirty and unfiltered water will boost the shell and skin problems of the DB terrapin, including skin rot. You can choose from the various canister, biological or submersible filtration for the tank. The most straightforward and inexpensive filter of the terrapin tank is a sponge filter.

Tank substrate:

You will also have to pick the right substrate for the diamondback terrapin aquarium. It is recommended that you use crushed coral for it. It works both as a substrate and calcium supplier to the terrapins. The calcium supply is crucial because it helps the turtle carapace to be healthy and robust.  When the terrapin bites the coral, it gets the calcium supplementation in their diet. It prevents the comfortable wear out the turtle carapace.

DB Terrapin Basking Arrangement (Heat and Light):

Likewise, setting up the right basking spot for the DB terrapin is of extreme importance for every turtle species. When the terrapin can’t bask properly, it will lack vitamin D. And the lack of vitamin D leads to the deficiency of the D3 production in the terrapin and causes the weakening of the carapace and bones.

When it comes to arranging the basking spot, you will have to focus on two things accurately. These are the right heating and lighting source. Also, you must ensure a spacious basking spot because terrapins love to live in a group, and they will bask in the same location too.

Heat:

Terrapins won’t thrive in cold water. Similarly, they don’t ask for hot water that is much like the tropical environment.  The DB terrapins will require the water temperature in the tank at around 70° to 72°F.

Use the white heat bulbs to add additional warmth inside the tank in the daytime. And it is recommended that you use blue or red light through the ceramic heat emission bulbs during the night time to keep the tank and water toasty warm.

You can also use the water heaters that are usually applied to fish tanks. When you use such heaters, ensure that the ambient temperature remains around 72° to 78°F. The weather should also never cross the 80°F mark since it is potentially harmful to the diamondback terrapins.

Light:

UV lights (UVA and UVB) are essential for the diamondback terrapins as it is crucial for any aquatic turtles. You must purchase a specialized UV spectrum lighting source to install in the DB terrapins’ terrarium or tank.

You will have to install the UV light source at 10 inches to 12 inches distance from the basking spot. Also, the light should be turned on for 12 hours of the daytime.

When you ensure the proper basking arrangement for the DB terrapins, they will grow strong and remain healthy for sure. It helps them convert Vitamin D3 into the much-needed form to allow the carapace and bones to grow stealthy.

The lack of proper UVB light will cause metabolic symptoms and bone diseases of the DB terrapin. Thus, the terrapin will have a short lifespan and see an immature death.

What Do Diamondback Terrapins Eat?

It is a matter of great regret that diamondback terrapin’s food habit hasn’t been studied thoroughly despite their immense fame and liking as a pet turtle. Also, almost all of the DB terrapin’s dietary studies have been done on the southern diamondback terrapin.

Nonetheless, it is well estimated that DB terrapins are omnivorous and will eat almost anything you offer them in the tank. While they graze in the wilderness’s dense vegetation, they will eat almost everything that fits in their jaws and claws.

In the tank, you can provide commercial turtle pellets to the DB terrapins. You can also give the terrapins with shrimps, snails, worms, crickets, mussels, crabs, etc., to meet their protein source. Occasionally, you may feed them leafy vegetables.

When you feed the terrapins, make sure you provide the terrapin with enough food that it can eat within 20 minutes. If you give the terrapin the food amount that it can’t eat within 20 minutes, it will make the tank water dirty.

We also discourage you from offering beef or chicken to the DB terrapins because the little turtles aren’t familiar with these diets in the wild. So, their digestive system isn’t made for such high protein-containing meat sources.

Finally, feed the DB terrapins in another tank apart from the primary terrarium if possible. It will help you maintain the water parameters and cleanliness of the main tank better. It is also helpful because DB terrapins are infamous for their messy eating habits that quickly transform the tank water into a dirty one.

Diamondback Terrapins Breeding: Do Diamondback Terrapins Lay Egg?

DB terrapin eggs
Image: turtlejournal.com

If you wish to breed DB terrapins in captivity, you must have permission from the respective authority. Also, the breeding procedure of the diamondback terrapin is similar to that of the regular turtles.

Female terrapins attain maturity in about 4 years to 6 years while the males become mature in around two to three years. Also, during the 1st year of the sexual maturity of the terrapins, females lack gravid capacity. Even if the female mate at her 1st year of sexual maturity won’t lay eggs.

The DB terrapins mate during the springtime. Also, a female will mate with multiple males to ensure that her eggs are fertilized properly. The females will lay eggs during the June to July season. The females lay eggs in dunes or on sandy beaches near the shore.

So, when you want to breed the diamondback terrapins, arrange a sandy location where the female will lay their eggs. A female DB terrapin will lay four to twenty-five eggs in a clutch. You have to set a proper incubation for the eggs. The eggs are from white to a pinkish color and have a leathery structure.

You can use a commercial incubator or arrange a homemade incubator with a few things quickly (We have discussed the incubation process of the turtles in a separate article).

Ensure you move the recently laid eggs of the terrapins with the same orientation while keeping them in the incubator from the egg-laying location. I suggest you use a pencil to mark the top of the eggs to continue in the same direction.

It will usually take two to three months for the eggs to be hatched properly. So, you can expect to get the new DB terrapin hatchlings in the August to September season.

Diamondback Terrapins Disease:

Diamondback terrapin is healthy and enjoys a hardy lifestyle. So, they remain free of diseases and parasite attacks mostly. However, their common complications come from fungal and bacterial infections on the carapace.

Another concerning the terrapins’ disease is its shell rot, which is caused by fungus, bacteria, and even due to the lack of vitamin D3.

SCUD or Septicemic cutaneous ulcerative disease is the most commonly seen and dangerous disease of the DB terrapins. It can cause loss of the claws, paralysis, hemorrhage, and ulcers. There’s another form of shell rot for the DB terrapins that causes a slimy and brownish membrane’s growth. It is usually seen on the terrapin skin.

Also, it causes the shedding of the shell plates at the worst.

Another life-threatening disease of the DB terrapin is the deformation of its eyes and shell. These happen mainly because of the vitamin D3 shortage. So, always make sure that the UV lights and heating lamps are working correctly inside the terrarium.

When you see any discoloration on the terrapins’ shell or eyes, it is recommended that you consult a vet immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do diamondback terrapins hibernate?

Yes, the diamondback terrapins hibernate. But its hibernation period and timing vary primarily according to their location of origin. Hence, different sub-species of the DB terrapin will have other hibernation period depending on their geographic location.

The southern DB terrapins live in a warmer temperature and won’t hibernate at all, or as little as possible. The northern DB terrapins will spend the whole or at least the maximum of their fall and winter times in hibernation.

It is highly recommended that the young hatchlings do not hibernate until they become at least two years old. Hence, as a DB terrapin owner, you must ensure that the young terrapin enjoys a healthy diet and lives healthy under proper UV lights and tank temperature. It will help the young terrapins survive the winter even without hibernation.

  • Do diamondback terrapins bite?

No, DB terrapins won’t bite their owner usually. These turtle species are extraordinarily docile and friendly. They treat their owners and immediate family members like their parents and siblings. However, occasional biting incidents might happen if the terrapin becomes violent for some reason. But as we said earlier, terrapins’ biting isn’t a regular phenomenon.

  • How long does diamond terrapin live?

Diamondback terrapins have a medium lifespan when compared to the turtles’ usual lifespan. A healthy and properly taken care of DB terrapin will live for 40 years to 45 years.  However, some owners have reported that these species have lived for 50 years in captivity. But the actual record of the longest living DB terrapin isn’t recorded in any trustworthy organizations.

Final Words

So, this was our conclusive discussion on the best ways for keeping diamondback terrapin as a pet.  While it is legitimate to own an adult DB terrapin sized at least 4″ in captivity, you will have to take the conservation authority’s permission to hold multiple diamondback terrapins.

What’s more, you need to promise yourself a lifetime commitment when you bring the DB terrapins at home since it lives for 40 years. Finally, never purchase or even promote the purchasing and selling of the wild diamondback terrapins. It is crucial since IUCN had listed the wild diamondback terrapins as critically endangered species and urged for its proper conservation.

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