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419 Great King Street Dunedin, New Zealand

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Our Tropical Terrapins

Two terrapins, named Daphne and Heidi, live in our Tropical Forest here at the Otago Museum. They are red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), a type of terrapin often seen as a household pet.

turtle walk


So what makes them terrapins and not turtles? Well, terrapins are only semi-aquatic, which means they spend some of their time on land as well. Turtles are entirely aquatic and tortoises are entirely land-based. In our Tropical Forest we’ve hooked up our terrapins with a little beach and a UV light for them to bask under, which keeps their shells healthy.

Red-eared terrapins are common across the globe. In fact, they’re so common many places consider them a pest, as they’re one of the most invasive species in the world. They can live between 20 and 30 years, and while they start off small and cute, they can grow up to the size of a dinner plate! Once fully grown they’re demanding pets and need a lot of specialised care.

Red-eared sliders are ectothermic, so you need to carefully monitor the temperature of their enclosure and their water. Ectotherms, like our cold- blooded terrapins, depend on external sources to adjust their body temperature.

They’re also omnivores (animals that eat plants and meat), so they need to eat a balanced diet. Here at the Otago Museum we feed our turtles on a regular schedule. They get fed once a day at around 4.30pm. Their meal is either pet store turtle food (a mix of dried fish, vitamins and minerals), or a couple of times a week we treat them to a live locust each! The locusts don’t have a lot of nutritional value to the turtles, but they gobble them up.

turtle grumpy


At 11 Daphne is our eldest terrapin, whereas Heidi is only five. We adopt our turtles rather than buying them outright. Think carefully before adopting a terrapin of your own. If you are interested, make sure you have the facilities to care for it and check out websites like this for adoption options.

Feel free to come chat to our Science Engagement team about our terrapins and how we care for them.