Turtles

What Do Turtles Eat?

March 26, 2020

What Do Turtles Eat?

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Though they may not be your typical pet, turtles have many wonderful qualities. They’re relatively low maintenance, entertaining to watch, and they’re completely unique from other pets.

The thing you need to remember, however, is that they have specific nutritional needs that must be met.

When it comes to talking about what turtles eat, it’s important to remember a key difference between turtles and tortoises. Tortoises are strict vegetarians while turtles are omnivores.

There are many different species of turtle kept for pets as well, including red-eared sliders, box turtles, painted turtles, and softshell turtles.

Other species like snapping turtles and sea turtles are not typically kept as pets, though their nutritional needs may be similar to a pet turtle’s diet in some cases.

What your turtle eats will determine his long-term health and wellness, so it’s important to do your research. Finding the right diet for your species of turtle is a must.

Read on to learn the basics about foods that are and are not safe for turtles along with some general feeding recommendations.

Safe and Unsafe Foods for Turtles

Before you feed your pet turtle anything, you need to make sure it is safe. Turtles have different nutritional requirements than other pets, so you can’t assume that just because it’s safe for one animal it’s safe for another. Lucky for you, we’ve assembled a list of dozens of foods that are and are not safe for you to feed your pet turtle.

Foods That Are Safe for Turtles:

  1. Commercial turtle pellets
  2. Small fish
  3. Crickets
  4. Mealworms
  5. Waxworms
  6. Earthworms
  7. Slugs
  8. Beetles
  9. Small crustaceans
  10. Dandelion greens
  11. Romaine lettuce
  12. Squash
  13. Zucchini
  14. Green beans
  15. Kale
  16. Carrots
  17. Aquatic plants

Foods Turtles Can Eat in Moderation:

  1. Boiled egg
  2. Cooked chicken
  3. Cooked shrimp
  4. Berries
  5. Grapes
  6. Melon
  7. Kiwi
  8. Mango
  9. Pumpkin
  10. Papaya
  11. Sweet potato

Foods That Are Not Recommended for Turtles:

  1. Milk
  2. Yogurt
  3. Cheese
  4. Raw meat
  5. Processed foods
  6. Bread
  7. Corn
  8. Grains
  9. Dog food
  10. Cat food

Foods Toxic or Harmful for Turtles:

  1. Iceberg lettuce
  2. Celery
  3. Rhubarb
  4. Spinach
  5. Beets
  6. Beans
  7. Collard greens
  8. Mushrooms
  9. Peas
  10. Turnips
  11. Radishes
  12. Tomatoes
  13. Cabbage
  14. Brussels sprouts
  15. Broccoli
  16. Onions
  17. Peppers

When it comes to choosing what to feed your turtle, you have to keep in mind his nutritional needs.

Leafy greens like romaine lettuce and dandelion greens are nutritious options while things like iceberg lettuce provide little to no nutritional value. Cruciferous veggies like cabbage and brussels sprouts can cause digestive issues while onions and peppers can be toxic.

Types of Turtle Diets

In the wild, most turtles are omnivores. They’ll eat a wide range of foods including small insects, crustaceans, and fish as well as vegetation.

A wild turtle’s diet depends largely on its natural habitat and the food sources available. For example, land turtles may eat an entirely different diet than freshwater turtles and sea turtles.

When it comes to formulating your pet turtle’s diet, you have to think about what wild turtles of the same species would eat and do your best to mimic that diet.

Here is a quick breakdown of the different components of a pet turtle’s diet:

  • Commercial Turtle Food – Turtle pellets are formulated to provide the right blend of protein, fat, and other nutrients your turtle needs. They should make up about 25% of his diet with the rest from whole foods like insects or feeder fish and fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Insects – Things like crickets, mealworms, and earthworms should make up a significant portion of your turtle’s diet. Just be sure to feed a variety since different insects have different nutritional makeup and you want your turtle’s diet to be balanced.
  • Feeder Fish – Small goldfish and other feeder fish can be a valuable source of protein.
  • Vegetables – Leafy greens with high nutrient content can be offered daily or several times a week. Land turtles tend to eat more vegetation than aquatic turtles.

Also Read: The 5 Best Turtle Foods

About 25% of your turtle’s diet should come from commercial turtle food. These recipes are formulated to provide the specific blend of nutrients your pet needs.

The majority of his diet, however, should come from natural food sources like insects, boiled eggs, and feeder fish. Fresh vegetables should be offered daily and you can supplement your turtle’s diet with fresh fruits and aquatic plants like water hyacinth and duckweed.

Meeting Your Turtle’s Nutritional Needs

The appropriate diet for a pet turtle varies depending on the type of turtle. Aquatic turtles are closer to being carnivores, though they are still classified as omnivores since they eat vegetation as well.

Some land turtles are herbivores, but box turtles still fall into the omnivore category.

Generally speaking, your turtle’s diet should consist of about 25% commercial turtle food with the rest being split between protein food sources like insects or small fish and fresh foods like leafy greens and aquatic veggies.

Baby turtles require the same foods, just in a slightly different concentration.

Turtle pellets should still be offered so your turtle gets used to eating them, but you’ll need to offer more insects and feeder fish to meet your growing turtle’s protein requirements.

This may be true more for baby aquatic turtles like red-eared sliders than for land turtles. Baby box turtles, for example, tend to be true omnivores. Feed these turtles a more even blend of protein and vegetation.

Regardless your pet turtle’s age, insects will be an important part of the diet.

Just remember that your turtle needs essential vitamins and minerals like calcium as well. When feeding live insects, be sure to gut-load them by feeding them healthy foods so the nutrients will be passed along to your turtle.

You may also want to dust his foods with calcium powder twice a week.

To give you an idea what do turtles eat and much you should be feeding your pet turtle in different stages of life, refer to this chart:

Daily Turtle Feeding Chart
AgeSizeCommercial FoodProteinFruits and Veggies
Up to 12 monthsBaby Box TurtleSmall amounts of commercial turtle pellets50% insects and feeder fish50% leafy green veggies with occasional small amounts of fruit
1 year and upAdult Box Turtle25% of total diet50% insects and feeder fish50% leafy green veggies with occasional small amounts of fruit
Up to 12 monthsBaby Aquatic TurtleSmall amounts of commercial turtle pellets75% insects and feeder fish25% leafy green veggies with occasional small amounts of fruit
1 year and upAdult Aquatic Turtles25% of total diet50% insects and feeder fish50% leafy green veggies with occasional small amounts of fruit

 

In addition to providing the food your turtle eats you should think about water as well. Aquatic turtles will typically drink from the water they swim in, but land turtles may require a water dish. It’s important to keep the water in your turtle’s tank clean to keep your pet safe.

Recommended Commercial Turtle Foods

To make sure your pet turtle gets the right blend of nutrients in its diet, provide commercial turtle pellets in addition to insects, feeder fish, and fresh foods. Look for a recipe made with high-quality, natural ingredients that contain plenty of protein and calcium. Avoid products that contain too many artificial additives like colors, flavors, and preservatives because these don’t provide any nutritional benefit for your turtle. Pay attention as well to the unique needs of different species of turtle.

Here are some of our top picks for the best commercial turtle food:

  • Tetra ReptoMin Floating Food Sticks – Made with protein-rich fish meal and shrimp meal, these floating food sticks are an ideal choice for aquatic turtles. In addition to plenty of protein, they are fortified with vitamin C and calcium as well.
  • Fluker’s Aquatic Turtle Diet – Available in 4-ounce and 8-ounce packages, this floating turtle diet is designed for aquatic turtles. These pellets are made with a premium blend of proteins and enriched with essential vitamins to deliver complete and balanced nutrition.
  • Rep-Cal Maintenance Formula Box Turtle Food – Made with natural plant and fruit ingredients, this recipe is formulated specifically for box turtles to ensure proper growth and health. It can be fed dry or moistened with water or fruit juice.

Looking for more recommendations on what to feed your turtle?

Check out our in-depth guide to the best commercial turtle foods.

Turtle Feeding FAQs

What do turtles eat in the wild?

A wild turtle’s diet depends on the species. Tortoises are strict herbivores while most turtles are omnivores. Aquatic turtles and box turtles feed on small fish, crustaceans, and insects along with various types of vegetation. Freshwater turtles are entirely different from sea turtles. The leatherback sea turtle feeds primarily on jellyfish while the green sea turtle is herbivorous, eating mostly seagrass.

How much do turtles eat?

The amount your turtle eats depends on its age and species. Generally speaking, baby turtles should be fed once a day while young adult turtles can be fed every other day. Older turtles may only need to be fed every two or three days with edible plants in the tank available for snacking.

What do turtles drink?

Turtles drink water like any other animal. Aquatic turtles tend to drink the water they swim in while land turtles may require a water dish.

Do turtles eat insects?

Yes, most pet turtles are omnivores and feed on a combination of food sources including proteins like feeder fish and insects with fresh vegetation.

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Kate Barrington is avid pet lover and adoring owner of three cats and one dog, her love for animals has led her to a successful career as a freelance writer specializing in pet care and nutrition. She has been writing about pet care and pet products since 2010
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