What Do Turtles Eat: Pet Turtles Feeding 101

Turtles are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will consume whatever food is available. Their diet can vary depending on their natural habitat, species, age, and whether they are in the wild or captivity.

Let’s explore what turtles eat in different settings.

What Do Turtles Eat in the Wild?

In the wild, turtles have a diverse menu. 

Herbivorous turtles typically feed on aquatic plants, grasses, and leafy greens. They might also nibble on algae and fruits that fall into the water. 

Omnivorous turtles have a more varied diet and eat both plant matter and small animals, such as insects, worms, snails, and small fish. 

Carnivorous turtles are ruthless predators and primarily consume meat, including fish, amphibians, and even small mammals.

What Do Pet Turtles Eat?

When it comes to feeding pet turtles, the general rule of thumb is to offer a variety of foods to ensure they receive all the necessary nutrients. 

Herbivorous pet turtles may enjoy a mix of leafy greens, vegetables, and fruits, supplemented with commercial turtle pellets. 

Omnivorous pet turtles should have a diet consisting of both plant matter and animal protein, such as insects, fish, and low-fat cooked meat. 

Carnivorous pet turtles require a diet primarily composed of appropriate-sized prey items, such as feeder fish and insects.

Animal Food Sources Plant Food Sources 
Drained SardinesCollards
Turtle PelletsDandelions
Trout ChowMustard Greens
Cooked ChickenApples
Cooked BeefCantaloupe
Cooked Turkey Bananas
MothsBerries
CricketsMangoes
ShrimpAquatic Plants
KrillWater Hyacinth
Feeder FishWater Lettuce
WormsDuckweed
SlugsBroccoli
SnailsGreen Beans
ShellfishSquash
EarthwormsShredded Carrots And Carrot Tops
WaxwormsKale
MealwormsSwiss Chard
Bee Moth LarvaeWatercress
what do turtles eat: chart

What Do Sea Turtles Eat?

Plants50%
Protein 25%
Pellets25%

Sea turtles, known for their majestic appearance, are primarily herbivorous or omnivorous, depending on the species. They primarily feed on seagrasses, algae, and jellyfish. 

Green sea turtles, for instance, have a specialized diet comprising mostly seagrass and algae, while hawksbill sea turtles have a diet that includes a variety of sponges, mollusks, and jellyfish.

Semi-aquatic and aquatic turtles, including 

  • red sliders, 
  • painted turtles, 
  • pond turtles, 

consume a combination of animal protein and vegetables. 

However, there are exceptions like the spiny soft-shell turtle, which is considered carnivorous and primarily feeds on animal protein. 

Young aquatic turtles consume more animal protein, while their diet shifts towards more veggies as they mature. 

For carnivorous turtles, it’s recommended to provide a blend of various commercially produced turtle pellets along with live animal protein. On the other hand, omnivorous turtles should also be given the pellet mix, along with approved vegetables and plant matter.

What Do Box Turtles Eat?

Box turtles are terrestrial creatures found in woodlands and grasslands. They are omnivorous and have a diverse diet. Their meals consist of various plant matter, such as mushrooms, fruits, berries, and flowers. They also munch on insects, worms, slugs, and snails.

Suitable vegetables that should make up a significant portion of the box turtle’s diet consist of: 

  • collard greens, 
  • beet greens, 
  • mustard greens, 
  • broccoli, 
  • turnip greens, 
  • alfalfa hay, 
  • bok choy, 
  • kale, 
  • parsley, 
  • Swiss chard, 
  • watercress, 
  • clover, r
  • ed or green cabbage, 
  • savory, 
  • cilantro, 
  • kohlrabi, 
  • bell peppers,
  •  green beans, 
  • escarole, 
  • Dandelion,
  •  cactus, 
  • various squash, 
  • sprouts, 
  • cooked sweet potato, 
  • parsnips, 
  • okra, 
  • cucumber, 
  • asparagus, 
  • mushrooms, 
  • carrots, 
  • peas, 
  • corn

Swiss chard, spinach, and beet greens should be fed sparingly, as they contain oxalates that can hinder the absorption of calcium and other trace minerals in the turtle’s intestine. 

Cabbage, kale, or mustard greens contain goitrogens which could lead to hypothyroidism if consumed excessively.

 Acceptable fruits (as occasional snack) include: 

  • apples, 
  • pears, 
  • bananas (with skin), 
  • mango, grapes, 
  • star fruit, 
  • raisins, 
  • peaches, 
  • tomato, 
  • guava, 
  • kiwis, 
  • melons. 
  • figs, 
  • apricots, 
  • dates, 
  • raspberries, 
  • strawberries. 

Flowers:

  • geraniums, 
  • carnations, 
  • dandelions, 
  • hibiscus, 
  • nasturtiums, 
  • roses 

Both vegetables and fruit can be served cooked or raw, with raw options generally being more nutritious. 

Animal-based protein foods, your veterinarian’s advice may vary depending on your turtle’s age, breed, and health condition.  

Animal-based protein sources: 

  • grasshoppers, 
  • crickets, 
  • mealworms, 
  • wax worms, 
  • silkworms, 
  • Moths,
  • slugs, 
  • earthworms, 
  • hard-boiled eggs. 

Reptile pellets can also be an excellent source of protein. Live prey, like crickets and worms, can be raised at home or purchased from reliable sources like pet stores, bait shops, or reptile breeders. 

Avoid collecting insects from the outdoors, as they might have been exposed to toxic substances like fertilizers and insecticides, which can harm the turtles.

What Do Painted Turtles Eat?

Painted turtles, another common pet species, are primarily omnivorous. In the wild, they feed on aquatic plants, insects, tadpoles, and small fish. As pets, they should be provided with a mix of leafy greens, commercial turtle pellets, and occasional live or frozen prey such as insects and small fish to meet their dietary requirements.

Vegetables:

  • romaine or red-leaf lettuce (avoid iceberg), 
  • chopped mixed veggies, 
  • collard greens. 

Protein:

  • small feeder guppies, 
  • various insects and earthworms,
  •  pieces of chopped beef heart, 
  • cooked chicken pieces, 
  • low-fat dog food

Essential Nutrients for Turtles

Vitamins and Mineralsan antioxidant that helps boost the immune system
Vitamin Avision, skin health, and the immune system
Vitamin D3calcium absorption and bone health
Calciumstrong bones and shell development
Phosphorusworks with calcium to maintain bone health
Vitamin Ean antioxidant that supports the immune system
Vitamin B Complex (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12)vital for energy metabolism, nerve function, and overall health
Vitamin Cantioxidant that helps boost the immune system
Vitamin Kblood clotting and bone health
Ironoxygen transport in the blood
Potassiumhelps regulate fluid balance and muscle function

Calcium is vital for their shell and bone health, while Vitamin D is necessary for the proper absorption of calcium. Turtles also need an adequate source of protein for growth and repair. Additionally, they require vitamins such as Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E, as well as minerals like phosphorus and potassium.

Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Turtle

While it’s important to provide turtles with a varied diet, there are certain foods that should be avoided. Some commonly known items include 

  • processed human food,
  • dairy products, 
  • sugary treats, 
  • foods high in sodium. 
  • toxic plants

How to Feed Your Pet Turtle

Feeding your pet turtle properly is essential for their health and well-being. Establishing a feeding routine and following some guidelines will help ensure they receive the nutrients they need.

Feeding Schedule for Turtles

Baby turtle2-3 times/day
Juvenile turtle1-2 times/day
Adult turtleEvery day or every second day 
Senior turtle Every 2-3 days

Turtles should be fed on a regular schedule to maintain their appetite and digestive health. A general guideline for feeding pet turtles is to offer small meals every day or every other day, depending on their age and species.

How Much to Feed Your Turtle

A good rule of thumb is offering a portion of food roughly the size of your turtle’s head. This ensures they receive an adequate amount without overfeeding. Observing their behavior and body condition will also help you determine if you are feeding them the right amount.

The amount of food your turtle needs depends on its age, size, and species.