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What Do Baby Turtles Eat?

What To Feed Baby Turtles

Baby turtles, in general, are more carnivorous, while adult turtles are more omnivorous. This is because baby turtles need the protein to grow quickly and attain a healthy adult size.

Some species such as eastern mud turtles may even reject vegetables and vegetation. Regardless of this, it is advisable to offer all hatchlings vegetables and vegetation.

Also, turtles prefer edible aquatic vegetation to vegetables as this is what is found in their natural ecosystem. Fruits can be offered but only rarely. Fruits should make up at most 10% of the turtle’s diet.

Quick Reference Section

Commercial turtle diets are also recommended. Many keepers rely on these to provide their turtles all the needed nutrients.

If you must rely on commercial diets, it is important to provide high-quality commercial turtle foods only. Hatchling/baby formulae also exist. According to manufacturers, these are specifically tailored to the needs of hatchlings.

From experience, regular commercial turtle diets are generally good enough.  However, you should provide fresh food as well even if you plan on primarily feeding your turtle commercial turtle pellets. Turtles appreciate fresh food.

That being said, the best thing to do is to mix it up. Don’t feed the baby turtle just one type of food or it will become fixated on just that food and refuse all other food in the future. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies.

The last thing to consider is nutrient supplements. The early ages are extremely essential. Nutrient deficiencies at this stage can lead to permanent abnormal growths and deformities that can lead to permanent damage and even death.

Nutritional MBD (metabolic bone disease) is especially common. This is caused by a lack of vitamin D3 and/or calcium. Supplement the baby turtle’s food with calcium and vitamin D supplements. Also, leafy greens are high in calcium, so is powdered oyster shell.

Animal Protein

tadpoles
tadpoles

As already mentioned, this is the most important part of the baby turtle’s diet. There are several foods you can feed the turtle. Here is a list of some excellent foods.

Of course, it is best to go with animals found in the turtle’s natural habitat such as crustaceans, mollusks, and fish. The food should be served in small pieces so the turtle can easily eat it.

  • 93% lean hamburger
  • Canned snails
  • Chicken
  • Crayfish
  • Crustaceans
  • Fish
  • Krill
  • Lean beef
  • Mudpuppies
  • Pinkie mice
  • Shrimp
  • Slugs
  • Small fish (except catfish or carp),
  • Snails
  • Tadpoles

Insects

Guy holding earthworms
Guy holding earthworms

You can also feed baby turtles insects. While these are healthy and highly nutritious, they are quite high in phosphorus. High levels of phosphorus can hinder calcium absorption. To make up for the high phosphorus levels, dust foods fed the turtle with calcium powder.

  • Bloodworms
  • Caterpillars
  • Crickets
  • Dubia roaches
  • Earthworms
  • Grubs
  • Mealworms
  • Roaches
  • Silkworms
  • Sowbugs
  • Sow worms
  • Superworms
  • Waxworms

Commercial Turtle Foods

Here are some excellent commercial turtle foods to offer baby turtles. Commercial turtle foods are overall more affordable and they have a long shelf life. A good turtle diet should contain all the needed nutrients.

Aquatic plants/vegetation

duckweed
Duckweed

It is always a good idea to feed turtles with foods found in their natural habitats. If you can find edible aquatic plants, then they should make up the main plant component of the baby turtle’s diet. Greens such as alfalfa hay are also excellent food choices.

  • Duckweed
  • Frogbit
  • Hornwort
  • Pondweed
  • Water hyacinth
  • Water lilies
  • Arrowhead
  • Waterweed
  • Spike rush
  • Alfalfa hay

Vegetables/Leafy Greens

kale
Kale

Although baby turtles prefer animal protein, they still feed them plant matter. The right foods should be high in fiber, high in calcium, and low in sugar. Here are some excellent vegetables to offer the turtle.

Things like kale and other dark green leaves have particular high calcium levels.

  • Collard greens
  • Dandelions greens and flowers
  • Escarole
  • Fresh parsley
  • Kale
  • Grated carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Mustard
  • Mustard greens
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Squash
  • Turnip greens
  • Zucchini

Fruits

blueberries
Blueberries

Fruits should only be offered once in a while as they are very high in sugar. Too much sugar isn’t healthy. Fruits should only make up about 10% of the turtle’s diet.

  • Apples
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cantaloupe
  • honeydew melon
  • Mulberries
  • Papaya
  • Pears
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Banana

Feeding Baby Turtles

Even if you know what baby turtles eat, proper feeding is essential if you want the turtle to be healthy and to grow as it should. Here are the steps you need to take when it comes to feeding a turtle. 

Figure Out The Species Of Your Turtle

As discussed earlier, baby turtles are generally mostly carnivorous but become more omnivorous with age. This is true about most freshwater turtles such as sliders, map turtles, cooters, and many more.

Some turtles such as snapping turtles are carnivorous and that never changes. The same can be said of mud turtles and musk turtles.

Before you get started, figure out what turtle you have. If you acquired the turtle from an experienced breeder, you may know the species from the start.

However, with many pet shops, the employed shopkeeper may not know the exact species of the turtle. If you don’t know the species of the turtle find out using our turtle identification guide.

Figure Out How Much To Feed Your Turtle

Turtles are opportunistic eaters and will eat as often as you feed them. However, you don’t want to overfeed them. This is bad for their growth and health.

Baby turtles should be fed once or twice a day. I recommend feeding the turtle once a day. Feed them during the mornings or afternoons as turtles are diurnal creatures and are most active during the day.

I recommend that you feed the turtle as much as it can eat within 15 to 20 minutes. This ensures that it gets all the needed nutrition but doesn’t overfeed.

Choose High-Quality Foods

For beginners, the simplest way to feed your turtle is by using commercial turtle food/pellets as a base. This will ensure that the turtle gets all the needed nutrients.

The best brands include Mazuri, Rep-Cal, ReptoMin, Zoo Med, and Wardley’s Reptile Pellets. For aquatic turtles, choose aquatic turtle food. These brands are quite popular and can be found in most pet stores. You can also order them online.

In addition to commercial turtle food, you can also offer them edible plants and fruits. Aquatic plants are the best as these are native to the turtle’s ecosystem.

If your turtle is carnivorous, give them insects and other small animals such as mollusks, fish, and crustaceans. You can find these small animals in pet shops. Try not to feed the turtle with worms found in your yard or garden. Buy them from a tackle shop for your worms.

Encourage The Turtle To Eat

In the wild, turtles catch their food. It is the same here. Baby freshwater turtles generally feed only when submerged in water. As such, you need to place the food in the water before they will feed on it. Box turtles on the other hand can be fed on land.

Feed the turtle a variety of foods from the start so it doesn’t become fixated on just one food item.

Many turtle owners prefer to feed their baby turtle in a shallow bowl of water. That way the turtle can eat while submerged, and the main tank can be kept free of any food particles. Feeding the turtle in a separate container also ensures that feeder insects don’t increase the ammonia level in the water.

For land turtles and turtles that eat on land, place fresh foods in a separate container.

Finally, remove all leftover food that the turtle doesn’t eat from the enclosure.

Don’t Hand Feed The Turtle

It is best to not feed the turtle with your hands. Doing so can result in bites. This is because the turtle will start to associate your hands with food and may attempt to bite your fingers whenever they are close.

Break Up Foods Into Small Manageable Sizes

Large chunks of food can be a choking hazard. When offering the turtle food ensure that it’s small enough to fit into the mouth.

Cut up turtle pellets into fourths, and cut up all fruits so they are no larger than a blueberry.

Offer Calcium And Vitamin Supplements Every Other Day

It’s best to speak to your vet about supplementation. Nutritional metabolic bone disease is a serious health condition that affects captive-bred turtles all over the world.

Turtles are particularly susceptible to nutritional MBD when young.  Supplementing the turtle’s diet with calcium and vitamin D can help prevent this.

Some Popular Turtles Kept As Pets

Here we will look at some foods that you can feed the hatchlings/younglings of different genera of turtles. Each of these genera contains several species that may have different preferences.

Regardless, this should give you a good idea of what the various baby turtles eat. For carnivorous baby turtles, commercial turtle pellets, and animal proteins should have up almost their entire diet (about 70-80% of their diet).

For omnivorous baby turtles, animal proteins should make up about 50% of their diet while vegetation makes up 30-40%. Fruits should make up about 15% of an omnivorous turtle’s diet.

Conclusion

Baby turtles are opportunistic eaters and will eat as often as fed. It is important to ensure that they are kept on a strict schedule. Feed the turtle, the same time every day.

Allow them to eat as much as they can in 15 to 20 minutes. Turtles will eat commercial turtle pellets, animal products, vegetables, grass, and edible aquatic plants.

When feeding a baby turtle, start with commercial turtle pellets. High-quality pellets contain all the nutrients the baby turtle needs. Hatchling formulae are best for small turtles.

Also feed them feeder fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. If your turtle is omnivorous, then you also need to feed it edible aquatic plants, and leafy greens. Make sure that the baby turtle can easily swallow the food given it.

If you have any questions or additional information, leave a comment below.

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