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What Do Box Turtles Eat?

Box Turtle Diet

A box turtles diet consistes of a variety of things since they are omnivores. They typically feed on feed on fruits, leafy greens, foliage, insects, fish, and even meat. Read on to get an in depth breakdown of what box turtles eat below.

Box turtles are a popular turtle species commonly kept as pets. These turtles are calm, friendly, and active. In addition to this, they aren’t big. All these characteristics make them excellent pets.

Feeding them high-quality foods in the right amount, right intervals, and composition is necessary to maintain a healthy chelonian in the right weight range.

Popular box turtles kept as pets include the common box turtle (which is made up of the three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), Gulf Coast box turtle (Terrapene carolina major), eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), and Florida box turtle (Terrapene carolina bauri).

Commercial turtle diets are also an excellent method of providing the box turtle with nourishment. However, if you want to make commercial food a major component of the turtle’s diet, you need to ensure you use only the best.

There are several options available, including both baby formula as well as a regular for adults and subadults.

Commercial diets are very convenient as they last longer and are easier to store. Regardless, you must always provide the turtle with fresh food – fresh foliage, vegetables, fruits, insects, fish, and meat.

Other whole foods such as freeze-dried krill and shrimp can also be included in the turtle’s diet. Feeding the turtle a variety of good foods is best.

Animal Source Foods

Eastern Box turtle eating with vitamin a deficiency
Eastern Box turtle eating with vitamin a deficiency

In the wild, box turtles will eat prey whole. Some foods they eat include mollusks, insects, fish, frogs, snakes, birds, slugs, worms, salamanders, and even eggs.

They do not discriminate. As long as the animal is smaller than they are, they will hunt and feed on it. They also eat carrion and have been observed feeding on dead ducks, worms and then of course insects.

Box turtles need a high percentage of animal-based foods. There isn’t an exact number here. Just make sure you feed the turtle a lot of protein. Animal-based foods should make up about 50% of the turtle’s diet.

They will eat any animal-based food provided to them. As such, you have to be careful about what you offer them. You don’t want to make a habit of offering them foods high in fats, as this is bad for their health and could make them fat.

These chelonians also accept insects. While insects are high in essential nutrients and low in fat, they also contain a lot of phosphorus when compared to other animal source foods.

As such, it’s a good idea not to make insects the turtle’s only source of protein. And if you do, then I recommend using calcium supplements.

Here are some of the best animal source foods to feed them:

  • Snails
  • Slugs
  • Shrimp
  • Feeder fish
  • Boiled Chicken
  • Beef heart
  • Grubs
  • Sowbugs
  • Beetles
  • Earthworms

Other excellent foods include

  • Waxworms
  • Super worms
  • Sow worms
  • Roaches
  • Red worms
  • Mollusks
  • Mealworms
  • Lean meat
  • Krills
  • Grubs
  • Grasshoppers
  • Dubia roaches
  • Crustaceans
  • Crickets
  • Crayfish
  • Caterpillars
  • Bloodworms
  • Silkworms

This chelonian also accepts

  • Pinkie mice
  • Boiled egg
  • Low-fat cat kibble
  • Tofu

You don’t need to feed the turtle every animal source food on this list, but a selection of about 4 of them should be good enough.

You can also keep changing the foods in the turtle’s diet continuously. For instance, you can offer chicken on the first feeding day, crayfish the next, and then shrimp on another day.

Commercial Turtle Foods

Commercial turtle foods are a superb choice since they last longer and can be conveniently stored. However, they are best offered occasionally. It isn’t advisable to feed the turtle only commercial turtle foods.

Plant-Based Food

Plant-based foods should make up about 50% of the chelonian’s diet. These foods are very important since they contain a lot of the nutrients and fiber that the turtle needs. The best foods are rich in both calcium and fiber. These are all important to the turtle’s health.

Vegetables

vegetables for box turtles

These chelonians love vegetables and there is a lot to choose from. However, it is best to start offering vegetables early – when the chelonian is young.

You don’t want the turtle to become fixated on just one food type. Offer as much fresh vegetables as much as you can. Grate hard vegetables such as carrots so the turtle can easily eat them. Vegetables should constitute about 30% of the chelonian’s diet.

Offer these vegetables most often

  • Grated carrots
  • Green beans
  • Okra
  • Peas in the pod
  • Summer and winter squashes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Wax beans

Offer these vegetables occasionally

  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms (technically fungi)
  • Bean sprouts
  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Corn on the cob

Leafy Greens

leafy greens for box turtles

These should make up about 10 to 20% of the turtle’s diet. These are rich in nutrients. They also help keep the turtle’s gut clean and healthy as they are rich in fiber.

Offer these leafy dark greens most often

  • Dandelion greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Mustard greens
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Collard greens
  • Wheatgrass

Offer these leafy greens occasionally

  • Swiss chard
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Kale
  • Endive

Fruits

Fruits for box turtles

Fruits are high in sugar and as such should be offered only occasionally or better still – rarely. If you must, fruits should make up about 10% of the turtle’s diet.

  • Apples
  • Banana
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cantaloupes
  • Cherries
  • Crabapples
  • Fresh figs
  • Grapes
  • Kiwis
  • Mulberries
  • Papaya
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Persimmons
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

Foods To Avoid

Some foods are best avoided as they aren’t nutritious and offer little to no nutrients. They can even be harmful. Some of these foods include.

  • Rhubarb leaves
  • Potato leaves
  • Tobacco leaves
  • Avocado peel, leaves, and seed
  • Tomato leaves and vines
  • Poison ivy
  • Fatty meats
  • Processed foods such as processed meats (canned meat, sausage, and lunch meat)
  • Dairy such as yogurt, milk, and cheese
  • Foods with refined sugars such as chocolate and candy

Feeding Schedule

Juvenile Ornate Box Turtle Basking In A Canyon, Garza County Texas
Juvenile Ornate Box Turtle Basking In A Canyon, Garza County Texas

Feed turtles every other day. Adults can be fed a full meal once every 2 to 3 days. Subadults should also be fed every other day. Juveniles and hatchlings can be fed once every day.

A full meal should consist of a well-balanced meal as described in the article – 50% animal-based food, 30% vegetables, 10-20% leafy greens, and 0-10% fruits.

Feed the turtle at the same time and place each day.

There are many different approaches to the amount to feed the turtle in a single sitting. With box turtles, some keepers offer the turtle as much as it can eat within 15 to  20 mins.

Some also prefer to use the turtle’s head as a measurement of the amount of animal-based foods to feed them. With this approach, the animal-based food for a single meal shouldn’t be larger than the turtle’s head.

As you may or may not know, turtles don’t have teeth and as such cannot properly chew their food. They generally swallow their food whole.

As such, don’t feed them pieces of food that are large enough to become a choking hazards. The food pieces should be large enough to fit into the turtle’s mouth.

Turtles May Refuse To Eat

Malaysian Box Turtle
Malaysian Box Turtle

Turtles may refuse to eat. This could be down to the temperature or lighting of the enclosure. When temperatures aren’t high enough, the turtle will refuse to eat.

This is especially true when night temperatures fall to 65 F or lower. These chelonians are best fed during the late mornings. During feeding, the temperature of the warm end should be above 85 F, while the temperature of the cool end should be about 75 to 78 F.

The enclosure needs to be well-lit if you want the chelonian to eat. As diurnal species, they eat during the day.

When kept outside, lighting generally isn’t an issue. However for box turtles kept indoors, provide full-spectrum light lamps.

Box turtles can be rather timid turtles and many refuse to eat when any human is around. Place the turtle’s food on a flat large plate. You should leave the turtle alone as it feeds.

Offer Calcium And Vitamin D3 Supplements Every Other Meal

Supplementation depends on what you feed the turtle as well as where it is kept. If the chelonian is housed outside and has access to sunlight, then it won’t need extra vitamin D3 as it can produce all it needs by itself.

Similarly, with calcium, many turtle experts believe that as long as you feed the turtle foods rich in nutrients and in particular calcium, then extra calcium isn’t needed.

In fact, too much calcium has its negative effects. If you want to provide your turtle with calcium and multivitamin supplements, you should contact your herp vet first.

One natural way of providing extra calcium is by placing a cuttlebone in the turtle’s enclosure. This also helps to maintain the turtles beak.

Since nutritional metabolic bone disease is one of the main health issues that affect turtles, supplements can turn out to be crucial especially for turtles housed indoors.

Conclusion

The omnivorous box turtle is a popular turtle kept as pets. These chelonians feed on a wide variety of foods including insects, carrion, mushrooms, berries, foliage, and many more.

There are few foods the box turtle won’t accept. Regardless of this, the box turtle can become fixated on a particular food. To prevent this, feed these turtles a wide array of foods.

The chelonian’s diet should consist of 50% animal-based foods and 50% plant-based foods. This should allow the turtle to eat a well-balanced diet.

Calcium and vitamin D3 supplements may also be needed to keep the turtle fit and healthy. Sprinkle calcium and vitamin D3 powder on the turtle’s meal about twice or three times a week.

If you have any extra information, we’d love to hear it in the comments section below.

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