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What Do Box Turtles Eat?

Box Turtle Diet

A box turtles’ diet consists of a variety of things since they are omnivores. They typically 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.

Table of Contents

  1. Diet for Adult Box Turtles
  2. Animal Products
  3. Commercial Foods
  4. Plant-based Foods
    1. Vegetables
    2. Leafy Greens
    3. Fruits
  5. Diet for Baby Box Turtles
  6. Diet for Young Box Turtles
  7. How to Feed Box Turtles
  8. Box Turtle Vitamins
    1. Supplements
  9. Foods To Avoid
  10. Feeding Schedule
  11. FAQ
  12. Conclusion

Diet for Adult Box Turtles

Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) in its shell on cement
Eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) in its shell on cement.

Animal Source Foods

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 on 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 Foods

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

peas and carrots
Peas and carrots.

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 many 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
Leafy greens

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

fresh fruits
Grapes, kiwi, and strawberry

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

Diet for Baby Box Turtles

Baby Box Turtle near grass taken by Kerry Wixted
Baby Box Turtle near grass taken by – Kerry Wixted

Baby box turtles have similar dietary requirements to adults, but there are some vital differences you should pay attention to when preparing a baby box turtle diet.

Hatchlings eat essentially the same foods as adults. These foods include animals, plants, and vegetables.

Their dietary differences are mostly about how often they eat and how much of each food type to include in your baby box turtle diet.

Some research suggests that hatchlings consume more animal source foods than plant-based foods. So you can feed your baby box turtles the same foods you give adults. However, you should include more animal protein than plants.

Baby box turtles may completely refuse eating plant matter the first few weeks after hatching. This changes after a while, and they start eating plenty of plant food if you persist with offering them.

Your young chelonian will likely consume lots of animal protein from insects and other small invertebrates. This is because it is still too small to go after larger prey.

Animal source foods you can feed your pet baby box turtle include:

  • Waxworms
  • Earthworms
  • Angleworms
  • Mealworms
  • Grasshoppers
  • Crickets

Plant-based foods include:

  • Green beans
  • Spinach mustard
  • Mustard greens
  • Berries

Box turtles like varied diets, regardless of their age. So ensure you vary the contents of your baby box turtle diet. Avoid feeding it exactly the same thing every time.

Best Foods for Young Box Turtles

Young Ornate Box Turtle in sand and grass taken by Peter Paplanus
Young Ornate Box Turtle in sand and grass taken by – Peter Paplanus

Since box turtles are omnivores, they eat various kinds of food. Their diet is made up of many animals and plants, but the ratio changes with age.

Younger box turtles are primarily carnivorous. This evens out in adulthood. Adults consume plants and animals in roughly equal proportions, although some may be slightly more herbivorous.

Your turtle’s plant-derived foods should be clean and pesticide-free. It’s best when you get organically grown plants or grow them in your garden yourself. Regardless, always thoroughly wash vegetables and fruits before feeding your pet.

As for animal foods, your best bet are those bred in captivity to serve as reptile feeders. They tend to have fewer parasites and transmissible diseases than those in the wild.

Wild insects, in particular, may have pesticides on their body. This may be harmful to your pet.

There is no best box turtle food. But if there was, these foods are among the best to give your pet:

Animal source foods:

  • Mealworms
  • Earthworms
  • Waxworms
  • Silkworms
  • Slugs
  • Crickets
  • Beetles
  • Spiders
  • Grasshoppers
  • Cooked meat
  • Pink, baby mice

Regular plants and vegetables:

  • Squash
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Cacti
  • Green beans
  • Flowers

Leafy greens:

  • Beet greens
  • Turnip greens
  • Collard greens

Fruits:

  • Berries
  • Papaya
  • Oranges
  • Apricots
  • Figs

How to Feed Box Turtles

Box Turtle taking a large bite out of a strawberry
Box Turtle taking a large bite out of a strawberry. – Source

How often do box turtles eat?

How much do box turtles eat?

These considerations are what often determine how you should feed your chelonian companions.

Feeding box turtles can be tricky. The key is to give them food in the right amount and frequency.  Otherwise, you may find that even ordinarily healthy foods cause health problems for them.

For instance, leafy greens are an excellent food for your young chelonian. That’s because these vegetables are high in calcium and fiber. However, too much can also be problematic. Leafy greens are high in oxalates, which may impair calcium absorption by binding to it.

When feeding your pet, ensure to mix up its diet. Rotate the foods you give it, so it can get different types of nutrients.

Always feed your box turtle fresh foods and provide clean water for it to drink. You do not need to put the food in its mouth.

Instead, leave the food in your pet’s enclosure and wait for it to consume what it can. Cooked meat has fewer bacteria and germs, so try as much as you can to cook its meat first.

Also make sure to shred or chop meats, vegetables, and fruits, to sizes that are easy for it to consume.

Box Turtle Vitamins

Box turtles require several types of vitamins. They get these vitamins naturally in their foods. So you’ll hardly need to supplement with extra vitamins if you know how to feed box turtles balanced diets.

Sadly, this is easier said than done. It’s not easy to give these chelonians all the vitamins they require in a perfectly balanced diet without constant revision.

Your overall adult or baby box turtle diet may be highly nutritious. But it will likely slant in favor of some vitamins while remaining low in others. Even commercial turtle foods that claim to be 100% balanced aren’t fully balanced.

Vitamins A and D3 are the most important box turtle vitamins and the most prone to deficiency. Sadly, deficiency in either can lead to serious health problems.

Vitamin A helps maintain excellent vision and several physiological functions, so a deficiency in it can create bad health conditions. These conditions include poor vision, respiratory dysfunction, pancreas and kidney problems, embryo deformities, and skin ulcers or abscesses.

Since vitamin A deficiency particularly affects the eyes, puffy red eyes are a common sign your pet chelonian is low in this vitamin. It also causes loss of appetite and a runny nose.

You can avoid vitamin A deficiency by feeding your pet diets high in carrots, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes.

You may also need to use synthetic supplements. But speak to your vet about this first. That’s because excess vitamin A can also cause problems.

Box turtles need vitamin D3 to metabolize calcium to strengthen their bones and shells. Too little of this vitamin often causes health problems like a metabolic bone disease.

Vitamin D3 is present in some foods, but sunlight exposure is the best source. Fortunately, your pet chelonian has skin and shell pigments that produce vitamin D3 when exposed to UV light.

Indoor artificial UV lighting helps, but it’s not as effective as natural UV light from sun exposure. That’s why outdoor turtles that bask in the sun are less likely than indoor turtles to develop this deficiency.

If your pet is deficient in Vitamin D3, let it bask in the sun for a couple of minutes or hours each day. This is usually enough to replenish low vitamin D3 levels.

During low sunlight periods like winter, it’s okay to give your pet vitamin D3 supplements once in a while.

Be careful when giving your pet chelonian vitamin A and D3 supplements. Over-supplementation is a common problem with pet box turtles. Only give them supplements when necessary with a vet’s approval or guidance.

Supplements

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 but they are typically given to the animal every other meal.

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

Since the 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.

Foods To Avoid

What can you not feed a box turtle? Surprisingly, many things.

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

In general, you should avoid giving box turtles plenty of foods significantly higher in phosphorus than calcium.

While you may give them fruits with higher phosphorus to calcium ratios, you must only give them only as occasional treats in small quantities.

Do not make phosphorous-high foods the bulk of your pet’s diet. Phosphorus prevents your pet from metabolizing calcium, which can lead to bone deformities and other diseases.

Foods you should never give your pet chelonian 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

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.

Though beneficial, fruits have the smallest fraction diet because consuming too many fruits can cause serious health problems.

A feeding schedule lets you know what foods you feed it, how often, and in what quantity. This way, you can ensure you’re not giving it too much of one food while depriving it of the nutrients in another.

You can draw up a feeding schedule for your pet based on its favorite snacks. Feel free to do this in a book or in a document or app on your computer.

But if you have anyone assisting you in caring for your pet, it’s best you draw your feeding schedule in a book and keep it close to the turtle’s housing.

Here’s an example of a good feeding chart for your pet chelonian:

Feeding schedule for adult box turtles:

DayAnimalVegetablesFruits
SundayGrapes
MondayCrickets, beetles, roachesSquash, collard greens
Tuesday   
WednesdayNightcrawlers and earthwormsKale, beet greens, carrotsOranges
Thursday
FridaySlugs and mealwormsTurnip greens, green beans, carrotsBerries
Saturday

Feeding schedule for baby box turtles:

DayAnimalVegetablesFruits
SundayTubifex worms and mealwormsCollard greensGrapes
MondayEarthworms and nightcrawlersBeet greens
TuesdayGrasshoppers and waxwormsSpinach mustardBlueberries and blackberries
WednesdayRoaches and spidersButternut squash and carrots
ThursdayEarthworms and anglewormsSweet potatoOranges
FridayCrickets, mealwormsGreen beansStrawberries
SaturdayCooked beef meatSpinach mustardPapaya

Pay attention to the vitamin A content and phosphorus to calcium ratio of each food you give your pet.

However, what’s more, effective is monitoring the ratio of all the nutrients in the overall dietary plan.

This gives you a more holistic view of which nutrients are excess and which you need to increase.

FAQ

Do you have further questions about what or how to feed box turtles? Find the answers here:

How Often Do Box Turtles Eat?

When box turtles first hatch, they hibernate almost immediately. This hibernation happens because most of these chelonians are born between the end of summer and early fall.

You do not need to feed your baby box turtle before it hibernates. However, it requires food after waking from hibernation. You want to feed hatchlings once a day.

You can feed older box turtles every other day or about thrice a week. This depends on their appetite, health, and body weight. So if your pet requires feeding every day, don’t deprive it.

How Much Do Box Turtles Eat?

Well, that depends. Adults may consume more food in one sitting. But your baby box turtle will eat significantly less in one sitting.

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 minutes.

They then use this to decide how much to feed it regularly. This is especially effective for people who do not know how to feed box turtles yet.

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.

Bear in mind that the food quantity and frequency change as the turtle gets older. So you must pay attention to your turtle’s diet and make changes as it ages.

How Do You Keep Track of a Box Turtle Diet?

There are several ways to keep track of your box turtle diet. However, one of the best ways is to use a feeding schedule.

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 hazard. The food pieces should be large enough to fit into the turtle’s mouth.

When feeding your turtle, make animal protein about half of its diet. Of course, this depends on the reptile’s age.

What do you do if your turtle is refusing to eat?

Turtles may refuse to eat for several reasons. 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.

Can box turtles eat broccoli?

Yes. Box turtles can eat broccoli. However, broccoli shouldn’t make up the bulk of your pet’s diet. Broccoli is rich in fiber, vitamins, proteins, and other vital nutrients beneficial to your pet when eaten in small amounts.

The stems, leaves, and flowers of this plant contain goitrogens, which can impair iodine absorption and cause thyroid problems when consumed in large quantities. With time, these goitrogens may also cause liver or kidney damage. In general, broccoli leaves are safer than flowers and stems.

Can box turtles eat carrots?

Yes. Box turtles can eat carrots. Carrots are high in beta-carotene, which is good for your pet’s eyesight. Increasing the quantity of this vegetable can work wonders in box turtles low on vitamin A.

Can box turtles eat potatoes?

Yes. Box turtles can eat potatoes, but be careful about which parts and how often. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A for your pet, but they also have low phosphorus to calcium ratio. In addition, potato leaves are unhealthy for your pets, so stick to feeding your pet only potato tuber without the leaves in moderation.

Can box turtles eat tomatoes?

Yes, but only as treats. Tomatoes in your pet’s food should be restricted to small amounts. Tomatoes have plenty of sugar and more phosphorus than calcium.

If your box turtle consumes excess, it could develop health problems. Never feed your pet tomato leaves or stems, as this may be toxic to it. Avoid green tomatoes too for the same reason.

Do box turtles eat apples?

Yes. Box turtles eat apples. However, you should limit how much you give your pet. Chop them into small pieces easy for your pet to swallow.

You should also remove the seeds before feeding your pet chelonian. Apple seeds contain substances harmful to many reptiles and birds.

Can box turtles eat blueberries?

Yes. Like all fruits, keep the number of blueberries in your adult or baby box turtle diet to a minimum. Your box turtle is almost certainly going to love eating these sweet fruits, which is precisely why you should limit them in the box turtle diet.

Blueberries are nutritious when given infrequently, but they can be harmful if when made a staple.

Do box turtles eat fish?

Yes. Box turtles eat fish. Fish is good for the eyes, because of the high vitamin A content.

Some keepers prefer not to feed fish to their box turtles because they have difficulty getting the fish into their pet’s mouth.

Can box turtles eat grapes?

Yes. But you’re better off giving your pet chelonian grapes as infrequent treats. Grapes are rich in vitamin A, which is excellent for your pet’s eyesight and respiratory functions.

However, they have unhealthy phosphorus to calcium ratio, which may cause bone disease. They also have high sugar content.

Since a box turtle can only digest a small amount of this sugar, the rest may contribute to health problems.

Do box turtles eat meat?

Box turtles eat meat. While these fine reptiles enjoy both plant and animal matter, they consume more meat than plants. This is more obvious when you look at a baby box turtle diet.

These chelonians eat considerably more animal foods than plants.

In fact, they often start out with animal source foods before exploring plant-based foods. It’s best to cook your pet’s meat first as this reduces the chance of bacteria

Do box turtles eat worms?

Yes. Box turtles eat worms, regardless of their age. Baby box turtles are more dependent on high-insect and worm diets because they can’t hunt larger prey.

However, even adult box turtles consume plenty of worms. These stunning animals rarely discriminate, especially as they get older.

Do box turtles eat slugs?

Yes. These stunning chelonians eat slugs. Slugs are an excellent protein source, especially for juveniles.

Box turtles enjoy feasting on slugs, both in the wild and in captivity. Many keepers even let their box turtles eat slugs in their gardens as a form of natural pest control.

Conclusion

The omnivorous box turtle is a popular turtle kept as a pet. 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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