What Do Turtles Eat?

What Do Turtles Eat

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What Do Turtles Eat?

If you are like me then you have definitely wondered at some point, ‘What do pet turtles eat?’ or even ‘What do baby turtles eat?’. Knowing what to feed a pet turtle can be perplexing if you don’t have the right information.

While turtles may accept a wide variety of foods, these may not be the best foods to feed them. Feeding them the right food items to ensure they are healthy and grow well. Apart from knowing what to feed turtles, ensuring they acquire the right nutrients in the right amount is essential.

Quick Reference Section

Best Commercial Turtle Foods

If you are just after some quick picks for turtle food, than in the chart below you can see the top turtle foods of choice for pet turtle owners.

If you have time to read further we break down foods by groups of common pet turtles including Musk Turtles, Mud Turtles, Map Turtles, Box Turtles, Cooters, Pond Turtles, and Softshell Turtles.

What Do Musk & Mud Turtles Eat?

Mud Turtle
Striped Mud Turtle

Both musk and mud turtles are very closely related. In fact, they belong to the same subfamily (Kinosterninae). Some sources even place both musk and mud turtles under the same genus.

The musk turtle belongs to the genus Sternotherus, while mud turtles belong to the genus Kinosternon. Turtles from either genus are very alike, however, mud turtles are generally smaller and have flatter domes.

Both mud and musk turtle are endemic to the Americas and are carnivorous. Common musk and mud turtles kept as pets include the razorback musk turtle (Sternotherus carinatus), loggerhead musk turtle (Sternotherus minor), common musk turtle (Sternotherus odoratus, also known as stinkpot), the Eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum), and the Florida mud turtle (Kinosternon steindachneri). There are many more not mentioned here.

In the wild, musk and mud turtles are generally carnivorous. They tend to feed on aquatic invertebrates such as insects, snails, mollusks, crayfish, freshwater clams, fish and carrion.

Occasionally they may consume plant matter (especially mud turtles). What turtles eat fish? Well, musk and mud turtles do enjoy fish, and they are not alone. Many omnivorous and carnivorous turtle species do eat fish.

Feeding pet musk and mud is simple as they accept dry foods. Foods to feed them include shrimp, crickets, dubia roaches, bloodworms, earthworms, pieces of fish, and commercial pelleted turtle foods such as Tetra ReptoMin Aquatic Turtle Floating Food Sticks and Mazuri aquatic turtle diet.

I recommend commercial diets as they contain all the needed nutrients for a pet turtle.

What Do Map Turtles Eat?

Texas-Map-Turtle
Texas Map Turtle

Map turtles are so called because of the marking on their shells which resemble contours on a map. Map turtles belong to the genus Graptemys. These species are endemic to eastern United States and southeastern Canada.

Mature females are usually twice as long as mature males are and 10 times as heavy as mature males are. Their carapace length ranges from 3 inches to 11 inches.

Popular map turtles kept as pets include the false map turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica), the Barbour’s map turtle (Graptemys barbouri), the northern map turtle (Graptemys geographica ), the Mississippi map turtle, (G. p. kohnii) and the Texas map turtle (Graptemys versa).

In the wild, female map turtles feed on mollusks, crayfish, and insects. The smaller males feed on tiny mollusks and insects. Map turtles only feed in water.

Feeding pet map turtles is stress-free if you stick to commercially food pellets only. These should be dropped into their aquarium or pools. I recommend Zoo Med Natural Aquatic Turtle Food. They also eat freeze-dried krill.

If you wish to feed them natural food (as opposed to commercially produced feeds), offer them blackworms, bloodworms, crickets, mealworms, earthworms, and crayfish.

Supplement this with dark leafy greens such as kale, escarole, endive, green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, and romaine lettuce. Their diet should be high in protein and calcium. Gutload insects if you can. Also, dark leafy greens have high calcium to phosphate ratio which is good.

Since commercial food sticks contain all the needed nutrients, they are a safe bet.

What Do Box Turtles Eat?

Male eastern box turtle
Male eastern box turtle

Box turtles closely resemble tortoises both in habits and in appearance however, box turtles are pond turtles. Just like tortoises, box turtles have high-domed shells that are hinged at the bottom.

Popular box turtles kept as pets include the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), the Coahuilan box turtle (Terrapene coahuila), the ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata), and the three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis).

In the wild, box turtles are omnivorous and eat whatever they can get their beaks on. Invertebrates  (such as millipedes, earthworms, and other insects ) and gastropods (commonly known as snails and slugs) makes up about 50 percent of their diet.

They also consume vegetation including flowers. Fruits they are known to eat include cacti, berries, and apples. The young are predominantly carnivorous. From age 6 onward, they are primarily herbivores. 

As pets try to feed them a mix of animal materials and plant materials. Variety is key so they don’t become fixated on just one food type. Feed they 60 percent animal food and 40 percent plant food.

Animal matter to feed your pet box turtle include grubs, caterpillars, gastropods, superworms, mealworms, and dubia roaches. Although they accept cat food and cooked lean beef (they even accept burger), insects are the best food choice for them.

Plants to feed them include collard greens, duckweed, dandelions, and hibiscus flowers, and leaves. They also eat succulents and cacti (prickly pear). To avoid injuries, remove all prickles before you feed any cacti to the turtle.  They also accept berries and apples. Feed them fruits about once a week.

Sprinkle calcium and vitamin D3 powder on foods fed them. Vitamin D3 is only needed if they are housed indoors.

What Do Cooters Eat?

Eastern River Cooter

Cooters refer to the turtles within the genus Pseudemys. These are large freshwater turtles found in eastern United States and northeast Mexico. Cooters are among the biggest turtles in North America with carapace lengths of 17 inches. 

As aquatic turtles, cooters spend most of their time in water ( namely ponds, rivers, and lakes), and bask when the sun is high. Some popular cooter species kept as pets include the red-bellied cooter (Pseudemys nelsoni), pond cooters (Pseudemys floridana), and river cooters (Pseudemys concinna).

In the wild, cooters are herbivores. Or to be precise ‘predominantly herbivores’ as they consume crayfish from time to time. This dietary habit is usually found among juveniles. The main foods the cooter consumes are aquatic plants such as pondweed, green algae, and eelgrass.

Hatchlings are more carnivorous than adults are. Feed hatchlings foods such as worms, insects, and crayfish. For adults, I recommend greens such as duckweed, water hyacinth, spinach, romaine lettuce, parsley and many more. They also accept fruits such as bananas and strawberries.

The easier way to feed juveniles under 6 inches is to rely mainly on commercial turtle diets. Supplement this with the insects and invertebrates mentioned above. adults also accept Mazuri tortoise food and Mazuri freshwater turtle food.

Other commercial diets to feed them include Fluker’s Aquatic Turtle Medley Treat, Wardley Reptile Sticks, and Gourmet Aquatic Turtle Food.

What Do Pond Turtles Eat?

Chinemys_reevesii (Chinese Pond Turtle)
Chinese Pond Turtle

Pond sliders are endemic to southern North America and northern Mexico. While they are stunning pets that are easy to care for, they can easily become invasive species when released outside their geographical range.

Pond sliders include the yellow-bellied slider (Trachemys scripta scripta), the red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), and the Cumberland slider (Trachemys scripta troostii). Their size ranges from 5 inches to 16 inches, with females being twice as long and 10 times as heavy as males are.

Pond sliders are generally omnivorous. However, juveniles are primarily carnivorous while adults are generally herbivorous.

They are known to eat small amphibians, snails, sponges, clams, fish, reptiles, tadpole, crayfish, spiders, grasshoppers, carrion, and beetles. Plants that adults feed on in addition to the animals they eat include seeds, algae, flowers, leaves, and stems. Unlike several other turtles, sliders eat both in water and on land.

As pets, animal foods to offer pond sliders include earthworms, krill, crickets, locust, bloodworm, water snails and fish. As some of these difficult to obtain regularly, you can offer them turtle diets such as ReptoMin Food Sticks. Feed adults collard greens, hyacinths. Spinach, duckweed, dandelion greens, elodea, carrots, romaine lettuce, and aquatic plants.

To supplement their calcium intake, offer them cuttlefish bone.

What Do Softshell Turtles Eat?

Indian Peacock Softshell (Nilssonia_hurum)
Indian Peacock Softshell

softshell turtles are unique as they do not have hard shells instead their shells are leathery and fleshy. These softshell turtles spend most of their time in water, coming out only to bask and dry off.

Although there are several species of softshell turtle around the world such as the black softshell, the Chinese softshell turtle, and the Indian softshell turtle, the softshell turtles usually kept as pets belong to the genus Trionyx, which includes  the African softshell turtle (Trionyx triunguis); and Apalone, which includes the spiny softshell turtle  (Apalone spinifera) and the Florida softshell turtle (Apalone ferox).

Softshell turtles are carnivores. They generally feed on fish, aquatic insects, worms, aquatic crustaceans, mollusks, frogs, carrion and even turtles smaller than they are. Softshell turtles hunt prey through ambush.

As pets, they need to be fed animal proteins and commercial turtle foods. They accept cooked chicken, mollusks, snails, mudpuppies, shrimp, krill, crayfish, crickets, mealworms, superworms, and small fish.

I recommend feeding them commercial turtle diets such as ReptoMin Floating Food Sticks as these contain all the needed nutrients and are easy to find and importantly store.

Foods To Feed Your Pet Turtle

Here is a list of foods you can feed your turtle. Since turtles are either omnivorous or carnivorous, you may need to feed them only animals or both plants and animals. What do turtles like to eat? Read on to find out.

  • superworms
  • snails
  • shrimps
  • mollusks
  • mealworms
  • locusts
  • krills
  • fish
  • earthworms
  • dubia roaches
  • crickets
  • crayfish
  • bloodworms
  • bloodworms
  • blackworms

Some such as softshell turtles and box turtles accept lean meat and cooked chicken. It is best to avoid meat though.

Plants Your Turtle Can Eat

A healthy mix of plants and animals is essential if your pet turtle is an omnivore. For omnivores, plants should make up about 50 percent of their diet. Some healthy food choices include –

  • Aloe vera
  • prickly pear
  • Spinach
  • lettuce (romaine, red leaf, and green leaf)
  • parsley
  • kale
  • hyacinths.
  • hibiscus flowers and leaves
  • green leaf lettuce
  • escarole
  • endive
  • elodea,
  • duckweed,
  • dandelion greens
  • collard greens
  • carrots
  • Bananas
  • apples
  • strawberries

Feeding Schedule

It is crucial to stick to a feeding schedule. This ensures you notice any change in appetite. Change in appetite can be a symptom of illness. Feed juveniles and hatchling daily until they reach adulthood.

From there you can feed them once every other day. Turtles generally reach adulthood at age 6 to 7. Generally, baby turtles are more carnivorous than adult turtles. This isn’t always the case as cooters are herbivores.

How Long Can Turtles Go Without Eating?

While adult turtles can for several months without food. It is important to feed them regularly.

A simple way to feed turtles is through the use of commercial turtle diets. These are convenient and easy to store. Additionally, they contain all the nutrients needed for healthy growth.

Since the meals of turtles (apart of box turtles) cannot be easily supplemented with calcium and vitamin powder (as most turtles only feed in water), commercial turtle diets ensure they acquire all the needed nutrients. Also, insects such as crickets, mealworms, superworms can be gut loaded before being offered to the turtle.

Commercial Turtle Food Recommendations

We covered these in the chart at the beginning of the article, but to sum up here are some of the best commercial turtle foods for your pet turtle.

Conclusion

I hope this article helps you answer questions such as, ‘What can turtles eat?’, ‘What do wild turtles eat?’, ‘What do water turtles eat?’, and many more.

When it comes to feeding turtles, be sure you know what they eat. If you are unsure, a little research can reveal a lot. Also, commercial turtle diets are a wonderful substitute for insects, fish, and vegetables. Regardless of whether you feed your pet turtles with commercial foods or not, variety is essential.

Ensure the turtle’s diet is a mix of many different food items. This ensures the turtle doesn’t become fixated with one type of food, and acquire all the needed nutrients. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, we would love to hear them.

About the author

Brock Yates

Brock Yates has a passion for educating people about turtles & tortoises. He manages several websites and has a goal of getting everyone the best and most accurate information to help them with their turtle & tortoise care.

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