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What Do Turtles Eat? A Complete Guide

Water Turtle Feeding

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 turtle food ensures they are healthy and grow well.

Apart from knowing what to feed turtles, ensuring they get the right nutrients in the right amounts 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 turtles is simple since 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 because they contain all the needed nutrients for a pet turtle.

What Do Map Turtles Eat?

Texas Map Turtle

Map turtles are have their name because of the marking on their shells which resemble the contours on a map. Map turtles belong to the genus Graptemys. These species are endemic to the Eastern United States and Southeastern Canada.

Mature females are usually twice as long as mature males and are 10 times as heavy as mature males. 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.

You can even simplify your life by getting an automatic feeder to be on a timer.

If you want to feed them natural food (as opposed to commercially produced feeds), you can give 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 a 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) make 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, you should 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 them 60 percent animal food and 40 percent plant food.

Animal matter to feed your pet box turtle includes grubs, caterpillars, gastropods, superworms, mealworms, and dubia roaches. Although they accept cat food and cooked lean beef (and even 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 needles 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 to 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 a cooter consumes is aquatic plants like pondweed, green algae, and eelgrass.

Hatchlings are more carnivorous than adults. 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 an 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, locusts, bloodworms, water snails and fish.

As some of these are difficult to obtain regularly, you can offer them turtle diets such as ReptoMin Food Sticks. Adults can be fed 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, 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, tuna, 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
  • shrimp
  • mollusks
  • mealworms
  • locusts
  • krill
  • fish
  • earthworms
  • dubia roaches
  • crickets
  • crayfish
  • 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. A 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 around age 6 to 7. Generally, baby turtles are more carnivorous than adult turtles. This isn’t always the case as cooters are herbivores.

Different types of turtles will have different feeding schedules. While pets like dogs and cats need to be fed multiple times every day, turtles are surprisingly low maintenance, and don’t need to be fed daily. 

If your turtle is young (less than a year old), this is the only time when it should be fed every day. Once they move past this age, you can feed them every other day. 

If you have a mature turtle (around 10 years old), their appetite will be even lower. For adult and mature turtles, feeding should be carried out once every three days.

How much to feed your turtles

Feeding your pet turtle can be a bit of a challenge with questions like; How much do I feed my turtle? What does my turtle eat? Where can I buy turtle food?These questions are all very valid and we hope our advice helps.

So how much do you feed your turtle? Well the answer varies from turtle species to turtle species. They all eat something different or prefer things.

If you are not feeding live things and are feeding things such as sticks or pellets a general rule of thumb from experienced owners would be to only give as much as they can eat in 15-20 minutes.

Once finished eating it is advisable to remove all the excess. This will keep from overfeeding and will also help to keep the environment a bit cleaner.

What do I feed my pet turtle?

There are several different types of food available from sticks, flakes, to pellets. All of these are good options. In addition to using these for daily feeding if your species is Omnivorous we advise occasionally adding in feeder fish and/or night crawlers. This will give them a variety and may help them with exercise in having to chase the food.

Where can I buy turtle food?

Turtle food is available at most pet stores as it is quite common. The larger stores will have live fish, crickets, grubs, etc. Buying in bulk is possible, although would be most advisable doing from a specialized store or also searching online.

You should always check the reviews for what you’re buying and whether it’s suitable for your breed of pet turtle. 

Not all turtles need the same kind of diet, as some might be well suited to a more carnivorous diet than others. Do your research before you purchase any kind of commercial food to ensure that your turtle doesn’t run into any digestive health problems after consuming it.

How Long Can Turtles Go Without Eating?

While adult turtles can go 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 from box turtles) cannot be easily supplemented with calcium and vitamin powder (as most turtles only feed in water), commercial turtle diets ensure they get all the needed nutrients.

Also, insects such as crickets, mealworms, and superworms can be gut loaded before being offered to the turtle.

This will make the diet cleaner and ensure that your turtle doesn’t develop any sort of health issues. 

Hibernating Turtles

Another thing to keep in mind is when your turtle is about to hibernate. Most turtles hibernate in winter months. While feeding cycles can be easily kept uniform throughout the rest of the year, you need to make them fast about a month before they hibernate. 

This fasting process will clean out their system and ensure that they don’t run into any health issues when they’re hibernating. For turtles in the wild, this is an evolutionary measure that should be mimicked while they’re hibernating. 

As turtles are reptiles, they’re cold blooded animals. This means that they rely on the environment to regulate their body temperature. When the winter months approach, it becomes difficult for them to digest their food properly due to the colder temperatures.

There’s no need to worry about your turtle during this fasting period, as the colder temperature means that they don’t spend a lot of energy in this time. This time is meant for cleaning out their digestive tract. 

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.


When it comes to feeding turtles, be sure you know what they eat. If you are unsure, a little research can reveal a lot. You’ll need to know exactly what breed and species of turtle you own to ensure that you can carry out the proper research about their eating habits. 

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. It’s your choice whether you want to feed them commercial foods or go natural, but the beauty of commercial foods is that they’ll save you a lot of time and effort and won’t leave a mess when your pet turtle is done with it.

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.

What do turtles eat? In this article, we answered this question and where you can get your hands on the right food. We hope that this article has helped you understand how to take better care of your pet turtle. We also have a large number of informational articles on our website about similar topics. If you’re a turtle owner, you should definitely check them out!

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