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What To Feed Turtles In A Pond?

While most people house freshwater turtles in tanks indoors, they can also be housed in ponds outside, and this has definite advantages. For starters, they have access to the best source of UVA and UVB light – the sun.

Now that you have decided upon an outdoor habitat, you may be wondering what to feed turtles in a pond. In ponds, turtles feed on plants and animal food sources. This can be vegetables, insects, fish, and small invertebrates.

Not all foods are suitable for turtles, though. For instance, you’ll want to avoid offering the turtles processed human foods such as bread, biscuits, sausage, and corned beef.

There’s a little more to it than that, of course, and today we’re going to take an in-depth look at feeding pond-housed turtles so that you can create a feeding strategy of your own.

We’ll tell you what foods are ideal, as well as provide some examples you can use, and we’ll even cover feeding wild turtles just in case there’s a local pond and you’d like feed your help feed your aquatic friends a suitable diet.

If you’re ready, then let’s talk about what to feed turtles in a pond!

An Eastern long-necked turtle peeking out of the water
Don’t let that cute face fool you into getting too close – It’s an Eastern long-necked turtle, after all, so its reach might surprise you!

Foods To Feed Turtles In Ponds

There are several foods you can offer to turtles in ponds. These include fruits, vegetables, edible aquatic plants, crustaceans, insects, fish, and other small aquatic animals. Of these, you’ll need to be most careful with fruits, which should be offered in limited amounts due to their high sugar content.

If the turtles are domestic and their care is solely on you, then it is essential to consider the age, size, and species. Some species are more carnivorous, while others are more herbivorous. Additionally, the age of the turtle also determines the foods to offer.

Mature turtles tend to eat more plants, while juveniles and hatchlings need more animal food sources at this early stage of their lives.

Turtles aren’t generally picky eaters and will gladly accept processed human foods such as canned meat, processed carbohydrates such as bread, pastries, and pasta, and foods high in sugar – but avoid the temptation to feed them these.

Human food, after all, is designed for humans – NOT turtles – and can have adverse effects on their general health and overall life expectancy. With the exception of specially formulated turtle foods, you’ should stick to options that they might potentially eat in the wild.

Creating a menu for pond turtles

When creating a menu for pet turtles kept in ponds, it is vital to consider the species. This should help you to determine the types of foods to offer, how often to feed them, and the portions to offer.

In general, hatchlings and juveniles require more protein, and a ratio of 60 to 70 percent animal food sources and about 30 to 40 percent plants will work nicely, but it is imperative to check about the specific species.

There are a few exceptions to the 60/70 to 30/40 ratio protein to plant ratio and if your turtles fall into this, then they won’t be getting all the nutrients they need. Simply put, be sure to do your homework!

If you happen to be creating a menu for a red-eared slider, VCA Animal Hospitals has some extra info that you should check out where you’re done here!

Commercial Turtle Foods

While it shouldn’t be their ONLY food source, commercially made turtle food is great as a MAIN source of nutrition. Good quality turtle feed is specially formulated for chelonians and usually comes in two forms – hatchling formulas and regular formulas.

Hatchling formulas are designed to fit the needs of fast-growing hatchlings and juveniles, while the regular formulas are best suited for the needs of adults and subadults. It’s ultimately just a difference in the protein-to-vegetable ratios, but it’s an important one, so be sure to take their age into consideration.

Some commercial aquatic turtle foods we recommend include Fluker’s Buffet Blend Aquatic Turtle Food, Zoo Med Aquatic Turtle Food Growth Formula, Zoo Med Gourmet Aquatic Turtle Food, Ultra Fresh Floating Baby Turtle Food, Tetra TetraFauna PRO ReptoMin Pro Sticks Adult Turtle Formula, Wardley Premium Amphibian and Reptile Sticks, and Mazuri Turtle Diet.

While your turtles are still hatchlings or juveniles, an automatic feeder can come in really handy. Find out 5 of the best automatic feeders when you’re done here!

Duckweed is a popular plant to feed to your turtles
Duckweed is a popular plant for feeding pond turtles

Plants To Feed Turtles In Ponds

Edible aquatic plants are great for turtles, as they are usually native to their environments in the wild, and they provide a quick, delicious food source that grows organically in the pond.

Some plants to consider include anacharis, duckweed, arrowhead, fairy moss, duckweed, frogbit, hornwort, pondweed, spike rush, water hyacinth, water lettuce, water lilies, and waterweed. Other plants to offer include aloe, prickly pear, hyacinths, hibiscus leaves & flowers, escarole, and elodea.

Many of these plants can also be grown in the pond. A few that we’d recommend are hornwort, anacharis, moneywort, water lilies, aquatic mint, and mosaic plants.

Vegetables are a great way to provide carbohydrates, vitamins, and other minerals. It is best to offer dark leafy greens, as these are much more nutritious than other options.

Some good examples include clover, turnip greens, dandelion greens, green beans, kale, swiss chard, endive, carrot tops, mustard greens, collard greens, and romaine lettuce. Turtles also seem to take special notice of red foods, so offer them some red bell peppers – they’re quite nutritious!

While iceberg lettuce (or head lettuce) is edible, it has very little nutritional value, so we don’t recommend offering it to your turtles.

While your turtle may have favorites, be sure to offer them an assortment of foods. This is to prevent the turtle from becoming fixated on just one food and refusing to eat any others.

We mentioned this but it’s worth a reminder – minimize the amount of fruits you offer the turtle because of their sugar content. Turtles love fruits, but they are best offered as occasional treats and NEVER as a main food source.

Some fruits that they like include strawberries, apples, bananas, raspberries, pears, papaya, cantaloupes, blueberries, and honeydew melons.

Animal Protein To Feed Turtles In Ponds

Most turtles are omnivorous and as such, they require animal protein. Turtles will eat any protein provided to them — even chicken and other meats eaten by humans – but you need to be careful about what you offer.

Cooked and seasoned human foods may have high oil content and spices that are simply not good (or even toxic) for your turtle, so keep these options out of their diet to avoid potential health issues down the line.

Meat To Feed Turtles In Ponds

If you wish to feed your turtle meat, only offer boiled lean meats such as chicken, lean beef, and turkey. Boil the meats in plain water and nothing else.

Fish To Feed Turtles In Ponds

Most feeder fish are acceptable and a few that we’d recommend are mosquitofish, bluegills, crappies, guppies, and killifish.

Avoid fatty fish such as rosy barbs, goldfish, and kribensis cichlids (also known as rainbow kribs) and bony fish such as angelfish, bichir, and cockatoo cichlids. Agile fish are also not recommended, as your turtle can’t catch them and may become frustrated, with examples including such as tiger barb and zebrafish.

Finally, you should keep fish high in thiaminases off the menu, such as gazed shad, goldfish, card, fathead minnow, bullhead catfish, spottail shiners, and feathered minnows.

Two staples that turtle enjoy include drained sardines and trout chow, so keep these in mind as potential options when you are making your turtle’s menu.

Superworms are a favorite of many turtles
Hatchling, juvenile, and small adult turtles absolutely LOVE superworms.

Invertebrates To Feed Turtles In Ponds

Turtles enjoy eating bugs, insects, and worms, and getting them is really quite easy. Many pet stores that sell aquatic animals also sell bugs and worms. Some to consider include superworms, waxworms, silkworms, mealworms, and bloodworms.

Turtles also accept dubia roaches, grubs, sowbugs, caterpillars, crickets, and centipedes, and apart from bugs and insects, turtles also eat slugs and snails. Other invertebrates to consider include crayfish, shrimps, daphnia, and krill. Freeze-dried versions of shrimps and krill are also acceptable.

Foods To Avoid

Because turtles accept all types of foods, you need to be very careful about what you offer them. Some vegetables to avoid include onions, garlic, chives, cabbage, broccoli, avocado, soybeans, string beans, bok choy, and potatoes. Spinach, parsley, and chives are high in oxalates, so they’re also off the menu.

Some fruits to avoid include citrus fruits, blackberries, nuts, and amaranth, and some toxic plants can severely injure the turtle, including poison ivy and the stems, roots, and leaves of tomatoes, potatoes, and avocados.

Some human foods to avoid feeding to your turtle include raw meats, fatty meats, canned meats, processed carbohydrates such as bread, pastries, and pasta, foods high in sugar, and dairy.

If your turtles have bred and you’re also dealing with hatchlings, their dietary needs are considerably different than adults. Find out what they like to eat in our article on what to feed baby turtles!

Feeding Wild Pond Turtles

It isn’t uncommon to come across turtles in the wild and if you live close to a pond or any other freshwater environment, the odds are you have a wild turtle living close to you! Just as people feed pigeons and squirrels, you can feed wild turtles — but only if you know what you are doing!

The problem is that many people feed wild turtles unhealthy foods and they don’t even know it. That’s because some foods that are healthy for human consumption can be bad for turtles.

As such, knowing the right foods to feed the turtles is a required skill and you should know how to interact with the turtle properly. Before you feed the turtle, do a little research on their species.

This will ensure that you know ahead of time if the species is aggressive (such as snapping turtles and softshells) and also that you aren’t feeding them junk!

Snapping turtle eating a breadstick
Snapping turtles like breadsticks, but they’re not a healthy option and you might lose a finger getting too close!

Rules To Observe When Feeding Wild Pond Turtles

To help establish some guidelines, below we’ve listed some rules that you should observe when feeding wild pond turtles:

  • Aquatic turtles eat in water ONLY – Most of them can’t eat outside of it. Only offer the pond turtles food when they are in the water to avoid wasting food and potentially attracting other animals.
  • Avoid offering leftovers – these can be contaminated with bacteria that might be innocuous to humans, but deadly to turtles.
  • Avoid offering processed human foods such as bread, pasta, and dairy.
  • Don’t touch the turtles! Aside from risking a nasty bite, reptiles carry salmonella and infections can be quite dangerous. People most at risk include children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems and for these folks, salmonella infection can be fatal. Symptoms of salmonella include headache, fever, vomiting, nausea, chills, abdominal cramps, and blood in the stool.
  • If you are offering foods with spines such as aloe, remove all the needles. For foods with tough skin, remove the skin. This will make the food safe for the turtle, as well as easier to eat and digest.
  • Keep your distance, as wild turtles can attack you. Some, such as snapping turtles, can seriously injure you. There have been cases where snapping turtles have amputated human fingers and there also was a case in Malaysia where a softshell turtle attacked and disfigured the face of a teenage boy. To avoid any injuries, don’t get close to the turtle!
  • Offer food in small, bite-sized bits. Turtles often swallow their food whole and this will help to make sure that your offered snack isn’t an unintended choking hazard.
  • Wash your hands before handling the food you offer the turtle to avoid introducing any harmful bacteria that you might be carrying.

Foods To Offer Wild Turtles

As far as the foods to offer, the items that we’ve listed as being good options for pet turtles are also great for wild turtles. Turtle pellets, fresh vegetables, or even the occasional fruit treat (once a week, not every day!) will be well-received and help to provide them with nutrition that’s harder to get in the wild.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best thing to feed wild turtles?

The best things to feed wild turtles are dark leafy vegetables, bugs, insects, and worms. They also like fruits, but you need to feed these sparingly as they have too high a sugar content to be a regular staple.

You can also go with commercial turtle pellets, although you’ll probably get better results with fresh foods.

What are turtles’ favorite foods?

Turtles have several favorite foods. First off, they LOVE fruits although they aren’t the best options for them due to their sugar content. Fruits you can offer include strawberries, apples, bananas, raspberries, pears, papaya, cantaloupes, and blueberries. 

Turtles also love bugs and worms and one of their favorite vegetables is red bell peppers. They seem to be attracted to the vibrant red color, the satisfying crunch, and the distinctive flavor.

Can pond turtles eat bread?

While turtles love bread, you shouldn’t offer it to them. Bread simply doesn’t have the proper nutrients needed for the growth and development of the turtle. Also, it expands in the stomach, making the turtle feel full. This means they will eat less nutritious foods and it can subsequently impact their health.

What to feed turtles in a pond? The Conclusion

Feeding pond turtles is simple, but you need to know what you’re doing! That’s because these opportunistic feeders will accept most foods you offer them, even if they are unhealthy. As such, you’ll need to take extra care to only offer foods that are nutritious for the turtles.

Avoid foods such as bread, pasta, and biscuits. Instead, offer the turtles dark leafy vegetables, feeder fish, boiled chicken & turkey, bugs, and worms.

Also, if you are feeding wild pond turtles, ensure that you don’t touch the turtles or get too close to them – you could get a nasty bite for your troubles and even if the turtle is nice, it’s probably carrying salmonella.

Finally, wash your hands before offering food to avoid transferring bacteria that you might be carrying, and be sure to cut the food up into bite-sized bits that they can swallow whole.

Provided that you stick to these guidelines, your own turtles or the local wild ones can enjoy a diverse, nutritious menu that you have thoughtfully provided!

If you’ve been thinking about making a pond for your own turtles but don’t know where to start, we can help! Find out how to build an outdoor turtle pond in our handy DIY guide!

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