What Do Aquatic Turtles Eat?

Lauren Jones, VMD
Written by:
Published: September 22, 2022
What Do Aquatic Turtles Eat?

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Aquatic turtles kept as pets are typically more difficult to care for than most pet parents realize. Turtles should eat a variety of commercially available turtle pellets (which includes required protein for their health) in addition to live food and a variety of vegetables. Turtles can even enjoy the occasional fruit or treat!

Each individual turtle’s diet should be thoroughly considered and researched based on the natural diet of the species and in coordination with a reptile veterinarian.

Foods for Turtles

Most semiaquatic and aquatic turtles, like red sliders, painted turtles, and pond turtles, are omnivores, which means they eat a combination of animal protein and vegetables. Some species, such as the spiny soft-shell turtle, are considered carnivorous and eat primarily animal protein. Typically, aquatic turtles eat more animal protein when they are young and more veggies as they get older. It’s important to continue to evolve your turtle’s diet as they age.

Carnivorous turtles should eat a mixture of multiple commercially produced turtle pellets in addition to live animal protein. Omnivorous turtles should also receive the pellet mix, as well as approved vegetables and plant matter. The typical ratio of foods for an adult omnivorous turtle include:

  • More than 50% plant material

  • Around 25% pellets

  • Around 25% live animal protein

What Do Turtles Eat?

Adult turtles should be offered food every two to three days, while juveniles typically eat daily. Many companies offer commercially available pellets for aquatic and semiaquatic turtles. It is essential to rotate different brands of pellets, so your turtle is exposed to multiple varieties. By switching brands, or combining 4-5 different brands at once, pet parents are more likely to meet the turtle’s nutritional needs for vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients. This will ensure a strong, healthy, and long-lived turtle! Common commercial diets include:

Adult turtles should also receive a vitamin and calcium supplement sprinkled on their diet two to three times a week. There are many brands of supplements available—make sure to use one labeled for turtles or reptiles. Talk to your veterinarian to determine which brand most appropriately meets your turtle’s needs. Turtles may even enjoy calcium blocks or cuttlebone to chew on to increase their calcium intake and to  help keep their beaks trim. Remove any uneaten food from the water, as the waste can contaminate it.

Turtles, like most animals, enjoy treats from time-to-time. Treats should never make up more than 5% of their overall diet and include:

  • Commercially available aquatic turtle treats

  • Dog or cat kibble

  • Fruits, such as banana, melon, apples, and berries

  • Insects, live or freeze-dried

What Vegetables Can Turtles Eat?

Nutrition plays a crucial role in keeping aquatic and semiaquatic turtles healthy. Vegetables are often underutilized but should make up most of the adult omnivorous aquatic turtle’s diet. Just like with turtle pellets, it is crucial to offer a wide variety of dark, leafy greens in addition to other vegetables. A turtle should never eat the same vegetables their entire life. Instead, offer 2-3 types of greens each feeding and 1-2 types of other veggies. Each week or two, rotate through the options below to keep your turtle healthy and happy. Highly nutritious vegetable sources for turtles include:

  • Collard greens

  • Mustard greens

  • Dandelion greens

  • Kale

  • Romaine

  • Swiss chard

  • Watercress

  • Endive

  • Bok Choy

  • Escarole

  • Spinach

  • Duckweed

  • Shredded carrots and carrot tops

  • Squash

  • Green beans

  • Broccoli

  • Aquatic plants sold at aquarium stores—ensure they are specifically sold for aquatic turtles

What Live Food Can Turtles Eat?

Live food is important to provide protein for both carnivorous and omnivorous aquatic turtles. Carnivorous turtles will eat a higher percentage of live protein in addition to a variety of pellets. Dead fish should be removed from the aquarium immediately, as they can spread disease. Feeder fish should be the primary live food offered, but others can be used occasionally. Common live prey items include:

  • Feeder fish, such as goldfish, guppies, bait minnows, and smelt

  • Insects, such as earthworms, waxworms, mealworms, and bee moth larvae

  • Shellfish

  • Brine shrimp

  • Slugs

  • Snails

What Fruits Can Turtles Eat?

Some turtles may enjoy fruit occasionally as well. Fruit should be offered raw. Cut or shred any fruits to help with swallowing and prevent choking. To help keep a turtle’s beak trim, you can offer pieces of cantaloupe with the rind still attached. Some common turtle favorites include:

  • Apple
  • Melon
  • Berries
  • Banana
  • Grapes
  • Oranges

What Can Turtles Not Eat?

There are a variety of items and foods that should never be placed in an aquarium with an aquatic turtle:

  • Frozen vegetables can be used occasionally, but not as a staple vegetable. They are deficient of essential vitamins, and frequent feeding can result in long-term illness in your turtle.

  • Frozen or freeze–dried fish are often deficient in essential vitamins and should not be fed.

  • Earthworms and other insects from your yard should not be offered, as they may introduce bacteria, pesticides, or parasites to your turtle.

  • Dog or cat food can be okay to give as an occasional treat but should never be used as a main diet staple.

  • Raw chicken or beef should not be offered as they commonly contain foodborne disease.

  • Avocados

  • Toxic plants, like amaryllis and some ferns

  • Fake plants, which may confuse the turtle and cause accidental ingestion

References

  1. Pollock DVM, DABVP, Christal. Lafeber.com Care of Aquatic & Semiaquatic Turtles.

  2. Horton DVM, Susan. Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital. General Care of Aquatic Turtles.

  3. Morris, Paula. Chelonia.org Basic Care - Water Turtles. 2005.

  4. Kaplan, Melissa. Anapsid.org. Red-Eared Sliders. 1994.

Featured Image: iStock.com/talitha_it


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