What Do Turtles Eat? A Guide For Feeding Your Pet Turtle

Reptiles, Turtles, Turtles Diet

Last Updated - December 12, 2023

Whether you are a new pet turtle owner or thinking of getting a pet turtle, it's always a good idea to learn what a typical turtle diet consists of. There are over 300 turtle species, and they each have slightly different nutritional requirements, mostly based on what foods are available to them naturally. Below, we'll discuss the various foods that turtles like to eat - even some that aren't particularly good for them!

What Type Of Turtle Do You Have?

With such a wide variety of turtle species, you can imagine that there would also be a wide variety of turtle food. What do turtles eat really depends on where they live. An aquatic turtle's diet is different from land turtles because different turtle species have different nutritional requirements. Even within aquatic turtles, what saltwater turtles eat will be different from freshwater turtles. If you purchased a turtle as a pet, you were likely told the turtle species when you bought it. If not, some physical characteristics can give you a good starting point. Aquatic turtles have leathery shells, shorter legs, and webbed feet with sharp claws. Land turtles have hard shells, longer legs, and dull claws on their feet. Most pet turtles are some species of land turtle, with red-eared sliders being the most common pet turtle in the U.S..

What Do Land Pet Turtles Eat?

Most land turtles are herbivorous, meaning that they eat only vegetables, fruit, leaves, or seeds. Some turtles are omnivorous, adding various animals or insects to their diet, but those are mostly aquatic turtles. For your pet turtle, you want to stick to a diet that is mostly vegetables. A balance of 20% fruit to 80% leafy vegetables is ideal. Flowers are okay as a special treat.

Fruit Feeding Tips:

Fruit should be given thoughtfully, with a mind to nutrition. Here are some considerations.

  • Some fruits are high in calcium, a crucial nutrient for turtles, but are also high in sugar. These include dates, figs, strawberries, raspberries, and apricots. Despite their high sugar content, they should still be given - calcium is important! But they should be given sparingly and never by themselves. Serve them as a special treat on a bed of leafy greens.
  • Some fruits are high in sugar and low in any beneficial nutrient. They can still be given, but infrequently and in small portions. These include pears, apples, and mangoes.
  • Small chunks of melon, unpeeled banana, tomatoes, guavas, peaches, raisins, star-fruits, and kiwis are good for turtles. Remember to keep the portion size small and to have the bulk of the diet consist of vegetables.

Vegetable Feeding Tips:

Most of a pet turtles' diet should be vegetables.

  • A diet of mostly leafy vegetables still should have variety! Vegetables to try include kale, collards, watercress, cabbage, spinach, and broccoli.
  • When it comes to leafy greens, you want to use darker leaves. Lighter vegetables, like light-colored lettuce varieties (think iceberg lettuce) or celery leaves, have too much fiber and not enough nutrients.
  • Mustard greens and dandelion greens are a great addition, but be mindful of where you are foraging! If the yard you're harvesting mustard and dandelion leaves from is likely to have been sprayed with a herbicide, look elsewhere.
  • Legumes are typically higher in sugar, so use them in moderation. These include peas and green beans.
  • Other vegetables that are a favorite with box turtles include mushrooms, squash, cucumber, carrots, corn, and even cactus!

Insect Feeding Tips:

Most turtles enjoy a couple of insects now and then, and insects are often sold as turtle food at pet stores.

  • Crickets, caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, worms, and other small insects are eaten gladly by most turtle species that you'll find in a pet store.
  • If keeping live insects isn't up your alley, you can purchase turtle pellets. These help supply protein but keep in mind that they are dense in protein. A couple of turtle pellets provide much more protein than a couple of crickets, and you don't want to feed your pet turtle too much protein.
  • When using insects, turtle owners should get both gut load and dust their bugs prior to feeding them to the pet turtle. This means letting the bugs eat fruit or other nutrient-rich foods and dusting them in a mineral or vitamin supplement.
  • Live food can remain in the turtle tank until it's eaten.
  • Young turtles usually need a good amount of animal-source to grow.

What Do Aquatic Pet Turtles Eat?

While it's rather unlikely that you would have an actual sea turtle as a pet, many species of turtles are considered semi aquatic, such as the red-eared slider. Aquatic turtles eat a more omnivorous diet than the other turtle species. Whereas insects supply enough protein for land turtles, aquatic turtles eat small animals as well. All of the information above about vegetables, fruit, and insects still holds true for aquatic turtles, but you will also need to provide heftier protein sources.

  • Aquatic turtles need a diet heavy in vegetation as well - the type of vegetation just changes! You should provide algae, duckweed, seagrass, and water lettuce.
  • Since sea turtles have a beak, they will enjoy having crabs, sea sponges, squids, shrimp, sea cucumbers, small feeder fish, jellyfish, and cuttlefish in their diet.
  • The sharper a sea turtle's beak, the more carnivorous a diet they require.
  • Wild turtles will eat dead animals if necessary, but they much prefer it, and it is better for the turtle's health if fresh, raw meat is presented to them.
  • If your pet turtle is a freshwater turtle, the meat they'll prefer are worms, snails, and crayfish. They can even handle a small frog!
  • Some freshwater turtle species, such as snapping turtles, will eat small mammals such as frogs, small fish, or even other small turtles.

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About the Author

Doctor of veterinary medicine with extensive experience in animal welfare with a strong interest in feline medicine and plans to pursue ABVP-Feline specialty board certification. A key member of many local veterinary associations and avid reader of animal related science journals and studies.


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