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What do Box Turtles Eat? Here Is What You Need To Know

Last Updated - November 13, 2022

Turtles can be fun, low-pressure, and entertaining pets to own. With relatively easy care needs and hearty natures, turtles continue to be popular pets. Box turtles can be a particularly fun breed since they are not only beautiful but also readily found in the wild, and domesticating one can greatly improve its chances of survival.

Box turtles are relatively easy to care for, but they are picky eaters in captivity, so finding the right box turtle diet isn't easy. If you do decide to get a box turtle, what kind of food will you need to get it? What do box turtles eat in the wild, and what do pet box turtles eat in captivity?

About Box Turtles

Box turtles are colorful, medium-sized reptiles that inhabit fields, forests, ponds, and streams throughout central and north America, primarily Mexico and the United States. While externally, box turtles can often be confused with a tortoise species, they are part of the American pond turtle family.

There are several species of box turtle, including the eastern box turtle, the western ornate box turtle, and the gulf coast box turtle, all of which are generally around 5-6 inches and have dark brown or black shells with bright yellow patterns. Captive box turtles can live up to 100 years or more, but in the wild, most box turtles only to be 30-40 years old. Box turtles take 4-5 years to mature, and baby box turtles are called hatchlings.

Box turtles hibernate in the winter, coming back in April or May when food is more readily available. Box turtles are omnivorous, with a baby box turtle's diet being more carnivorous and then switching to a mainly herbivorous diet by the time they mature.

Wild Box Turtle's Diet

Wild box turtles' diet is varied and depends largely on their home territory, the season, and even their age. Box turtles will eat vegetation like berries, flowers, and roots.

A baby box turtle often does most of its hunting in the water and will eat small amphibians, fish, insects, eggs, and larvae. A baby turtle and young Box Turtles will refer to eating meat over vegetables. On the other hand, an adult box turtle tends to spend most of its time searching for food on land and, as such, has a more herbivorous diet, though adult box turtles may still eat various insects like grasshoppers, worms, slugs, or beetles.

box turtle eating

Source: Flickr

What to Feed a Pet Box Turtle

Pet box turtles should be fed a diet with a similar variety that they would find in the wild. Depending on the pet box turtle's age, health, and breed, they should be fed a mix of vegetation and protein or animal-sourced food.

Turtles, in general, should be fed every other day, though this differs depending on your turtle's health and age. Food should be offered in a shallow dish that your turtle can't tip over, and any uneaten food should be removed before it spoils. And ensure your turtle has access to fresh, clean water at all times. 

Vegetables and Greens

The vegetation should mostly consist of veggies and leafy greens, with only very small amounts of fruit. Acceptable veggies and greens include most dark leafy greens like spinach or kale, mustard greens, collard greens, parsley, swiss chard, bok choy, turnip greens, alfalfa hay, broccoli, watercress, red or green cabbage, cilantro, bell peppers, and green beans. Box turtles can also occasionally be fed cactus, squash, cooked sweet potato, okra, cucumbers, mushrooms, carrots, peas, and corn. Avoid light green leafy greens since these are often not as nutrient-dense. Be careful with how much Swiss chard, kale, or spinach you serve since these are high in oxalates which can mess with a turtle's digestion and nutrient absorption. 

Fruits

Fruits should be offered in small amounts as their sugar content makes them more popular and a bit less healthy. Acceptable fruits include apples, strawberries, raspberries, pears, mangos, grapes, bananas with the skin on, peaches, tomatoes, kiwis, figs, apricots, and raisins.

Flowers

Box turtles may also enjoy and benefit from some flowers added to their diet. These can either be grown yourself or can find in flower shops. You will need to ensure that no pesticides or chemicals are used on flowers though, to ensure you don't poison your turtle. Box turtles enjoy eating geraniums, dandelions, clover, roses, hibiscus, carnations, and nasturtiums. 

Protein and Animal Sourced Foods

Whether or not you supply animal-sourced proteins will depend largely on the specific species of box turtle as well as its age and any health conditions.

For pet owners who do want to provide a source of protein, you can offer cooked or raw chunks of beef heart, or chicken. Aw may be more nutrient-dense, but there is some concern that the higher chance of bacterial infection is too high and that it is better to cook any meat offered to your turtle. Other meats and animal proteins include minnows and hard-boiled eggs.

Insects are another way to provide protein, and grasshoppers, crickets, mealworms, moths, slugs or snails, beetles, caterpillars, and earthworms all make great choices. To reduce the risk of secondhand poisoning by pesticides and chemicals, any live insects should be raised by the owner rather than caught wild. You can also obtain insects from pet stores and bait shops.

Supplements

For turtle owners looking for additional supplementation, there are a few considerations. Reptile pellets are a great way to ensure your turtle gets the minimum necessary nutrients.

There are also a number of supplement powders that can be sprinkled on your turtle's veggies to ensure a complete diet. Calcium powder can be lightly sprinkled over veggies 2-3 times a week, and a multivitamin power formulated for reptiles can be sprinkled lightly over veggies once a week. Emphasis on items with a good calcium and phosphorus ratio is the best way to maintain a healthy diet. Lack of calcium in the diet can result in metabolic bone disease.

Always be wary of the danger of over-supplementation, and be sure to get amounts right and to use vitamin powders sparingly.

About the Author

Lara Girsko

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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