What You Need Know Painted Turtles Diets main picture

How much do you feed a painted turtle? How often? Are fruits okay? This is everything you need to know about painted turtles’ diets.

If I had to choose just one pet turtle species as my favorite, I would probably pick the painted turtle.

They love to be in the water and are quite hardy and resistant to sickness and disease. Best of all though, they are amazingly beautiful creatures!

And although they are one of the more popular species of pet turtle in North America, a lot of people don’t know which foods to feed to them.

If you absolutely have no idea what to feed a painted turtle, basically it’s going to be: a protein source such as a pellet 2 to 3 times a week, a vegetable or plant 5-6 times a week and an occasional treat.

Let’s get into the details a little bit more, shall we?

Painted Turtle Food In The Wild

You might think that painted turtles in the wild love to eat and catch fish, but the reality is far different.

In the wild, painted turtles’ diets are mostly comprised of insects and plants. Usually, this is either by foraging for food on the bottom of slow-moving rivers and ponds and by skimming at the water surface, eating small pieces of food and any insects that happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

According to a study in Herpetological Review in 2000, insects were found in the flushed stomachs of 35 of 48 caught midland Painted turtles. The most commonly ingested prey were larvae, dragonflies and beetles. Both plants and animals were found in the majority of the turtles’ stomachs, although quite a few only had only animal matter.

When they get an opportunity, however, they will also eat crayfish and injured or dead fish.

Painted Turtle Diet In Captivity

While they munch primarily on insects and plants in the wild, their diet is drastically different in captivity.

In an aquarium, painted turtles are omnivores that strongly prefer eating meat. Despite this, you should limit your painted turtle’s protein consumption. A well-rounded diet based mostly on plants and vegetables, with meat or a protein-source 2 to 3 times per week is strongly recommended.

The following foods are quite popular as staple vegetables and plants for painted turtles:

  • Red-leaf lettuce
  • Kale
  • Duckweed
  • Anacharis
  • Water lilies

For protein, I would recommend one of the following as your staple:

For the occasional treat, try some of these, as they are both safe and enjoyable to eat for painted turtles:

How Much Do You Feed A Painted Turtle?

Besides giving your painted turtle the correct foods, what is also almost as important is how much you feed them.

Essentially, the “rule” goes something like this:

Give your painted turtle about a handful of vegetable or plant every day to munch on. To cover your turtle’s protein and other nutritional needs, give about a heaping spoonful of turtle pellets 2 or 3 times a week. It’s also a good idea to give it a treat, such as crickets or mealworms, every week or two.

You don’t want to feed your painted turtle a protein source every single day. You also don’t want to feed it too much when you do feed it. This can lead to obesity (yes this happens in turtles!) and kidney problems.

A good rule of thumb is to give your turtle about as many pellets as the size of its head, or as many as it can eat in 10-15 minutes.

Don’t worry if you think it’s “not enough”. Trust me, it is! Remember, in the wild painted turtles eat mostly insects. They are getting enough nutrition from their turtle pellets.

Likewise, you also don’t want to go too crazy with the treats. Personally, I give my aquatic turtles either a small treat (as in a few) every week, or a bit bigger portion (about a heaping spoonful) every other week.

And one final point on this. It’s quite normal for an adult painted turtle to not eat anything at all for a week or 2. This often happens in the winter but it can also happen at other times in the year. If this happens to yours, don’t freak out! It doesn’t mean your turtle is sick, just that it’s taking a break from food. Make sure that it has no visible signs of illness, and carry on as normal!

What Do I Feed My Baby Painted Turtle?

For baby painted turtles, you should be feeding it the exact same foods as listed above, but with a different ratio of plant or vegetable to protein.

As baby painted turtles are still growing, try to give them turtle pellets every day, or at least 5 to 6 days a week. The amount should be the same, about as many as the size of its head.

Now, for vegetables and plants, there is a good chance that your baby painted turtle will not eat it.

This is very normal and expected. My advice would be to keep offering it different vegetables and plants, at least once a week. Eventually, as it grows older, it will start eating them.

As your baby painted turtle gets older, somewhere between 6 months to a year, you can start reducing the turtle pellet feeding days and replacing them with plants or vegetables. You’ll want to very slowly, every 6 months or so, keep doing this until you are only feeding your turtle protein 2 or 3 times a week.

Can Painted Turtles Eat Fruit?

In general, fruits are not harmful to painted turtles, however, I recommend not feeding them these for the most part.

For one, painted turtles rarely if ever eat them in the wild. Now, I know you might respond by saying that they don’t eat turtle pellets either, and you’re right, they don’t. BUT, turtle pellets are designed to meet turtles’ nutritional needs.

There are simply better foods to offer your turtle than fruit.

Secondly, fruits can be difficult to offer because they don’t really float at the top of the water, and can dissolve and break up easily.

They can make a mess of your aquarium, and so it’s better off just avoiding them.

Now, if you really want to give your painted turtle some fruit as an occasional treat, go right ahead! I would just recommend cutting the pieces of really small and perhaps putting them and your turtle into a smaller feeding container.

Some fruits that are okay are:

  • Shredded apple pieces.
  • Cut up melon pieces.
  • Cut up berries.

Painted Turtle Food List

The following list of foods are healthy and okay to use for painted turtles’ diets.

Painted Turtle Food List Pinterest

About the Author

Hi, I'm J and I'm the chelonian-obsessed creator of this website. Feel free to leave a comment below, as unlike a snapping turtle, I promise I won't bite!

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