You may be inclined to think that a turtle’s diet is rather plain and boring. You couldn’t be more wrong! What do turtles eat? Here’s the weird truth!
What Do Turtles Eat?
Most species of turtles, both in the wild and in captivity, begin as meat-eaters and gradually eat more and more plants and vegetables as they age. In general, any given turtle’s diet is mostly made up of protein pellets, insects, cooked meats, vegetables, and plants.
Now, sure, they are rather primitive animals and as such, you won’t ever come home to find your pet turtle cooking up some fried rice, but that doesn’t mean that different turtles don’t have different preferences for food!
Generally, animal species will fall into three categories when it comes to their diet:
- Carnivores: Animals that eat mainly or exclusively meat and tissue.
- Herbivores: Animals that eat mainly or exclusively plant and plant material.
- Omnivores: Animals that eat a mixture of both meat and plants.
Pet turtles mostly eat turtle pellets. My favorite pellets are the Zoo Med Natural Aquatic Turtle Food Maintenance Formula.
What Turtles Eat In The Wild
Sea turtles, for instance, eat any of the following: fish, shrimp, jellyfish, squid, crabs, algae, sea sponges, seagrass, etc.
The giant Leatherback sea turtle, however, munches on a jellyfish-only diet to fill up its giant stomach.
Although some turtles may be strictly herbivores or carnivores, most turtle species are omnivores.
In fact, it is quite common for most turtle species to adhere to a mostly carnivorous diet when they are young and slowly progress to eating more plants and vegetables as they grow older. Turtles do eat crickets, worms, bugs, small fish and other food sources in their natural environment.
Of course, most turtles can’t exactly be picky-eaters in the wild. For most turtle species their diet depends on things such as their location and geography and what food sources are available and can be eaten.
Many wild aquatic turtles, on the other hand, feed on insects that land or fall on the surface of the water. They also eat the various vegetation that grows in and around the lakes and ponds that they live in.
Sometimes, the type of jaw that a turtle has will largely affect how it masticates (chews) its’ food.
For instance, Loggerhead turtles’ jaws are adapted for crushing their prey. This makes it easier for them to munch on crustaceans such as crabs and other shelled-prey. Additionally, sea turtles do eat jellyfish.
What Pet Turtles Eat
When it comes to any common pet turtle, there are a few things that should be considered as staple foods. They are as follows.
Turtle pellet food
Commercial turtle pellet food makes up a decent chunk of any pet turtles’ diet.
There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, turtle pellets are designed to float at the top of the water, making it easy for turtles to grab them.
Secondly, turtle pellets are packed full of nutrients, vitamins, and protein to ensure that they remain healthy.
Check out this article here to learn more about the best turtle pellet food.
Feeder fish, insects, and worms
Boy, do turtles love these!
Just because a turtle is locked away in captivity doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any natural inclination and desire to hunt! Feeder fish, insects, and gut-loaded worms are a great source of protein and will provide most turtles with a little bit of excitement in their otherwise dull lives.
That being said, these are best given sparingly to turtles. Instead, they are used more often as treats because these often aren’t the healthiest foods to give to them.
Fruits, vegetables and plants
Fruits, vegetables, and plants make up a huge portion of most pet turtles’ diets.
As stated above, most turtle species will start out as carnivores, chomping away at meat and protein sources with glee, and then slowly progress to a more herbivore-based diet as they grow older.
Shredded and diced-up apples, oranges, squash, zucchini, carrots, melons, berries and more can be given to many species. However, not every species will be able to eat every food listed.
Aquatic-based plants such as duckweed and water hyacinth are also common staples found in many turtle tanks.
Foods That Pet Turtles Cannot Eat
Although there are lots of ways to make a turtle’s diet more interesting, there are certain foods they need to stay away from.
Goldfish and other types of exotic fish
Goldfish are often very fatty and can be chock-full of various diseases that can infect turtles. The same thing applies to types of exotic fish, as they don’t offer a whole lot of nutritional value to most turtles.
Certain species of fish, such as cichlids, may harm turtles.
Crustaceans, such as crabs and lobsters, can also seriously harm or even kill turtles. These are all better off being completely avoided.
Do Turtles Eat Meat?
Turtles cannot eat any type of raw meat
A lot of people are tempted to give their turtle raw meat as a snack, however, this is almost always a bad idea. For one, turtles rarely eat raw meat in the wild.
They are usually munching on insects for their protein. Fish are often too fast to be caught, and so usually the only time a turtle gets to eat one is if it’s already dead.
Moreover, some meats can contain salmonella, as well as cause gout in pet turtles.
However, turtles do eat meat if it’s cooked. While it isn’t natural to them, some turtles will find meat tasty.
Although this is relatively harmless to pet turtles, iceberg-lettuce should be avoided simply because it will provide no nutritional value. Ditto for celery.
Also, certain vegetables such as spinach, chard, and beets need to be avoided as they contain something called oxalic acid, which block calcium synthesis in a turtle’s body.
What do turtles eat in the wild?
The turtles that people generally see out in or near ponds in places like parks, tend to be aquatic turtles. Usually, these are red-eared sliders and painted turtles.
Generally speaking, turtles in the wild tend to eat a mix of a water-plant and insect diet. Box turtles, on the other hand, tend to eat a mixture of nearby plants, vegetables, and the occasional insect or worm.
Although it’s popular for people to break bread into small pieces and feed it to birds, geese, and turtles, I would not recommend this.
For one, bread is made and designed for humans. Preservatives such as salt and sugar are added, both of which turtles simply don’t need in their diet. Moreover, certain spices and ingredients can potentially be harmful to turtles.
Simply put, bread offers very little nutritional value to wild turtles.
If you want to feed them something, feed them dried shrimp, mealworms or crickets. These are often used as snacks for pet turtles, and most turtles absolutely love them!
How Often Do And Should Pet Turtles Eat
In the wild, there have been reported cases of some turtles living for months and months without eating. Of course, this is not exactly the best idea for a pet turtle.
Again, this will be dependent upon the species but in general; for turtles under one year of age, feeding every day is fine.
Most guides will instruct owners to feed their pet turtle as many pellets as the size of their head, as well as to offer them some vegetables, regardless of whether or not they will eat it.
For turtles over one year of age, every other day or every three days is fine, again following the guideline of as much food as the size of their head.
As always, education is the best course of action for devising a diet for one’s pet turtle.
Check out bios for different turtle species here.