What do turtles eat?
Variety and freshness matter in a turtle's diet.
Turtles are animals whose daily routines provide an ever-changing display of activities—foraging, swimming, digging and the like—that are sure to entertain their owners and other observers, too. Those turtles that traditionally are kept as pets require a proper habitat and a healthy diet to ensure their good health.
The most common species of turtles that people tend to keep as pets include terrestrials—tortoises—and aquatic turtles. Among the terrestrials—land-based—the most often seen in family homes are the box turtles. The aquatic—water-based—varieties are called terrapins. The most commonly owned of the terrapins is the Red-Eared Slider.
Box turtles take their name from the shape of their shells. A box turtle's shell looks like a dome-shaped box. These types of tortoises grow to be about six inches long.
Box turtles are omnivores—they eat a bit of everything. They like a diet that includes uncooked plant material and raw animal material. Bits of shredded lettuce, spinach leaves and strawberries make healthy treats for box turtles.
Box turtles also thrive on bugs such as live crickets, chopped-up earthworms and chopped-up feeder fish—foods frequently available at pet stores.
Aquatic turtles enjoy an environment that offers an elevated area where they can rest and also a pool of water where they can swim. The most common aquatic turtle kept as a pet is the Red-Eared Slider—a variety that can grow to about 11 inches. These are turtles that like to dig among a liner of pebbles placed at the bottom of their pool.
Sliders are omnivores that enjoy lettuce and veggies, along with tiny, live goldfish and cubes of dried Tubifex worms—available from pet stores. They also do well on manufactured turtle sticks, which are compressed foods containing a wide variety of nutrients.
Experts advise providing any young turtle a portion of food equivalent to the size of its head, once a day or once every other day. A more mature turtle warrants more food but it is recommended that all excess food be removed after a five-minute feeding session. A turtle's tank is easily fouled when scraps accumulate and begin to decay. In fact, some pet owners utilize a separate feeding tank to keep the turtle's primary residence fresh.
A veterinarian's advice can be a valuable tool in maintaining the health of your turtles or tortoises. Ask friends to refer a veterinarian or inquire about the veterinary services used at your local pet store.
What do turtles eat? Their preferences may change. If it's difficult to discern from week to week what foods were well received and what foods were rejected or ignored by your turtle, try employing some tracking techniques. A notebook-style food diary can help track what was fed, what quantity of food was provided, how quickly the food was ingested, etc.
Some turtle owners write their notations in the appropriate places on a calendar. Still others—those who feed their turtles compressed sticks or pellets—prefer to jot down what they observe on sticky notes and then attach those notes to the product box. If it is observed after one or two months that a turtle has no appetite for a particular item, a substitute can be introduced.
When asked, "What do turtles eat?" most sources of pet care advice caution against giving any turtle scraps from the family dinner table. Too often, table food is laden with spices, salt, cooking oils or preservatives.
Another important consideration: a turtle should never be penned—or tanked, in the case of an aquatic turtle—near the family's kitchen or any other area where the family's food is handled. Turtles can harbor salmonella bacteria—a serious health hazard to the young, the elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system. Proper hand-washing and other salmonellosis precautions will help decrease chances of contamination. Symptoms in humans include vomiting and intestinal tract distresses such as diarrhea and severe cramping.
There are many things to consider when owning a turtle. Some relate to the size and complexity of the tank or habitat. Others relate to providing an appropriate climate—temperature, humidity level, hours of sunlight, etc. But none of the accoutrements will mean much if proper nutrition is not a priority.
Nurturing a box turtle or a Red-Eared Slider—or any member of the turtle family—is a matter of education and observation. Why not start learning more today? Literature about raising turtles abounds and a bit of research will add to your store of knowledge—slowly but surely. Don't be afraid to try something new. Just keep in mind this old proverb: A turtle travels only when it sticks its neck out.