Question: I just got a pet turtle and am looking to properly feed it. What do turtles eat in natural habitat? A specialist told me to replicate what they in their natural habitat. Once I figure out what they eat in their natural place, I will just replicate it. My turtle is a red eared slider and I plan to get him a roommate of a painted turtle soon. I need to know what food to give my turtle.
Answer from Danny R:
It’s very important that you force your pet turtle to eat actual “turtle food” because these foods are full of vitamins they absolutely need. Even though your turtle prefers live food more.. doesn’t mean that it should always eat it. Here is a good food that a lot of use around here (Amazon.com link).
In natural habitat turtles heavily rely on live foods at a younger age. Turtles in their youth need more protein to grow and they gradually start to eat some vegetation as they grow older. Turtles are carnivores and that means they eat both meats and plants. Anything a turtle can find in natural habitat will be eaten. Insects, worms, frogs, small fish, already dead fish, certain green plants, and more. Turtles also need calcium for their shells so you will need to get your turtles some vitamin supplements to ensure they are receiving calcium.
Make sure your tank has the most amount of water possible because those breeds you speak of need to run around and swim as much as possible. What some people do is even build a small box to set on top of the aquarium as the “dry land” and have the tank as much water as possible.
Feeding your turtles live insects and fish are going to make up most of its diet. Companies do make a food pellet for turtles and I advise getting some of those too. The pellets help ensure the turtle get certain vitamins and elements that they might lack due to living in a cage. The pellets are expensive but a couple of feedings a week of them will last you a long time.
Variety of Food Types is Key
They key variable to success with feeding turtles is variety. Try to change up what your feeding them every couple meals. I have found the most idea meals to consist of
- Small Goldfish
- Rosy Red Minnows
- Molly & Guppy Fish
- Earth Worms
- Crickets & Misc Insects
- Turtle Pellets (sticks)
- Lettuce & Greens
Hopefully that helps give you a good idea of what you should be feeding your turtles. Some other advice would be to remove the uneaten food immediately because it really decays the water up. A healthy tank of water can really effect the turtle too. It is unhealthy to swim in nasty water filled with high nitrate decay levels in which bacteria can really take effect on the turtle itself. It seems that once turtle owners perfect the art of keeping clean water for their turtles… the rest goes easy from there.
Reply from Gianna J:
The most ideal setup would to have your tank completely natural. Have the minnows or feeder fish as part of your actual tank that live happily with the turtles. And as the turtle gets hungry he just feeds on them.
This means you need to have the water clean enough for fish to survive and also have fish food to feed them too. Heck.. throw in some other species too! Maybe snails or a catfish that won’t bother anyone but maybe help clean and feed on the tank algae. The best tanks are all setup as natural as possible and run themselves. Have live plants too and the turtle can nip a piece if he is craving some greens. Plants also add oxygen and benefit the water quality by feeding on the nitrate levels given off by feces waste.
One question I had at the beginning of owning my pet turtle was “how big is too big” of a fish for my turtles to eat. I couldn’t find an answer online anywhere so I just went to YouTube and watched videos on people feeding their turtles live fish and saw what size they were feeding their turtles. Some of the comet goldfish I was buying were way too big.. but I later found that out once they never for eaten.
Reply from ChristineT:
Also note that as your turtle gets older, they actually prefer green foods like lettuce and cabbage and such. Because turtles live for such a long time I think they just get worn out from always having to work so hard to catch live fish. Think of how much work it take a turtle with a shell and everything in water to catch a live fish.. It seems difficult enough for a fish to catch another fish but then add a large clunky shell to yourself and that’s how a turtle feels. The answer that was given is actually perfect though and variety is the key to success with feeding them.
A common food that people are wanting to feed their turtles are live mealworms. They are at all our local pet stores because they are fed to lots of other pets but… for turtles.. it actually isn’t the best meal because of how protein rich they are.
Reply from Joseph N:
My pet store guy told me that if fish are not surviving on their own in my turtle aquarium water… then my water is not clean enough for the turtle either. It seems like such an easy setup to have fish in there at all times because then the turtles can eat when they desire and its fresh. Plus, it really adds to the aquascape of a turtle cage to have cool fish in your tank. You can get deals on Molly fish for around $1 a fish at times and they are basically tropical “minnows” in essence. They look super cool and almost thrive in freshwater setups with turtles.
Reply from Benjamin P:
I think turtle are designed to swim a little better than you give them credit for. You have to remember that their shell in water is actually pretty light because the ratio of weight goes way down under water than above water. Not that it’s a big deal but… I believe they swim easier than we think. My turtles get around better than half the goldfish I put in the tank I swear! Haha. Plus the little red eared sliders are crazy critters when they want to be. I mainly feed mine live insects and fish. I don’t like the idea of those stupid pellet stick things. You wonder how much preservatives are in those things. You hear about such bad things they put in dog food now a days that I’m gun shy forever on pet food. All natural from here on out for this guy.
Reply from Vinny K:
UV is huge for nutrients in our turtles too. If reflects their diet and health and I’m surprised it hasn’t been mentioned yet. Without sunlight, turtles lack a nutrient in their bones and will die a painful slow death. I always like to bring that up to people to make sure nobody has one out there that they are lacking to give a UV light too. Mine seem totally happy with the sticks but I do agree that they cost too much though. When I leave town I just have my sister feed them the sticks because its a lot easier for them.
Posted by Jaime Kanse:
A problem that you are going to run into is you’re going to find that your turtles are always going to be bugging you for food. They pretty much act like they never get fed even though you might see them a couple of times a day. I find it to be a struggle to not constantly feed them because they’re very good bankers and it seems like I could just continuously feed them all day long and they would just be happier and I want my pets to be as happy as possible. So trying to figure out what the happy medium is between feeding them just enough and giving them some treats once in a while is going to be a task.
Posted by Melissa E:
I totally understand what you’re talking about as far as the turtles always wanting to have some treats on hand. I swear to God I give my tortoises a couple of treats a day and it seems to not even be enough for them. I always wondered what it would be like if I just constantly had a huge amount of food laying out for them to constantly feed on almost like a dog does. You must know that any goldfish species is not a good choice because they are pretty dirty fish actually. Do a bit of research and will find this out.
Posted by Vicky Hagg:
You guys are thinking about it too much. You have to think of these is just being animals from the wild and you can’t forget that. This isn’t like a dog or cat when you can continuously feed them and there maybe going to get fat that’s just not the case here these are actually reptiles. They need a strict diet and if you don’t have the proper nutrition involved something bad is going to happen so you need to be strict like I said. If you can’t handle it then you’re probably too softhearted and maybe you should let someone else feed your pets for you.
Posted by Jaime Kanse:
I’m not saying that I completely given to the bagging I’m just stating that it gets kind of annoying. I do in fact to know the difference between a wild animal and a domestic animal so you don’t really need to preach to me about it. I’ve been keeping turtles for around 10 years now and I’ve been very successful at it I was just simply stating that I thought it was kind of funny and it gets kind of annoying from time to time but I do laugh at it. I just wanted to give fair warning to some of the beginners out there that may fall into the trap.
Posted by Danny S:
I’ve had really good luck by feeding my pets mainly insects and I think because there reptiles they really enjoy this. I’ve done a lot of reading about fish and having diseases inside of them on my pet store so I’ve been going with mainly insects lately. I’m guessing know that they will probably find diseases in our insects pretty soon because they’ll be mass producing those two but who knows.
Posted by Ricky Varem:
I might be completely wrong but I don’t think insects can catch diseases because I’ve never really heard of that happening and it seemed really rare. You’re probably right and then some case they will probably give us cancer or it seems everything this world kills you now so it’s just a matter of finding what’s healthy and balance between having some different selections of food.
Posted by Frank Larson:
It seems that people are forgetting that are turtles do in fact eat vegetation and they are omnivores. Don’t forget that as soon as your turtles get a little older they are going to appreciate those greens in their diet. I’ve had really good luck by purchasing some life plans and my pet store and feeding them to my turtle or just have them growing inside of the Aquarium to give him the choice to feed on them whenever he desires. I came across this when I saw my tortoise actually trying to feed on the fake plant that I had in the tank and it made me laugh so I had to get some real ones in there.