What Do Turtles Eat? 4 Incredible Facts to Know

6 mins read
what do turtles eat
By engin akyurt on Unsplash/ Copyright 2022



What do turtles eat? Is it the algae they munch on, or do they prefer an all plant-based food? It usually depends on the environment it lives in. There are about 365 species of turtles, and the turtle’s diet depends explicitly on its habitat; every species of turtle has a different preference.

With so much vast distribution of its natural habitat, you might wonder, ‘what do turtles eat?’ Turtles are everywhere, from freshwater streams to the sea. Some migrate long distances in the sea, while some remain close to their natural habitat. Yet some have the most adorable pets too.

what do turtles eat
By Randall Ruiz on Unsplash/ Copyright 2017

 All About Turtles

Read further to know more about the different diets of the turtles, be it wild turtles, pet turtles, or baby turtles, the hunting process of the turtles, and most importantly, what the turtles love to eat.

1. What Do Turtles Like to Eat?

While you might think, what do turtles eat? Do they eat plants, or are they carnivores? Different turtle species live in many diverse environments; therefore, as far as the diet is concerned, we can say that the diet of most turtle species mainly consists of plants, but the others are predominantly carnivores turtles. However, other omnivorous turtles do not consume plants wholly.

To determine what turtles eat, we must examine the habitat, physiology, and available food sources. Like, the sea turtles eat a variety of plants and animals. One of the sea turtles- the hawksbill- is mainly found in the coral reefs, so primary turtle food source is the sponges and the green forage. While the Leatherback sea turtles, another type of sea turtle, feed mainly on jellyfish, small fish, and other soft-bodied invertebrates.

The green sea turtles are omnivores as hatchlings, while the adults are herbivores. The green sea turtles eat algae, seaweed, and seagrass. These turtles are known to have serrated beaks to scrape off the algae to tear grass and seaweed.

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By Olga Tsai on Unsplash / Copyright 2019

The Galapagos tortoises are found in the muddy and wallow areas, preferably in the tropical regions. Therefore, they feed on grass, leaves, cacti, and flowers. The Alligator snapping turtles are freshwater turtles, mainly found in the rivers, lakes, and swamps, and primarily live on fish, amphibians, carrions, and small mammals.

While we studied what turtles eat, we also did understand that turtles do not have any specific diet as such; it all depends upon the environment and habitat of the turtle.

So, what do turtles eat? Don’t they have any specific diet? Mostly not; the turtles feed on carrion if available. And mainly, the carnivore turtles feed on amphibians and mammals. Occasionally it has been seen that they also feed on their eggs and the eggs of other mammals.

2. What Do Turtles Eat in Nature?

As mentioned earlier, turtles adapt to a particular environment and eat whatever is found abundant to them. However, some turtles eat particular diets. For example, if we see the sea turtles specifically, they are predominantly omnivores, but the hawksbill turtles live on sea sponges, although they also live on sea plants and animals.

We also see that adult sea turtles live on algae and seagrasses. They are the only sea turtles that are primarily herbivores.

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By Magda Ehlers on Pexels/ Copyright 2020

Thinking of what turtles eat in the wild; most of the wild turtles that live in freshwater or brackish waters in North America, Asia, and Africa have a strict carnivore diet that includes snails, shrimp, and turtles eat in wild; most of the wild turtles that live in freshwater or brackish waters that live in North America, Asia, and Africa have a strict carnivore’s diet that includes snails, shrimp, eggs, amphibians, crabs, and other smaller mammals. At the same time, the land turtles eat a herbivore diet that includes berries, fruits, vegetables, mustard greens, and other leafy greens.

3. What Do Turtles Eat in The Wild? Do They Hunt for Themselves?

What do turtles eat
By Flyri on Pixabay/ Copyright 2017

The Red-eared Slider is the most common type of freshwater turtle that is found in lakes and ponds. They mainly eat underwater plants, tadpoles, and small prey like frogs and insects; however, the younger red-eared slides mostly prefer protein. When the red ear slides are young, they have to feed on whatever they can catch. If not anything, they feed on the vegetation as they grow older. It will be mainly tadpoles and amphibian eggs that they can catch easily.

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By JamesDeMers on Pixabay/ Copyright 2012

The Eastern box turtles are also another freshwater turtle that lives in and around the water bodies. These turtles’ preferred diet food sources are flowers, mushrooms, weeds, and grasses. These Eastern box turtles also feed on caterpillars, snails, grasshoppers, and beetles close to their natural habitat.

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By Mark Valentine on Unsplash/ copyright 2021

The Painted Turtle is another small type of turtle. Different species of this turtle have different habits with the turtle food. The midland ones eat bugs and plants, while the slower types feed on fish mainly. The younger ones eat vegetation and consume proteins mainly, while the adults consume vegetation completely, yet both eat algae and duckweed.

3.1. What Do Turtles Eat in The Wild?

  • Algae
  • Duckweed
  • Water plants
  • Water hyacinth
  • Small insects like beetles, earthworms, grasshoppers
  • Small animals like snails, frogs
  • Berries
  • Fish
  • Slugs
  • Fruits that fall from the nearby trees and bushes
  • Salamander eggs

4. What Do Pet Turtles Eat?

Pet turtles are one of the favorite pets of all time. Pet turtles do not require hands-on training specifically, but they need a properly sized tank, UVB light, and a properly nutritious diet.

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By Yavanessa on Pixabay/ copyright 2016

The turtle’s diet usually depends upon their age, size, species, and habitat. But nothing is possible without a proper feeding plan; your pet turtle will not be able to survive in the environment. So, it is essential to know what and how to feed the pet turtles.

4.1. What to Feed Your Pet Turtles?

Your pet turtle’s diet depends upon its species; it could be either plant-based or meat-based diet. Usually, a turtle’s diet consists of both meat and plants as they are mostly omnivores. Adult turtles diet typically includes vegetables, fruits, and animal products. But, the younger turtles, usually 7-10 years old, need a larger share of proteins.

4.2. What Do Turtles Eat as Pets? Animal-Sourced Food or Plant-Sourced Food?

By determining what turtles eat as pets, we can ensure their feeding diet is fully sustainable from plant and animal-sourced foods.

Animal sourced food: The animal food sources for the turtles can include processed pet foods, turtle pellets, trout chow, sardines, feeder fish, etc. These will be readily available in your nearby pet store. You can also cook food items like chicken, beef, and turkey to feed them.

Also, you can add live prey like moths, crickets, worms, and krill to their daily diet. However, be sure enough about the insects and buy them from a pet stores only or raise them yourself to ensure the quality and your turtle’s health.

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By oblako on Pixabay/ Copyright 2018

Plant food sources: The turtle food that you will serve your pet turtle has to be primarily leafy greens. It can include mustard greens, dandelions, grass, weeds, leaves, and collards. You can also feed them non-toxic plants like water hyacinth, duckweed, and water lettuce. Some of the vegetables you should avoid are chives, parsley, and spinach because they contain chemicals known as oxalates. Also, add fruits like mangoes, berries, bananas, and apples to the diet.

4.3. Normally, Considering What Do Turtles Eat as Pets?

  • Leafy greens
  • Vegetables like cucumbers
  • Flowers
  • Fruits
  • Sea squirts
  • Sea cucumbers
  • Grasses, weeds, and leaves
  • Feeder fish
  • Crustaceans
  • Algae
  • Seagrass
  • Sponges
  • Jellyfish
  • Squid
  • Pellets
  • Boiled eggs
  • Raw meat

4.4. Tips for Feeding Your Turtle

4.4.1. How Many Times Should You Feed the Turtle?

Though the feeding time can vary according to the species, the ideal time to feed the adult turtle is once every day or two. And, for a young turtle, you have to feed them one to two times a day.

4.4.2. How Much Should You Feed Them?

As said earlier, the diet of the turtle depends on the species. The general rule says to feed the turtle only whatever it can consume for 20 minutes, especially when feeding them living foods and pellets. And after 20 minutes, you can remove the leftovers.

4.4.3. How to Serve the Food Right?

Determining what turtles eat and how to serve them right is a strenuous job. It might vary according to the species of the turtle. You have to place the food inside the water tank for the aquatic turtles. For the land turtles, you can put the food for the turtle on a flat, hard surface like a rock.

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By dimitrisvetsikas1969 on Pixabay/ Copyright 2018

To make the food more nutritious for your pet turtle, you can mix different fruits and vegetables to ensure that your pet does not have to consume the same food continuously.

However, apart from how magnificent and vulnerable turtles are, major species of turtles are endangered. According to the IUCN report, approximately 129 species out of 300 species of turtles are endangered or vulnerable. The real problems lie with us humans, as human activities include poaching, illegal pet trading, and loss of habitat due to loss of habitat.

Let us all be aware of it and do our best to save the last of its kind!

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