What do Turtles Eat: An Exclusive Guide

Animals surely are fascinating creatures, aren’t they? From their eating habits to sleeping patterns or hunting methods to phenomenal features, everything about them is mesmerizing.

If you were wondering what do turtles eat, then here is the guide for you. From pet turtles to wild turtles, from baby turtles to green sea turtles, here are the answers to your curious question of what do turtles eat.

The diet of a turtle depends on whether they are a sea turtle or a land turtle. Some turtles are semi-aquatic which means they can live on both land and water.

So without any further ado, let us learn more about what do turtles eat!

A. What do Pet Turtles Eat?

Planning on adopting a turtle but wondering what turtles eat? Here’s what you should feed your pet turtle!

Turtles are not as fun to have as pets as other animals, but they still require just as much attention as any other animal.

Animals need a proper diet and intensive care. Since we are taking them out of their natural habitat where they can fend for themselves and put them under our care, they become dependent on us for their survival.

27796028 tortoise sitting in the feeding bowl eating vegetables land turtle feeding and pet care
by charlottebleijenberg/ unlimphotos

All turtles should be given turtle pellet food that you can find in a local pet store. This turtle food is made with the utmost amount of supplements needed in a turtle’s diet.

But do not make this their primary source of food.

1. Red-Eared Sliders

Many turtle species can be adopted as pets, the most common pet turtle species are the Red-eared sliders. These turtles are popular as pets because of their unusually social personality. Turtles are known to be introverted aggressive creatures so this species of turtle makes a great pet.

To answer the question of what turtles eat, Red-eared sliders, in the wild, eat decaying fish or aquatic plants. So feeding them as pets does not pose a challenge as they can have an omnivorous diet1.

Including both of the diets in their life is recommended as they both contain different components of nutrients and fat that a red-eared slider needs.

Feeding them small insects like crickets, earthworms, silkworms, and other small prey worms as well as aquatic prey worms like krill, shrimp, and feeder fish can be beneficial. Adult turtles can be fed larger pieces of fish as they grow.

When it comes to herbs, dark leafy greens are recommended like kale, mustard greens, romaine, carrots, and beans.

Iceberg lettuce although an option must be avoided because of the least amount of nutrition it provides. You can also add snacks like water hyacinth, tadpoles, frog parts, and duckweed to your turtle’s diet.

2. Box Turtles

Box turtles were originally bred as food! However, they have become a favourite pet species. Box turtles are considered mostly land turtles and they rarely go underwater.

23113454 image of a turtle eating in pots
by yod67 / unlimphotos

To answer the question of what turtles eat when it comes to Box turtles, these turtles are primary meat-eaters. Any type of meat like chicken, fish, boar, beef, or rabbit is well suited for a box turtle.

An important detail you need to know about this species is that they have an organ in their body that thrives on algae. So, in the wild, these turtles will usually go to swamps to eat starfish and algae. Therefore, keep algae as a primary snack in your box’s life.

Box turtles also like fruits, there are not many fruits that turtles can digest but one category that suits them best is citrus fruits. Oranges, kiwis, tangerines, limes, grapefruits, and pomelos can be fed to your shell-bodied friend.

Other than citrus, crushed apples, squash, and different kinds of berries, mainly strawberries and blueberries are also loved by turtles.

Box turtles love bananas, peaches, and apricots, and these exotic fruits are easily digested by them as well.

3. Yellow-Bellied Sliders

If you live in the Southeastern parts, you are bound to get a Yellow-bellied Slider as a pet.

Largely local from Florida to South Eastern Virginia, this semi-aquatic turtle species is very active and friendly and hence makes a great pet, especially if you are an observer.

34374900 turtle
by Jacobin / unlimphotos

Since these turtles prefer swamps and ponds, their carnivore diet consists of aquatic insects. Therefore, the answer to what turtles eat is that these turtles eat insect larvae, small fish, shrimp, tadpoles, snails, and crayfish.

Just like other species of turtles, this species is also very curious when it comes to fruits and berries. They love peaches and strawberries along with blueberries and apples. Bananas can be included in their diet as they are highly nutritious and can give them a potassium boost.

Turtle food, found in pet stores can also be a staple diet but it should never be the main diet.

4. African Sideneck Turtles

African Sideneck turtles2 are another popular choice to keep as pets, this is mainly because of their unusual anatomy which consists of short necks and flat shells.

33133282 galapagos green turtle swimming on galapagos islands snorkeling with green sea turtles in galapagos marine reserve ecuador south america from los tuneles the tunnels on isabela island
by Maridav / unlimphotos

These are aquatic turtles and spend most of their time in the water.

So to answer the question of what turtles eat, when it comes to this species is that since they are aquatic turtles, they need a fully aquatic diet that consists of both plants and meat from the sea.

Since these turtles come from a warm region, they need special vitamins like vitamins A and D in their diet. Make sure to get turtle pellets and feeder fish for their vitamin requirement.

These turtles like to eat small mammals and aquatic insects like snails, krill, shrimps, and clams. And in their vegetative diet, they like green leafy vegetables like mustard greens, dandelion greens, red-leaf lettuce, romaine, etc.

B. What do Turtles Eat in the Wild?

1. Sea Turtles

Turtles are known for elegantly swimming in the ocean. But what do turtles eat once they get hungry since they are not known for being predatory fish?

The fact is that turtles can survive on the bits of other dead fish and baitfish like krill, shrimp, larval crabs, and fish larvae. Since turtles are omnivorous species, they can also survive on moss and algae when carnivorous food sources are deficient.

They can also snack on sea sponges and such corals but they give no nutritional value.

(To know more about freshwater sponges, click here).

The Green Sea Turtle

Green Sea Turtles are the most visibly known and famous species in the turtle world due to several appearances in different movies and shows.

4517984 mating sea turtles
by Jorgen / unlimphotos

This species is the only herbivore turtle species3 in the world. Green Sea Turtles eat aquatic vegetable foods and sea sponges, their preferred diet also consists of algae, seagrass, and sea squirts.

Although this species does not prefer to eat meat, they love jellyfish. Some green sea turtles that live in deeper Pacific waters can only live on a jellyfish-only diet.

This species is ESA endangered and threatened throughout the world. So keeping them as pets is extremely illegal.

These turtles have reduced in number because of climate change since they need certain water temperatures for daily functions. They also consume garbage dumped by humans which in most cases leads to their death.

2. Land Turtles

Many species of turtles are land turtles. This means that they spend most of their time on land.

What do turtles eat if they live on the land you ask? Terrestrial turtles prey on land insects like crickets, cockroaches, earthworms, silkworms, blood worms, etc.

They can also go into nearby waters to look for other food sources that can give them different nutrients. They can consume algae, moss, and seagrass, as well.

C. What do Turtles eat as Babies?

24866254 turtles hermann feeding
by cynoclub / unlimphotos

1. In the Wild

We have all seen the hatching process of baby turtles and their journey from the beach to the ocean. But what happens after that? What do turtles eat on land to survive?

Since babies need extra protein and nutrition, baby turtles live on a carnivorous diet. They feed on worms and insects and baitfish like krill, shrimp, earthworms, bloodworms, snails, tadpoles, frog bits, etc. They also like moths, insect larvae, fish eggs, bug larvae, and of course, jellyfish.

Once they are healthy enough, they start munching on aquatic vegetative growth like sea sponges, algae, seagrass, moss, etc.

27589232 turtle tortoise taking a bath in the sun to get warm
by MXW_Stock / unlimphotos

2. As Pets

If you have a baby turtle as a pet, you can start feeding them herbivorous foods after they have grown enough. They like leafy veggies like lettuce, hyacinth, carrots, broccoli, green beans, spinach, and fruits like squash and oranges.

Baby turtles are very picky, so if you plan on adopting a baby turtle, make sure to give it all the nutrients required, especially vitamin D and calcium. These two supplements are very important during the growth of a baby turtle4.

You can find foods made especially for baby turtles in a pet store. They sell foods made for the hatchlings which require the supplements necessary for the growth of the baby.

Baby pet turtles usually refuse to eat any herbivorous foods but try to add some to their diet.

So what do turtles eat other than nutritious food? Keep switching up their food by adding berries and leaves to make at least 10% of their daily diet along with the baby formula and turtle pellets.5

If the right nutrients and supplement needs aren’t met by the diet, the babies can develop a nutritional metabolic bone disease, or in some cases death.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do turtles eat every day?

Mature turtles should be fed once every couple of days, although young turtles eat every day.

2. What can turtles not eat?

Do not feed your turtle foods containing chocolate, refined sugar, or corn syrup. They’ll be fine with a pinch of salt but beware of anything highly seasoned.

3. Do turtles drink milk?

Turtles are unable to digest dairy or milk-based goods because their stomachs lack the enzymes required for breaking down lactose.


Remember, turtles are not very common pets like cats, dogs, or parrots. They require comparatively more care and a special diet. So, before adopting one, be sure of it.

Now there you go, Hopefully, this article was able to shed some light on what turtles eat. If you are planning to keep a turtle as a pet, make sure to follow all the precautions and care required to grow a pet turtle.

Also, before feeding anything new to your pet, research it first or ask a veterinarian.

  1. Greenfield, Aaron, and T. E. Graedel. “The omnivorous diet of modern technology.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling 74 (2013): 1-7. ↩︎
  2. Olukole, S. G., et al. “Morphological Analysis of the Carapace of the African Sideneck Turtle (Pelusios castaneus).” Journal of Veterinary Anatomy 7.1 (2014): 47-56. ↩︎
  3. Aresco, Matthew J. “Competitive interactions of two species of freshwater turtles, a generalist omnivore and an herbivore, under low resource conditions.” Herpetologica 66.3 (2010): 259-268. ↩︎
  4. Nichols, J. T. “Data on size, growth and age in the box turtle, Terrapene carolina.” Copeia 1939.1 (1939): 14-20. ↩︎
  5. Kanghae, H., et al. “Pre‐soaking of the feed pellets: A trick for successful feed utilization in juvenile green turtles (Chelonia mydas Linnaeus, 1758).” Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition 101.2 (2017): 329-338. ↩︎

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