What Do Aquarium Turtles Eat? A Complete Guide

Generally, aquarium turtles eat plants or animal proteins.

Now, some aquatic turtles will eat plants only. Others will eat animal proteins only, while others need a combination of both plants and animal proteins to survive. 

So, how do you know exactly what to feed your turtle? 

Simple. Know its species.

More than 300 turtle species exist worldwide, with the most common pet turtle species being:

  • Musk turtles
  • Mud turtles
  • Map turtles
  • Box turtles
  • Cooters
  • Pond turtles 

Each turtle species has its own diet, but it’s not that cut and dry. 

You’ll find that some “predominantly” herbivorous turtles feed on animal protein like fish or worms. Additionally, some omnivorous aquatic turtles may be more inclined to eat plants than animal proteins.

What’s more, a pet baby turtle may be carnivorous, but become omnivorous as it ages.

Therefore, knowing what to feed your pet turtle and at what stage of its life will go a long way in ensuring it remains healthy and lives longer.

So, what exactly do you feed a pet turtle?

Feed Your Turtle Animal Proteins 

Carnivorous and omnivorous pet turtles need to have animal proteins as part of their food. Here are some animal proteins you can include in their diet.

Commercial Turtle Pellets

The first choice of animal proteins for a pet turtle is commercial pellets specially made for turtles, which you can easily find in pet stores. 

Commercial pellets are an excellent option for a turtle’s diet because the turtle can nibble on them throughout the day.

Some examples of pellets you can feed your aquatic turtles include:

Pro tip: Confirm if the pelleted food is explicitly made for turtles by checking on the label. Why? Because commercial turtle pellets will typically float on water in the pond or aquarium, whereas pelleted food made for other reptiles will generally fall apart and soil the turtle’s habitat.

Prey Items

The second source of proteins for pet turtles, especially good for Red-Eared Sliders, is worms like earthworms, wax worms, silkworms, or mealworms; insects like beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, or moths; snails or slugs; and daphnia, shrimp, or krill.

You can also add amphibians like tadpoles and frogs for adult and bigger turtles.

Feeder Fish

The best fish a turtle can eat are feeder fish like bluegill, mosquitofish, minnows, and guppies. 

Fish are an excellent source of calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamin A, which your turtle needs for growth. 

Now, feeding your turtle live fish helps to stimulate their brain and offers an excellent way to exercise as your turtle chases and tries to catch its meal. 

What’s more, you determine the fish your turtle will eat based on the turtle’s size.

So, larger turtles like the African Sideneck turtle and Red-Eared Slider can eat larger feeder fish like channel catfish while smaller turtles like the Mississippi Mud turtle and common Musk turtle can eat smaller feeder fish like guppies.

Note: Feeder fish offer great benefits to your turtle. However, feeder fish are believed to carry bacteria and parasites that can infect a pet turtle. So, your turtle should eat feeder fish sparingly—once or twice a month.

Also, when giving an aquatic turtle fish, stay away from:

  • Mackerel
  • Smelt
  • Sardines
  • Trout

Such fish are oily and have a high fat content which can upset your marine turtle’s nutritional balance and lead to a vitamin E deficiency.

So, as a rule of thumb, give your turtles fish in small portions.

Add Plants to the Meal Plan 

Predominantly herbivorous and omnivorous turtles have plants as a large part of their diet. 

So, here are some of the most recommended vegetables an aquarium turtle can eat:

  • Dark leafy greens like collard greens, carrot tops, swiss chard, romaine lettuce, mustard greens, kale, green beans, parsley, clover, squash, turnip greens, and dandelion greens
  • Aquatic plants like water lilies, water lettuce, water hyacinth, Azolla (fairy moss), duckweed, and frogbit

For fruits, chopped berries, shredded apples, and melons are the best for your aquarium turtle.

What Pet Turtles Eat Depending on Their Species

SpeciesExamplesAnimal ProteinsPlants
Musk Turtles (Carnivorous)Razorback Musk turtle, Common Musk turtle, Loggerhead Musk turtleYes.Insects, fish, pelleted foods, worms, shrimpNo.
Mud Turtles (Carnivorous)Florida Mud turtle, Eastern Mud turtleYes.Insects, fish, pelleted foods, worms, shrimpYes.
Map Turtles (Omnivorous)Texas Map turtle, Northern Map turtle, Mississippi Map turtleYes.Pelleted foods, worms, insects, fishYes.Dark leafy greens
Box Turtles (Omnivorous)Eastern Box turtle, Three-Toed Box turtle, Coahuilan Box turtleYes.Insects, worms, snails, slugsYes.Collard greens, dandelions, duckweeds, hibiscus flowers
Cooters (Herbivorous)Pond Cooter, River Cooter, Red-Bellied CooterYes.* (Baby turtles)Worms, insects, crayfish, pelleted foodsYes.Aquatic plants, vegetables, bananas, strawberries
Pond Turtles (Omnivorous)Red-Eared Slider, Yellow-Bellied Slider, Cumberland SliderYes.Small amphibians, insects, worms, fish, pelleted foodsYes. Leafy greens, aquatic plants

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some FAQs about the aquarium turtle and their diet.

Can You Boost Your Aquatic Turtle’s Diet With Vitamins and Minerals?

Yes, you can offer pet-store-available multivitamins like vitamin D3 once a week to boost your pet turtle’s vitamin intake, especially if it’s a Box turtle.

What’s more, you can give a pet baby turtle calcium in the form of a calcium block or cuttlebone twice a week to improve their calcium levels.

How Often Should You Feed Your Aquarium Turtle?

The frequency of feeding a turtle depends on its age and size. 

The smaller turtles need to eat every single day because of all the growth they’re going through, while adult turtles can eat a good-sized balanced meal every other day.

Now, aquatic turtles are voracious feeders, so you should be careful not to overfeed them.

Overfed pet turtles get health complications like obesity, fatty liver disease, or shell pyramiding (a form of metabolic bone disease).

How Do You Know If You’re Overfeeding Your Pet Turtle?

You’ll know your aquatic turtle is overfed if it has:

  • Folds of skin around the legs
  • Accelerated growth
  • Shell disfigurement

To avoid overfeeding your turtle, give it food with low fat content in small amounts and less frequently.

Or you can use portions to balance out the diet so you can avoid overfeeding. Here’s an example of what you can do.

For an aquatic turtle like the Red-Eared Slider that eats both plants and animal proteins, you can portion its food like this:

  • Two-thirds of the main diet for a baby turtle should be animal proteins and the rest vegetables and fruits because juvenile Red-Eared Sliders are primarily carnivorous
  • Half the diet for an adult Red-Eared Slider should be vegetables and fruits because they are generally omnivorous

As a rule of thumb, don’t let your turtle eat food for more than 15 minutes continuously. 

How Do You Keep the Aquarium Clean?

Since aquatic turtles feed underwater, the aquarium or pond they’re in will be soiled by all the food they eat. 

And that’s not the worst part.

These turtles are messy eaters. So, they’ll always leave pieces of food in the aquarium which form ammonia when left in the aquarium for a long time, increasing the water’s pH levels. 

If pH levels in the water go beyond the recommended six to eight pH, then your pet turtle could die.

So, to avoid the unfortunate death of your aquatic turtle—aside from cleaning the aquarium daily by scooping away leftover food particles or changing the aquarium water often—you could use a smaller aquarium as a feeding tank. 

This way, the primary habitat remains clean, and your pet turtle is safe.

Feeding an Aquatic Turtle Is Not as Hard as it’s Made Out to Be

Some pet lovers wrongfully believe that it’s challenging to take care of an aquarium turtle because of the feeding schedule or the perceived difficulty of mimicking what the turtles eat in the wild. 

But that’s not the case.

Giving turtles food is relatively simple, especially when you know the turtle’s species.

Knowing the turtle’s species makes it easier to tell if the turtle will eat plants only, animal proteins only, or a combination of both.

What’s more, you’ll know exactly what to feed the turtle at every stage of its life to ensure it stays healthy and lives longer.

All you have to remember is that a balanced diet gives the turtle the nutritional value required for growth. 

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