Turtles have gradually become more popular as pets for busy families in North America and Europe. As culture has picked up its pace and people have more to do, it has become more challenging to have a high-maintenance pet like a dog.
Turtles are simple and low-maintenance. These slow-moving creatures can come in all kinds of beautiful colors, don’t require too much space, and don’t need to go on walks, but they are still somewhat interactive.
When you get a pet turtle, it is best to think about what they like in nature, what they enjoy doing, and their diets. This way, you can emulate this to the best of your ability, which is likely to keep them happier and healthier in their enclosure.
This article looks into what turtles eat in nature and how they go about finding food. While this might look different for a pet, consider these two points of their natural living so you can offer them a positive experience.
What Turtles Eat in Nature
In nature, turtles are omnivores. That means they eat various food, from protein sources like meat and fish to vegetables and fruits.
The age of a wild turtle also impacts their diet. When a turtle is young, even a hatchling, they will eat more protein, hunting for things like fish.
Turtles are opportunistic feeders, which can be dangerous for them.
Freshwater turtles will eat small fish, vegetables, and the leaves of edible plants. They will also eat scraps of human food. Since we consume things with chemicals, sodium, and sugar, our foods can be toxic for turtles. So, take care when you have a picnic by a body of water — clean up thoroughly after you finish. Seawater turtles often end up choking on plastic bags filled with water because they mistake them for jellyfish. The plastic ends up blocking their airway or obstructing their digestive system.
How Turtles Find Food
In nature, turtles are scavengers. They spend much of their moving time searching for sources of food. They swim or roam on the ground to find things that have the texture or scent of food.
When a freshwater turtle first hatches, they don’t roam far from their nesting area. That is why mother turtles typically try to find areas that will provide them with plenty of food after they hatch.
What Turtles Eat as Pets
If you have a pet turtle, you will need to feed them because they can no longer scavenge for their food. Their diet will differ slightly depending on the breed of turtle that you have.
Many turtles can eat a similar diet. Most turtles are omnivorous, so that makes it easier. Between species, it is often just the percentages of vegetation and protein that they need.
Most of the time, you can feed your turtle commercial turtle food pellets, but these don’t give them a complete, rounded diet. You should find pellets of food explicitly meant for a turtle because other types of pellets will break apart in the water. They might not be made for turtles either.
Typically, commercial pellet food for turtles should only make up about 25% of their entire diet. This is because these pellets are only meant to give them the extra nutrients that they might not get enough of in the other kinds of foods that you give them.
Other than the pelleted food, you can also feed fish to your pet turtle. Feeder fish help boost the amount of protein in their diet and balance minerals like phosphorus and calcium. They are also full of essential vitamins. These should make up another 25% of their diet.
The most significant part of a turtle’s diet is fruits and vegetables. These should all be fresh and preferably sourced locally, so you know for sure that you aren’t giving your turtle harsh chemicals. They will get sick quickly with even small amounts of pesticides or fertilizers on their food.
You can give them things like shredded carrots, zucchini, and squash. Since they are partially aquatic animals, you can also mix it up with duckweed, water lettuce, and water hyacinth.
You can also give your turtle fruits, although a bit less often than the vegetables, since they contain higher amounts of sugar. You can give them things like shredded apples, pieces of melon, and chopped-up berries.
For omnivorous turtles, fruits and vegetables should make up about 50% of their diet. Land turtles or tortoises should eat a strictly herbivorous diet, so fruits and vegetables should be mixed at a 20:80 ratio.
Essential Nutrients for Turtles
Turtles need a mixture of protein, vitamins, fat, and minerals. The most crucial part of a turtle’s diet is calcium. You should supplement any fruit or vegetables that you give them with calcium powder to ensure that they get enough of it in their diet.
Calcium is essential for your turtle’s diet because of their shell. They use vast amounts of it to grow their shell and keep it strong, since their shells are mostly bone.
If you have a pet turtle, it is important to find out exactly what they would eat in the wild and how they would find it. This way, you can better prepare their enclosure to suit their lifestyle and dietary needs.
Featured Image Credit: SusanneEdele, Pixabay
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.