Do you often cook potatoes and want to throw a few pieces your turtle’s way? Good news: potatoes won’t hurt a turtle. However, they aren’t the most nutritious option for them, either. Much of their diet needs to be greens and similar veggies.
While potatoes are technically veggies, they aren’t nutrient-rich like spinach and kale.
Plain, white potatoes can be a source of folate, potassium, vitamin C and B6. However, there are better sources of these nutrients out there that aren’t so starchy and full of carbs.
Plus, potatoes also contain a few “antinutrients.” These are chemicals that get in the way of nutrient absorption and actually take away nutrients.
If your turtle catches a quick bite of potato, you don’t have anything to worry about. However, you probably shouldn’t feed your turtle potatoes as part of their regular diet. They aren’t that healthy for them!
What Do Turtles Eat?
Before you can completely understand where potatoes fit into your turtle’s diet, it is vital to understand their diet as a whole.
Turtles are omnivores. They eat a mixture of plant and animal materials. Many of them tend to lean closer to the vegetarian side. As young turtles, they are primarily carnivorous. They need the extra protein and fat to grow, after all. As they get bigger, they eat more plant materials.
In captivity, the carnivorous part of their diet primarily consists of commercial turtle pellets. These are available in several sizes and typically float. You should purchase a size that is suitable for your particular turtle.
They may also eat feeder fish purchased from a pet store. In many cases, these also provide a source of exercise and mental stimulation. After all, your turtle has to catch the fish. That can be a lot of work!
However, live fish can easily carry parasites and bacteria. They aren’t the safest option – though your turtle can have a lot of fun eating them.
What About Plants?
As your turtle gets older, you’ll need to start offering more and more vegetables. Preferably, these should be veggies that float on the top of the water. Turtles are much more likely to eat them at the top of the tank rather than the bottom.
Here is a list of vegetables we recommend as part of your turtle’s regular diet:
As you can see, potatoes are not on this list!
Reasons to Avoid Feeding Your Turtle Lots of White Potatoes
We don’t recommend feeding white potatoes regularly for a few reasons.
Firstly, they are a member of the nightshade family. Glycoalkaloids solanine and chaconine are both found in very light amounts. For people, these chemicals are at such low concentrations that they don’t matter at all. We’re too big to be affected.
However, turtles are much smaller. They are easily affected by these chemicals if fed too much. Each chemical hurts the reptile’s digestive and nervous system.
At best, this may lead to a headache and some stomach upset. Most turtles don’t experience any adverse symptoms past this.
However, these chemicals can be theoretically fatal if your pet consumes too much of them. You shouldn’t feed potatoes in very high amounts, therefore. You could make your turtle very sick.
Secondly, white potatoes aren’t nearly as nutrient-dense as other veggies out there. When you have foods like dandelion greens available, there are few reasons to feed your turtle potatoes.
You’re much better off choosing something else instead!
- See Also: How Long Can Turtles Go Without Eating?
Can Turtles Eat Potato Leaves?
Potato leaves are toxic to turtles. They contain high amounts of both solanine and glycoalkaloid. The plant essentially uses these chemicals to protect itself from the sun. However, these chemicals are incredibly toxic.
They can harm both people and turtles alike. However, turtles are much smaller, so it takes a minimal amount to experience severe side effects.
The stems, sprouts, and leaves all contain high levels of this chemical. Therefore, you should avoid feeding them to your turtle.
Keep them put up and away – do not feed them to your turtle or put them in your turtle’s vicinity.
Can Turtles Eat Unpeeled Potatoes?
The peel of the potato isn’t necessarily toxic. It doesn’t contain the same chemicals that the leaves and other parts of the plant have. Therefore, they are technically okay for turtles.
However, the peel can contain trace levels of pesticides and fertilizers – neither of which are safe for our tiny turtles.
Theoretically, you can wash the potato very well and remove much of this residue. But you’ll never know if you’ve successfully removed all of these chemicals or not. Therefore, many turtle owners decide to peel the potato instead.
What you choose to do is entirely up to you. It may depend on where you get your potato from. Some are safer than others. If you can purchase organic potatoes, that may be your best option.
Can Turtles Eat Mashed Potatoes?
There is no reason you shouldn’t mash the potato before you feed it to your turtle. It may make eating a bit easier – though it will mean that the potato won’t float on water! Some turtles won’t recognize mashed potatoes as food. It mostly depends on your turtle.
However, you should ensure that you don’t add any of the usual additives to mashed potatoes – like salt, herbs, butter, and other seasonings. Many of these things are not healthy for our turtles.
Too much salt can cause electrolyte imbalances, and butter can add unnecessary amounts of fat to their diet.
Can Turtles Eat Sweet Potatoes?
Sweet potatoes are a much better option for our turtles than regular, white potatoes. They are often included on lists of veggies turtles can eat.
You can safely feed them to your turtle every other week alongside green veggies. They are safer and contain a lot of vitamin A.
However, they also contain oxalic acid, which can hinder calcium absorption in turtles. Without enough calcium, turtles can run into all sorts of problems. Therefore, we recommend feeding sweet potatoes in relatively small amounts.
They can be fed a few times a month at most. However, you shouldn’t feed them regularly since it may lead to calcium deficiencies.
Things to Consider When Feeding Potatoes
If you do decide to feed potatoes to your turtle, there are a few things that you should keep in mind. Potatoes aren’t the healthiest food you can give your turtle, but they likely won’t cause any severe problems.
If fed in high amounts, potatoes can cause some issues, though. Therefore, we only recommend feeding them occasionally. Smaller turtles should likely avoid them altogether since they will be more heavily affected by the antinutrients and other chemicals in the potato.
The starch content in potatoes is relatively high. They contain far more carbohydrates than other veggies out there, so we don’t necessarily recommend them in high amounts.
It is effortless for a turtle to overeat potatoes!
Starch doesn’t provide much nutrition to turtles. It is negligible at best – and takes the place of more vital nutrients at worst.
Potatoes are also high in sugar, lovely potatoes. Sugar isn’t a healthy option for most turtles. It doesn’t provide them with the nutrition they need to thrive and can cause them to eat too many calories.
Potatoes contain some chemicals that interfere with the absorption of calcium. Therefore, if they eat too many potatoes, they may not absorb the calcium from other foods in their diet.
Calcium is essential for turtles. Without it, they can develop all sorts of degenerative problems. Their shells can become deformed, and their bones may become brittle. It is heartbreaking to see turtles with these issues!
Luckily, you can easily avoid this problem by not feeding very many potatoes! A bite or two likely won’t hurt your turtle, but you shouldn’t have them eat more than that.
Balance out any potatoes you offer with other nutrients.
Potatoes aren’t blatantly toxic to turtles. A bite or two won’t kill them. They can be somewhat nutritious in small amounts.
However, we don’t recommend adding them as part of your turtle’s usual diet. They contain antinutrients that can interfere with calcium absorption. If fed in high amounts, this can cause calcium deficiency.
They are also starchy and high in sugars. Your turtle doesn’t need these nutrients and can easily overeat them. It doesn’t take a lot for a turtle to consume too many potatoes.
This can lead to nutritional deficiencies if your turtle cuts other foods out of their diet, or it can lead to obesity if they increase their overall caloric intake. Either way, this won’t end well for your turtle!
Featured Image Credit by Brian A Wolf, Shutterstock