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What Do Baby Turtles Eat in the Wild and As Pets?

Jordin Horn

Slow-going turtles that live in an aquarium and can be just as fun to watch as cats and dogs. Like most reptiles, they are fairly easy to maintain. They live for a long time, especially when you feed them right.

As a turtle mom or dad, you may want to make sure your baby turtle is eating the right kinds of food, or feed them a diet as similar to a wild turtle as possible. We’re going to cover what baby and adult turtles eat in the wild and also what you can feed them as pets, depending on your preferences.

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What Wild Turtles Eat

baby turtle on weeds
Image Credit: Nature_Blossom, Pixabay

Turtles are found on every continent in the world except Antarctica. You will likely spot a turtle along the bank of a small pond, stream, or lake. They love damp areas with lots of rocks or spaces they can hide. This means that they like to eat things you can find in these areas.

Wild turtles eat a variety of things in nature. When they are babies, they mostly eat meat because they need the protein to keep growing. Types of protein they like to eat include small insects, snails, worms, and fish. When they get bigger, they can start eating more and more plant-like substances.

What Pet Turtles Eat

What your pet turtle needs for nutrition depends on the species and age of your turtle.

Omnivorous vs Carnivorous vs Herbivorious Turtles

There are three kinds of turtles; carnivorous turtles are rarer and eat only meat, omnivorous turtles are more common and eat meat and vegetation, and herbivorous turtles eat only vegetation. Box turtles, Mississippi maps, and red-eared sliders are omnivorous and common pet turtle breeds. Musk turtles are carnivorous.

What Do Adult Pet Turtles Eat?

turtle by the sea
Image Credit: SeaReeds, Pixabay

Just like in the wild, a turtle’s diet needs to change as they age. It’s important to know how old (approximately) your turtle is so you know what to feed him.

Pet turtles that are mature and omnivorous can eat pelleted food specifically made for turtles. You can find this kind of food at most pet stores. Again, check the species to make sure you are giving your turtle the right diet.

Most turtles do well on pellet food containing between 40-45% protein and 6-8% percent fat. The moisture content counts too: the higher moisture content in the food, usually the higher percentage of protein and fat inside the food. Look for “fish meal” towards the top of the ingredients list.

Turtle-specific pellets should make up at least 25% of your turtle’s diet. It’s important to get food specific for turtles as it stays intact more easily when it contacts water, and it also floats.

The rest of your turtle’s diet should be 25% from a protein source, like a comet goldfish, which also provides essential nutrients like calcium and phosphorus.

The final 50% can be made up of fruits and vegetables. Vegetables should be rich with colors, such as dark, leafy greens, shredded squash, and carrots. You could also opt to feed your turtle aquatic plants like duckweed.

Occasionally you can offer meat, but this is not always beneficial. Turtles benefit most from the nutrient livers of feeder fish, and won’t get much of what they need from the kind of meat we normally eat.

Herbivorous turtles, like land turtles or tortoises, can be fed only fruits and vegetables. Aim for 20% fruits and 80% vegetables total.

Related Read: 10 Best Turtle Foods 2021 – Reviews & Top Picks

What Baby Pet Turtles Eat

baby turtle in the sand
Image Credit: Pixabay

Baby turtles in the wild eat from different food sources sometimes because they are growing. In general, you should feed a baby turtle a little more protein than you would an adult turtle. You can replace some fruits and veggies with a little more pellets and feeder fish if your turtle is still growing.

Pellets are a great option here, but you could opt to feed him live food instead. Baby turtles can eat the same kinds of proteins adults can: earthworms, snails, slugs, grasshoppers, beetles, and crayfish. Ask your local pet store if they have live food for reptiles, and this is where you can buy it.

One thing you might want to consider adding to your pet baby turtle’s diet is a gel capsule supplement. You can find these at most pet stores. Just make sure the label indicates that it’s for your specific breed of turtle.

Ultimately, you want to make sure what you feed your baby turtle has variety. That way, you know he is getting all the nutrients and vitamins he needs.

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Is It Okay to Keep a Wild Turtle?

Generally, no. For one, turtles in nature are wild animals. They are not used to human interaction, and will therefore not make very good pets. Wild turtles could carry diseases that captive-bred turtles don’t have (though both can carry some, which is why you should always wash your hands after handling). Lastly, some states ban captivating wild turtles. It’s frowned upon by conservationists, as well. These are all the reasons it’s not a good idea to keep a wild turtle.

Baby Turtle Care Tips

baby turtle eating
Image Credit: Pixabay

Feed them in a separate aquarium to keep your main habitat clean. Alternatively, you can sprinkle pellet food on top of their water. Whatever you feed them, make sure it’s shredded into small pieces to make it the easiest to eat.

Turtles eat every day when they are young. Once they are about 7 years old, you can feed them once every 2 days. They can be fed 1 cup of turtle food per day, or whatever amount they can eat in around 20 minutes.

Never feed your turtle cat or dog food, as the protein content is too high and could harm your turtle.

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Final Thoughts

Baby turtle’s diet needs differ slightly from adult turtles, just like in the wild. They require a little more protein and rely more on essential nutrients than full-grown adults, and that’s about the only difference. When it comes to feeding a baby turtle a pellet diet or live food, the choice is up to you.

Looking for more information on turtles? Take a look at:


Featured Image Credit: Gauthier Pous, Pixabay

Jordin Horn

Jordin Horn is a freelance writer who has covered many topics, including home improvement, gardening, pets, CBD, and parenting. Over the years, she has moved around so much that there's been no time to settle down and own a pet. However, as an animal lover, she dotes on and cuddles any pet she happens upon! She grew up with and dearly loved an American Eskimo Spitz named Maggie and a Pomeranian/Beagle mix named Gabby. She calls Colorado home, but has also recently resided in China, Iowa, and Puerto Rico Jordin does not like to settle for the "easy answer" when it comes to living life with your pet. She loves to research the best methods and products out there and cut through the jargon so you can see plainly what something is or how something is done.