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Feeding Aquatic Turtles

Updated on February 8, 2019
Peking Duck for Dinner Tonight, Boys!
Peking Duck for Dinner Tonight, Boys! | Source

It's true, they are ...

Turtles are omnivores.

Yes, I hear those of you who own 'tween' turtles (4 – 15 years of age) starting the tale of your woes over your turtles inability to do as you were told he would do, on some forum on the internet, and that was eat meat AND veggies … yet your pet, flat out ignores anything that doesn't move on its own. Omnivore your butt, you mutter. I hear your frustration.

Turtles, specifically Red Earred Sliders, are omnivores later in life, one of mine did not eat any sort of vegetable or fruit, no matter how I splashed it around or dressed it up, till he was nearly 15 years old. On the other hand, my youngest turtle, 12 years old, has been eating fruit and vegetables since he was maybe 5 years old. He was a lazy, to be polite, turtle and I am sure the lack of fight from the fruit and veggies was like heaven for him. A pair of sibling Red Earred Sliders that I owned, whom came to me in their early 20's, were raised on beef hearts and eggs, they were timid with new food, but there are tricks to use that sometimes help this frustrating process of introducing vegetable and or fruit to their diets along.

One of the most important things to know about feeding an aquatic turtle (tortoises are land animals and sink like rocks in water) is it has to be fed in water, it needs the water to eat, and to defecate. If you have your tank set up properly, with really good filtration, I would not advise removing the turtle just to fed it in a separate bin with water, this really is unnecessary, but this is a method people use to limit the mess, but so long as you don't over feed at the start, your filtration and the hungry turtle will do the job. None of my turtles, at present, like being out of their tanks, Sam and Ella were exceptions to this rule, they were intrepid explorers. I don't even remove my present turtles from their homes (aka their tanks) when I am cleaning or feeding them.

What, Where, When, How

Years ago, I use to feed my turtles exclusively live food, turtle pellets and trout pellets (oh how they loved them). Today I feed them a much more varied mix of food, as my boys are old and omnivores now, without my fighting for it. A caution on the trout pellets (if you find them), they will make your turtle fat, fast, use them sparingly.

I feed my turtles a lot of fresh food, daily, usually afternoon time. A dark leafy green such as leaf lettuce, kale or bok choy are favorites, apple slices, grapes (skin on), strawberries, carrot slivers, banana and peas. I even buy live plants from pond stores when in season as a treat for them, they love duckweed, hyacinth roots and lilies. Live food is almost always available in their tanks, whether it's a goldfish, small guppies (they really gotta work for those ones, ha), shrimp, japanese trapdoor snails, tadpoles, worms or crayfish.

I rarely use pellets anymore and I never feed 'meat' like chicken, beef or ham. I also do not use calcium powder or vitamins. Check out my homemade recipe for turtle food.

Turtles are excellent beggars, and doggedly determined ones at that. Not surprising really, you don't live for millions of years, mostly unchanged being a pushover. I have heard the advice you should feed them two to three times a week, the amount of food (normally pellets) being roughly the size of their head. I feed mine daily and considerably more than their tiny head size. They eat more on some days than others, they don't gorge themselves to death.

Mine! | Source

Popular Food Choices With My Turtles

Great Choices
Romaine Lettuce
Tomatoes - Cherry
Slices of Apple
Live Fish
Baby Spring Green Mixes

Some of the Foods You Can Give to Turtles

I really am not a fan of commercial, preservative filled food, why pay $24.99 for some skinny sticks of food when what you normally buy for yourselves or your families is much, much healthier.


  • Dark Leafy Greens such as, leaf lettuce, kale, bok choy, endives and spring green mixes, dandelion leaves are excellent too. Spinach is okay, not regularly though. Iceburg lettuce as it is called or head lettuce is not a good lettuce to use, it's nutritionally bankrupt.
  • Tomatoes - I have more success with cherry tomatoes than large ones cut up. Just pop them in.
  • Carrots - These I slice thinly and let float on the top. Its something they nibble on only.
  • Peas
  • Broccoli - sparingly
  • Pumpkin
  • Zucchini


  • Apples sliced
  • Bananas - Frozen pieces or fresh.
  • Strawberries - fresh or frozen.
  • Blueberries - Seem to prefer frozen ones.
  • Numerous melons - honeydew and cantaloupe seem most popular.
  • Some have success with papaya

Live Food

  • Fish - I do use goldfish, or feeder fish as they are called, but i also give them fish I caught while out camping or such in the summer, entails and all.
  • Snails - japanese trapdoor snails are a tad pricey, but hold up to turtle 'curiousity' quite well and last longer.
  • Tadpoles - a rare treat, only once did the darn turtle make friends with it and let it grow. Sighs.
  • Shrimps -
  • Crayfish - fight all they want, these are lobsters to my boys.
  • Worms

Water plants

  • Water Hyacinth and Water Lettuce, the roots dangle down as they float on surface. I do let these types of store bought plants float in a sink overnight before adding to the tank.
  • Lilies
  • Various grasses

Dinner time yet?
Dinner time yet? | Source

Curious and Curiouser

Turtles are naturally curious creatures, they will investigate everything in their tank. They are also quite opportunistic. They may ignore the new temptation you are adding to their tank, while you are standing there staring down at them, but when you turn your back, curiosity tends to take over, and this is something that can be used to our advantage when introducing new foods.

My first success was with strawberries, they had mistaken the red flesh of the fruit for red flesh of meat, grins. The first time it happened, they were not impressed with me, you turtle owners know what I am talking about, the turtle equivalent of 'are you serious?' look. Grapes I would slice into and hover it around them, till they seemed interested, then lobbed it lightly into the planted areas of their tank, where they would, often, rush off to check it out.

I would serve the fruit or vegetable in many ways to see if one was more appealing to them than another, sliced, slivered, grated, chunked and so on. Grapes and strawberries they prefer whole, ripped chunks of leafy greens and apples sliced, they are not picky at all.


The Home Made Turtle Food Recipe.

If this article does not give it away I prefer to feed my turtles non commercial food, or at the least, as little as possible. This recipe is more of a guide, as the possibilities and combinations of foods are endless. My personal concoction is more greens than anything else as my two turtles eat whole fresh fruit.

The biggest pro of being able to customize your pet turtles food is that you can introduce foods they may not otherwise try as well as control the portion sizes and the nutrient values. The main goal for many people making their own food for their turtles is to maximize and utilize a variety of foods.

Because I feed my pet turtles a lot of live foods, I do not overly stress about meat in my concoction but you can easily add protein to your mix or to encourage the younger turtles a little tuna water, bugs or worms can do the trick.

Ready? It is really easy, be prepared to blown away.

Ta-da ... the Recipe

What you will need

Quite simply all you need are your chosen ingredients and reptile gelatin which is available at most pet stores.

  1. Using a blender or knife, pulse or chop your chosen fruits and vegetables into very small pieces.

  2. Prepare the gelatin mix as instructed on the package. If you need a stronger gelatin, use less liquid. Reptile gelatin has vitamins and nutrients in it, I do not add more.

  3. Mix the chopped ingredients, tuna water or meat being used with the gelatin.

  4. Place mixture into ice cube trays - I used fish shaped ice cube trays to add that extra little enticement.

  5. Freeze over night in the freezer.

  6. Serve. Some thaw it out I do not always.


What Makes Me Keep Trying

I hear some grumblings about the time I must spend on preparing their food, that you possibly do not have those spare moments. It takes less time than it sounds and to be honest, the turtles show their appreciation in their own ways.

One of the ways I like best is when feeding or watching them and they catch a fish, snail or other live squirming critter, maybe they have a grape, cherry tomato or other fruit/vegetable in their mouth and they are pressing against the glass swimming for all their worth, showing off their 'catch'.

A momma can't help but be proud.


Submit a Comment
  • profile image


    7 years ago

    thanks for the tip ill make sure to try them out with my 2 yearling southern and weastern painteds


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