Are Turtles Carnivores, Herbivores, or Omnivores?

Whether or not a turtle is a carnivore, a herbivore, or an omnivore really depends on the particular species.  For instance, tortoises are almost always exclusively herbivores.  Their diets usually consist 100% of plant origin. Most aquatic turtles are carnivores. (However this still depends on the species of aquatic turtle) and requires a diet that contains anywhere from 65 to 90% meat.  The remaining 10 to 35% is vegetable based.  Semi aquatic turtles are usually mostly omnivores and their nutritional requirements are usually best met with a diet that is 50% meat and 50% vegetable.  Depending on the species these percentages may vary.

Since a turtle’s diet depends on its species it is important to know what kind of species your turtle is and then adjust its diet based off of this.  It is also essential that you know what your turtle’s individual nutrional needs are so that they can be properly met.  This can be done by learning what your turtle’s normal diet would consist of in the wild, and then by tailoring it to more closely similate a diet in captivity that is closer to that of their natural diet.

For turtles that require a herbivore diet mixed green leaf vegetables should be fed 90% of the time and more.  A few things that one can incorporate into this diet include:

  • Dandelions
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Clover leaves
  • Parsley
  • Carrot tops
  • Lettuce
  • Coarse mixed grasses
  • Flower heads
  • Natural fodder plants

They should also eat fruit and vegetables for a percentage of 10% or less.  The following can be incorporated into a herbivore diet to meet this requirements:

  • Tomato
  • Mango
  • Cauliflower
  • Apple
  • Pineapple
  • Melon (red, orange and white)
  • Pear
  • Red and green sweet peppers
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumber

Furthermore, fruit should be used sparingly, because over consumption can lead to high levels of sugar building up in the gut (intestintes) and result in illness.

For a turtle with a carnivorous diet, the following requirements should be met, Meat component (65-95%) and can include the following:

  • Live feeder fish
  • Frozen pinkie mice
  • Snails
  • Mollusks
  • Earthworms
  • Rehydrated cat food
  • Dried commercial trout pellets
  • Small quantity of low-fat canned dog food (less than 5% of total intake)

Incorporating vegetables into this diet is dependant upon the species and is approximately 35% or less depending on the species)  The following can be used:

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Clover
  • Grated carrot
  • Small quantity of fruit or other items listed in the herbivore diet

A turtle with an omnivorous diet should meet requirements with vegetable and fruit components meeting 50% intake.  The following can be fed to a turtle that is an omnivore:

  • Strawberries
  • Various berries
  • Grated carrot
  • Dandelion greens
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Red lettuce
  • Flower heads
  • Cauliflower
  • Plums
  • Small quantities of green cabbage
  • Small quantities of kale leaf
  • Sow thistle
  • Beets
  • Wax beans
  • Green beans
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Okra
  • Green peas
  • Rose
  • Dandelion
  • Pansies
  • Lilies
  • Carnations
  • Hibiscus
  • Pumpkin
  • Kiwi
  • Banana
  • Figs

The meat component should also meet a 50% intake requirement and can include the following food sources:

  • Live crickets
  • Small land snails
  • Slugs
  • Rehydrated dried cat pellets
  • Trout pellets
  • Low-fat canned dog food (less than 5% of total intake)
  • Shrimp
  • Silkworms

Avoid using raw meats due to the danger of contamination, as well as fatty meats like hamburgers.

Each of these diets should always consist of fresh food and supplemented with a good vitamin-calcium supplement approved for use in turtles and/or tortoises.  Clean, fresh water and a stress free environment are also critical to ensure proper feeding habits and adequate consumption.  Different species of turtles and tortoises will demonstrate different preferences for certain foods.  However, the habit of rotating and varying their diet as much as possible is key to avoid monotony and unbalanced nutrition within their diets.

The natural habitat of each species of turtles is what helps determine its diet as well as other facets of its care.  Map turtles prefer to eat only meat, while river cooters prefer plant based sources of food.  Box turtles hould eat lots of plants with only a small amount of meat, while the American box turtle is an omnivore that consumes just about anything.  The red eared slider starts its life off by feasting upon worms and then later turns into an omnivore as it matures.

One of the best ways to ensure that your turtle stays healthy and happy is to feed it its natural diet as much as possible.  Turtles in their natural habitat are used to eating a wide variety of things and the food sources depend upon the season, as well as its availability.  Variety is the key to feeding your turtle and ensuring the best health.

Minerals such as Vitamin D3, phosphorous, and calcium are very important as well when it comes to the health of your turtle.  While turtles usually get enough phosphourous since most of the food that they consume contains it, it is their calcium that you really need to pay close attention to.  Crushed oyster shells, or eggshells that are boiled and crushed, plaster block as well as cuttlebone are all great sources of calcium for your turtle.

However it should be noted that merely providing enough calcium is not sufficient.  Dietary calcium cannot be utilized properly if vitamin D3 is absent.  This vitamin is produced within the turtle’s body if it is exposed to direct sunlight or any good reptile light.  Or, they can be given the vitamin in their diet by using a supplement.

Certain foods can also block calcium from being absorbed because they contain high amounts of oxalic acid, thus care must be taken so that you do not allow your turtle to eat too many of these.  Although, being natural vermifues, they can be somewhat beneficial.  Certain foods like cabbage have what is known as goitrogens, and these can cause deficiency in iodine if too much of them are given to your turtle.  Feeding your turtle with cuttlebone can usually help overcome this problem, since it contains traces of iodine.

Going easy on the protein when it comes to feeding your turtle is also a crucial step in properly caring for your turtle.  This is because too much protein in a turtle’s diet can cause stress on the kidneys and it is though to cause deformities such as pyramiding in the turtle’s shell.  Therefore, it is advised to not feed your turtle foods that are high in protein such as dog food, cat food, or meats that humans eat.  When protein is fed sparingly along with a healthy, varied diet, it does not necessarily cause any harm to the turtle, but it should never be fed as a staple within a turtle’s diet.  In fact, it is recommended to feed your turtle as wide a variety of food as possible, without overusing any single type of food.  Also note, that plants provide protein, so getting enough protein into a turtle’s diet is not really that difficult, and this should be monitored closely so that they do not consume too much protein.

Now that you know what types of food your turtle should eat, it is also important to know what your turtle should not eat  Here are a list of foods that turtles should not eat:

  • Milk products (milk, cheese, etc.)- They cannot be digested by reptiles because they lack the enzymes required for breaking down lactose.
  • Processed and/or canned foods-These are usually high in preservatives and salt, and the effects it could have on the turtle are still not fully known. It is advisable not to feed your turtle these foods, however if you must feed them this type of food for whatever reason, it should always be fed in limited amounts and on rare occasions.
  • Some plants-Even though turtles have been known sometimes to eat poisonous plants in their natural habits, the specifics of this feeding habit are not particularly well known so to be on the safe side it is recommended that poisonous plants such as avocado plants, rhubarb plants, and poison ivy all be kept far away from the turtle and never used in their diet for any reason.

It is important to know what kind of turtle you own, and what they should and should not be eating.  Feeding a turtle the wrong kinds of food can make it sick or even result in death if one is not careful.


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