Last Updated: 4/18/12
See these other turtle pages with feeding information:
Feeding Baby Turtles
Feeding Painted Turtles
Feeding Box Turtles (not aquatic)
I found this web site on feeding US native turtles that has a lot of information:
US Native Turtle Menu Options
Aquatic turtles need to eat in the water to be able to swallow. If you put food on land, they might eat it there but most likely will haul it into the water. Thus, you should be present as your turtle eats and remove any uneaten food after about five minutes. Live animals can be left with the turtle if they are aquatic. Any land animals (insects mostly) not eaten in five minutes should be removed and put back in their accommodations for the next try. Baby turtles need to be offered food daily while some adults may only need food two to three times a week. I feel more comfortable offering them something each day.
Newly-acquired turtles may be shy and may not eat at first. They are more likely to eat if you do not watch them so this is one case where you would not try to watch them eat.
Many aquatic turtle owners feed their turtles in a container separate from their main tank. The turtles are left for about an hour in a tub of shallow, warm water. During this time, they eat their fruits, vegetables, meats, etc. and make a big mess. The shallow, warm water, as well as just providing a place to eat, causes them to defecate during this time. When they are done, they return to the main tank which remains clean. This is done every 2-4 days depending on how often the turtles have to eat. If fed in the main tank, it becomes more fouled.
You can add all sorts of pond plants to a turtle's tank or pond and find out what they do and do not eat. Turtles that are inclined to eat plants will eat most floating plants like duckweed, azolla, frog-bit, water hyacinth, and water lettuce. Most submerged plants are also eaten like anacharis. It is said that most turtles will not eat cabomba. Lily leaves are relished so do not put expensive ones in with turtles. Dwarf cattail and dwarf rush are two marginals that turtles like to bask on but supposedly do not eat. If you have enough plants versus turtles, they will grow back and supply constant food for your turtles.
The following fruits and vegetables can be given to aquatic turtles (and box turtles): grated carrot and squash, cut apple and pear, corn (cooked kernels), peas, most tropical fruits (banana, papaya, guava, etc.), grapes, most berries (strawberries, raspberries, etc.), most leafy greens (romaine lettuce, collard, kale, mustard, dandelion, watercress, arugula, parsley, etc.), most melons (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, etc.), and many others.
Some animals that many turtles will eat:
Insects: Dragonfly larvae, mayflies, caddisflies, beetle larvae, crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms (land
beetle larvae, not a species of worm), roaches, wax worms (a
kind of moth caterpillar),
Mollusks and worms: Snails, clams, earthworms, blackworms, etc.
Amphibians: Small frogs, tadpoles, salamander larvae, etc.
Fish: Young goldfish, rosy red minnows, common guppies, mosquito fish, fish eggs, etc.
While aquatic turtles will sample many of the insects, insect larvae, snails, and fish that show up in a pond, there are species that you can add for them to eat. Most aquarium stores sell crickets, earthworms, mealworms (various beetle species of various sizes), small goldfish, guppies, and rosy red minnows which some turtles may eat. Others will turn their noses up at them. Aquatic turtles will also eat small frogs, tadpoles, grasshoppers, snails, and other small species of fish like mosquito fish. Remove uneaten insects when it is clear they will not be eaten. Be sure to quarantine any fish that you add so they do not transfer disease to the turtles. The fish may not be all eaten and can produce a self-sustaining population in a pond (probably not in an aquarium unless it is over 100 gallons).
For example, you could add 12 rosy red minnows. Over a month, the turtles eat say 8 of them. The remaining 4 have say 4 spawns of 200 young of which 20 make it to adulthood. Then, the turtles eat say 12 of them. Thus, the population can sustain itself. By providing lots of vegetation, clean water, and hiding places, you can make sure that a few fish survive. That way, you only need add fish once, and they are always there for your turtles to eat if they want.
Goldfish are a slightly different story. If the turtle does not eat all the them, then they will grow and grow to a foot long. If your pond is less than a few hundred gallons, it cannot support more than a handful of huge goldfish. Also, "feeder" goldfish are more likely to carry disease. I would try just a few of them. If the turtles do not eat them, do not add any more. The goldfish will add to the pond load but not be overcrowded if you only try a few.
For information on goldfish, see my goldfish page; for rosy red minnows, see my rosy red minnow page; for guppies, see my guppy page; and for mosquito fish, see my mosquito fish page.
Aquatic turtles can be fed raw or cooked lean ground beef, cooked chicken or turkey, and lean canned dog foods. Dry cat and dog foods can also be fed. These meats are not complete nutrition so other foods must be given. See under additives on how to make meatloaf for turtles. Never feed raw chicken because it may carry salmonella. Never feed pig products because they are too fatty.
There are a number of prepared foods for turtles available. Most are turtle sticks, others are various dry and moist foods. Turtles can be fed Tetra ReptoMin or Purina Trout Chow (although not as ideal).
You can also buy dead crickets, mealworms, caterpillars, and grasshoppers which some aquatic turtles may eat.
Here are the current commercial foods that my turtle, Tator eats:
There are various additives that your turtle may need including calcium, vitamins, shell aids, and shed aids. Calcium, vitamin liquids, and medications can be added to the water directly. Other medications are topical, and some may have to be force fed (be sure you know what you are doing). Dry vitamins, calcium powders, etc. can be dusted onto crickets and other insects but I suspect they would just wash off in the water. You can make turtle "meatloaf" to give them their vitamins by combining one pound of raw lean ground beef with 1 teaspoon of calcium carbonate and one tablespoon of reptile vitamins. I do not see why you could not add some finely chopped vegetables or other turtle foods to the mix too. Freeze and later thaw a small portion to use as needed.
You can also provide calcium blocks and/or cuttlebone for the turtles. This allows the turtles to not only get calcium at their leisure but also to trim their beaks.
For an article on feeding turtles, see this turtle puddle page.
If a turtle is not eating, first ask these questions.
1. Is the turtle a hatchling? If so, it may still be living off of its yolk.
2. What is the temperature? If a turtle is too cold, it will not eat. Temperate turtles may go into hibernation if too cold and not eat. Tropical turtles go into more of a stupor and die because they cannot take really cold temperatures.
3. What are you feeding? Is the food fresh? Have you tried live food? Some turtles only go for live foods.
4. Does the turtle show signs of being sick? Is it sluggish? Does it have eye or nose discharge? Are its eyes swollen? Is its waste normal?
5. Could the turtle be stressed? Are there any recent changes to its life such as a new home, new cage, new animals in its cage, etc.? Stress may prevent a turtle from eating.
6. Is the turtle a mature female? If so, she may be developing eggs. For a few weeks or so before laying eggs, female reptiles eat a lot less and sometimes fast.
If you rule out hatchling, temperature, bad food, illness, stress, and eggs, then I suggest trying different foods to tempt the turtle.
Turtles can go days or weeks without eating. If the turtle does not eat for two weeks (and is not a baby with yolk, a female with eggs, or one in hibernation), then it is time to worry and see a vet.
If you think the turtle is sick, see a vet. For more, see my turtle health page.
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