Have you ever been asked “What Do Pet Turtles Eat?” If you’ve ever told someone you have a pet turtle, you’ve probably been asked what you feed them or what they eat. For those who aren’t blessed with watching the “turtle dance” at breakfast time, it can be an eye-opening conversation when questions turn to “what do pet turtles eat?”
One of the most common pet turtle species in Australia is the Eastern Snake Necked turtle, otherwise known as the long neck turtle. Due to their docile temperament, these turtles can make quite good pets – especially for kids. Like all animals kept as pets, if they aren’t mistreated, they will learn to trust their owners very quickly, to a point where you may have them eating out of your hand. Other common pet turtle species include the Saw Shell Turtle, Macquarie/Murray River Turtle and Macleay River Turtle among many others. You should never take a turtle out of its natural environment. Pet turtles should only be acquired from authorised breeders. As with in the wild, pet turtles all have their likes and dislikes, and may not eat the same food as their tank mate.
As the owner of a freshwater turtle, it is important to know both what your pet turtles will eat, and what is good for them to ensure they keep a balanced diet.
Turtles need a natural, well balanced diet to keep them healthy. While babies, a portion the size of their head is sufficient until they reach around 8cm along the carapace. Larger juvenile turtles should only be fed every second or third day, and adults every fourth or fifth. They do however always need live aquatic plants (for short necked turtles), as well as feeder fish and things like freshwater prawns available.
Generally, their diet should consist of small whole fish, garden worms (pesticide free), insects and insect larvae, snails, crickets and small crayfish. All these food items provide the calcium and other nutrients your turtle will need.
Commercially Available Pet Turtle Food
It is often easier to turn to a commercially available food when looking for products for your pet turtles. These foods are available both from physical pet stores as well as online and include products such as turtle pellets, plant based fish pellets, reptile sticks and turtle food cubes, as well as bloodworms, crickets and mealworms.
Enticing your pet turtle to eat a variety of these products though may be a completely different kettle of fish. Some pet turtles are happy enough to eat commercially made food while others would prefer live foods. You may find that you need to experiment with different foods to find something your pet turtle will eat.
You should always try to keep pond weed or plants in your tank as well. As with food, you may find this to be an extremely popular additional food source, or you may very well find the weed floating along the surface of the tank no matter how well you weigh it down.
While there are good commercial foods available, there are some you should avoid. Items such as red meat and minced meats provide no nutrients, can be too fatty and don’t digest well. When it comes to minced meats, these often contain preservatives and colours which are no good for your pet turtle.
Wild Caught Pet Turtle Food
When you own pet turtles you quickly realise that spending hundreds of dollars at the pet store stocking up on commercial turtle foods, live fish and aqua plants is not a long-term solution. When asking “what do pet turtles eat?” your mind should automatically turn to what they would eat in the wild.
As a pet turtle owner, you may find yourself standing in the middle of a freshwater creek in the middle of winter catching food, or throwing a fishing line in to see what you can catch. To get started with catching your own food, you only need the basics – a bait net and a bucket. If the creek you’re standing in is well stocked, you might find yourself with enough food after a few scoops. On the downside, you may find yourself lifting rocks or scooping through weed to get a variety of fish, small freshwater shrimp, crayfish and bugs.
Your pet turtles may possibly gorge themselves on the new additions to their tank and leave you wondering why you’ve just spent an hour standing in a creek when the food disappears in 15 minutes!
Other options include catching freshwater fish like catfish, and then just blending up into a paste. This one is quite easy to do and involved just cleaning up the fish and then popping it through a food processor and freezing in cubes. It lends itself to adding a variety of other items including bloodworm, mealworms, crickets, fish, and plants to provide a variety of nutrients in one small cube.
There are a few things to remember when feeding your pet turtles and the main one is to not let uneaten food accumulate in the water. You can counteract this by not over-feeding your turtles; the general rule of thumb is to just feed a portion the size of their head. If you find uneaten food in the tank, remove it so that it doesn’t cause issues with the PH and water.
As for the afore mentioned “turtle dance”, you’ll soon get used to seeing this at breakfast or dinner time. Pet turtles quickly learn where their food comes from and what time it is meant to arrive, and they won’t let you forget! There are also a few turtles out there who seem to be able to tell one person from another and will try the turtle dance on the person who hasn’t fed them in the hope of getting more food – there’s more than a handful of people who’ve been caught out with this little trick.
Whatever type of food you choose to feed your pet turtle, you need a regular supply of fresh, live food whether that be fish, crays, shrimp, bugs, crickets or mealworms. Added to this a variety of fruit and vegetables and your turtle should have a healthy diet. You’ll also easily be able to answer the question of “what do pet turtles eat?”