Crash Course: What Do Turtles Eat?

Tortoise Eating
A Group of Tortoise Eating. Photo by Bishwamber Nath

What do turtles eat has no definite answer. There are hundreds of different species of turtles and thus there are many variations in their diets or dietary preference. Turtles were not domesticated for a long time and thus their options were entirely dependent on what was available in the wild. Besides, there are significant differences among the species based on their natural habitat. Freshwater turtles and sea turtles don’t have the same dietary habits. Likewise, aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles have their unique preferences and compulsions as well. The same difference applies to tropical and subtropical turtles. Considering the fact that there are more than three hundred different species and subspecies of turtles, what do turtles eat has a very exhaustive list.

Alligator Snapping Turtle
I’m Hungry: What Do Turtles Eat? In Photo: Alligator Snapping Turtle. Photo by Christopher Evans. CC License. CLICK TO ENLARGE!

Most turtles have a vegetarian diet. But some species of turtles can be carnivores. Contrary to popular perception, most turtles are not vegetarian. They are mostly omnivores. They eat plants as well as animals. Apart from the species, natural habitat and what the turtles may prefer and get in the wild; the jaws of the turtles also determine the kind of food they would eat.

A bit confused? Well, here’s a more organized list that answers the holy grail of turtle owners, “What Do Turtles Eat?”… 
  1.  Sea turtles have a generic diet of algae, sea-grass, squid, crabs, shrimp, jellyfish, sea cucumbers and cuttlefish. Leatherback sea turtles have sharp jaws, almost like scissors, and they only feed on jellyfish. Green sea turtles are however herbivores and don’t eat any other animals. They mostly eat sea-grass and algae.
  2. Freshwater turtles usually eat insects, snails, worms, crustaceans, algae, fruits and water plants. Snapping turtles are carnivores and they eat fish, frogs, small mammals and snakes. These turtles may even eat other smaller turtles.
  3. Terrestrial turtles eat grubs, beetles, earthworms, snails, fruits, flowers, berries, caterpillars, grass and mushrooms. Terrestrial as well as aquatic turtles have a penchant, to varying degrees, for decaying flesh or carrion.
  4. Semi-aquatic turtles combine the dietary preferences of terrestrial and aquatic turtles.
  5. The species of turtles that are domesticated or petted also eat various foods. They can gorge on fish pellets or turtle pellets. Some turtles may gorge on legumes. Insects and bugs, small fish, earthworms and specially stuffed bugs or insects are also good for turtles. These can be found at most pet stores.

Since the dietary options for a domesticated or pet turtle is dependent on what is fed by the owner and not found by the turtle in a natural setting, a diet plan must be chalked out after consulting a vet.

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