What do turtles eat?

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what turtles eat
Sea turtles have a varied diet including leafy greens, aquatic plants, vegetables, fish, and more!

© AZ-Animals.com

Sea turtles are one of the most popular and common domesticated reptiles on the planet. In the order Turtles, there are 356 species of sea turtles, terrapins, and tortoises, all of which have bony shells. While most sea turtles live in or near water, different species are adapted to different environments. You can find turtles almost anywhere, from freshwater streams to the depths of the ocean. They live on every continent except Antarctica, and in every ocean except the Arctic and Southern (Antarctic) oceans. Some migrate great distances, while others spend their entire lives relatively close to their birthplace. While some turtles make great pets, others are better suited to roaming in the wild in search of food. However, with such a wide distribution, this begs the question of what do turtles eat?

In this article, we'll explore what sea turtles like to eat, and how they forage and hunt. Additionally, we'll delve into the different diets of wild, pet, and baby turtles. So, let's take a closer look at what turtles like to eat the most!

What do turtles like to eat?

Box turtle (Terrapene carolina) walking on grass.
Box turtles are omnivores and will eat just about anything they can catch or forage.

© Elizabeth Spencer/Shutterstock.com

With so many species living in different environments, it makes sense that each turtle would have its own preferred diet. While some sea turtles' diets consist primarily of plants, others are primarily carnivorous. That said, most sea turtles are omnivores and eat a wide variety of foods. To determine what a turtle eats, you only need to examine its physiology, habitat, and available food sources. For example, Galapagos tortoises eat cacti, flowers, leaves, and grass. Snapping turtles, on the other hand, primarily feed on fish, mollusks, amphibians, carrion, and small mammals. However, you can boil down most turtles' diets to about 15 different foods. They include:

  • green leafy vegetables
  • Worms, Slugs and Snails
  • insects and bugs
  • the flowers
  • fruit
  • vegetable
  • sea squirt and cucumber
  • grass, weeds and leaves
  • fish
  • Crustacean
  • algae
  • seaweed
  • sponge
  • jellyfish
  • squid

While some turtles eat other foods, the foods listed above are most commonly found. For example, many turtles will eat carrion if it is available. Additionally, carnivorous turtles may also eat small mammals or amphibians. Since turtles don't care about their young, they will occasionally eat their own eggs and those of other animals.

How do sea turtles forage and find food?

spiny softshell turtle
Softshell turtles will bury themselves in sand or mud and then ambush unsuspecting prey.

© dwi putra stock/Shutterstock.com

The first sea turtles appeared in the late Permian period, about 260 million years ago. At the time, many turtles had teeth, unlike modern toothless turtles. Without teeth, most turtles today either swallow their food whole or break it into small pieces before swallowing. To hold onto food, many sea turtles have evolved beaks to bite and chew their food. The beaks of carnivorous turtles look smooth and sharp, while the beaks of omnivorous turtles are serrated, which helps them cut and break down plant matter. On the other hand, some turtles, such as soft-shelled turtles, evolved soft lips instead of beaks.

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Depending on their diet, sea turtles use different techniques to hunt or forage. They use their well-developed eyesight to distinguish patterns and shapes, and some, like sea turtles, can distinguish colors. Sea turtles can also locate prey and predators by scent. While most sea turtles can hear, their hearing is not well developed or adapted to hunting prey. Lipped turtles may use their lips as bait to lure prey. Some turtles will bury themselves at the bottom of rivers or lakes, waiting for unsuspecting prey to swim by. Turtles are good swimmers due to their lighter build and webbed feet, which allow them to chase slower prey. When food is not readily available, some turtles will hunt for carrion on the bottom of lakes or rivers.

What do wild sea turtles eat?

Green sea turtle swimming along a tropical coral reef, Bonaire
Green turtles eat mostly algae and seagrass.

© Isabelle Kuhn/Shutterstock.com

As mentioned earlier, sea turtles eat foods that are suitable for them, which are abundant in their environment. That said, some sea turtles have adapted to highly specific diets. Sea turtles are the best example of specialization in turtle diets. Although technically omnivorous, hawksbills primarily feed on sponges, but they also eat other marine plants and animals. Meanwhile, scientists call leatherback turtles gelatinous animals because their diet consists almost entirely of jellyfish and sea squirts. Adult green turtles, on the other hand, feed primarily on algae and seagrass. They represent the only one of seven species of sea turtles that are primarily herbivorous.

Most species of soft-shelled turtles eat a strictly carnivorous diet. These turtles live in fresh or brackish water in Africa, Asia, and North America. Their diet consists of fish, shrimp, crabs, insects, snails, eggs, amphibians, and occasionally small birds or mammals. At the same time, many tortoises eat a primarily herbivorous diet. Their diet consists primarily of grasses, leaves, weeds, flowers, vegetables and fruits, with some insects and other animal matter. Common fruits and vegetables include dandelions, mustard greens, leafy greens, and berries.

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At the same time, some foods are poisonous to turtles. In addition to dairy products, processed meats, and carbohydrate-rich vegetables, eating several plants can harm turtles. Poisonous plants include amaryllis, avocado leaves and seeds, gardenia, Carolina jasmine, ivy, boxwood, pyracantha, poinsettia, primrose, and others.

What Do Pet Turtles Eat?

What Pet Turtles Eat
Your pet turtle's diet will vary depending on its species. Always consult your veterinarian or pet store specialist before feeding your turtle a new food.

© AZ-Animals.com

Turtles are commonly kept as pets in the United States. To be exact, there are more than 2 million tortoises currently living as household pets, and their popularity continues to grow. Although most people think of sea turtles as low-maintenance pets, sea turtles require a lot of professional care. Sea turtles require specialized diets, and certain species should avoid certain types of food. In general, omnivorous turtles will eat a variety of foods including pellets, forage fish, insects, fruits and vegetables. At the same time, tortoises should mainly eat vegetables and some fruits.

If you own a herbivorous tortoise or tortoise, its diet should consist primarily of green leafy vegetables or vegetables. Popular choices include lettuce, kale, and cabbage, as well as small amounts of beans, mushrooms, corn, carrots, and cucumbers. Collectively, these foods should make up about 70 to 80 percent of a tortoise's diet. The remaining 20 to 30 percent should consist of fruit and a small amount of insects or high-protein meats. Low-sugar fruits work best, such as berries and melons, as well as small amounts of pears, apples and mangoes.

Alternatively, if you own a carnivorous freshwater turtle, you will need to feed primarily high-protein animal products. For insects and bugs, think worms, larvae, snails, slugs, crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, and mealworms. Additionally, you can include small amounts of crayfish, farmed fish or shrimp in your predatory turtle's diet. Additionally, you can include small amounts of turtle pellets in your pet's diet. These supplements contain a blend of essential proteins, vitamins, and nutrients to help keep your turtle healthy. While omnivorous turtles can eat fruit, they should eat small amounts of fruit, while carnivorous turtles should eat little to no fruit. Always make sure to source food from reputable sources and avoid the use of pesticides or other harmful substances.

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What do little turtles eat?

Little leatherback turtle goes surfing
Baby turtles can fend for themselves and usually eat an omnivorous high-protein diet until they are older and their tastes are adapted.


In the wild, the first food most hatchlings eat is their own embryonic egg fluid and egg yolk. This food will allow the baby turtles to eat for a few days until they are strong enough to leave the nest to forage and hunt. As with adults, the diet of hatchlings varies by environment, physical characteristics, and species. Omnivorous baby turtles will eat a variety of grasses, fruits, small fish, insects and worms. Meanwhile, carnivorous hatchlings mainly eat grubs, insects, beetles, worms, slugs, snails, small fish, and crayfish. That said, in general, omnivorous hatchlings need more protein than adults. Whatever you feed your baby turtle, cut its food into smaller pieces to make eating easier for your pet turtle.

In addition to natural foods, your pet baby turtle can also include supplements in its diet. You can buy these supplements from pet stores or online, and they come in granules, flakes, sticks, or gels. These supplements contain mostly protein, followed by fat, fiber, ash, and some vitamins and minerals. Common ingredients in turtle supplements include:

  • fish meal
  • corn soybean meal
  • poultry meal
  • meat meal
  • fish oil
  • vitamins
  • preservative

Always consult your pet store veterinarian or specialist when deciding on supplements. This way you can get your baby turtle the right supplements optimized for its diet.


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Green sea turtle swimming on the Great Barrier Reef
Green sea turtle swimming on the Great Barrier Reef

© iStock.com/Colin_Davis

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