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Slider and other Semi-Aquatic Turtle Diets – Vegetables and Greens – Part 1

Southern Painted TurtleSome of the most popular semi-aquatic (or “basking”) pet turtles, such as Red-Eared and Yellow-Bellied Sliders, Map Turtles, Cooters and Chicken Turtles, eagerly accept fish and other animal-based foods – so eagerly, in fact, that it is easy to forget that most are omnivorous, and not carnivorous, by nature.

Natural Dietary Shifts

In the wild, the world’s most popular pet turtle, the Red-Eared Slider, starts life as a meat-eater but consumes ever more aquatic plants as it matures.  By adulthood, vegetation forms the bulk of the diet, although this varies a bit among populations (Red-Eared Sliders are, after all, the most adaptable of all turtles, with introduced populations thriving on every continent save Antarctica!).  The same applies to the various Painted Turtles (Eastern, Midland, Southern, Western), the Chicken Turtle and the Cooters – as they mature, over 90% of the diet may be comprised of plants.

Map Turtles vary by species and population as regards their diet – most consume more plants as they mature, but tend to remain largely carnivorous.  Some Map Turtles exhibit unique strategies.  For example, female Barbour’s Map Turtles (Graptemys barbouri) are specialized predators of crayfishes, clams and snails, while the much smaller males take insects, carrion and plants.

Captive Diets

Many commercial Aquatic Turtle Diets provide excellent nutrition and can serve as a dietary mainstay, and there is some evidence that diet of Reptomin and Freeze Dried Krill meets all the nutritional needs of several species.

However, I’ve always found it preferable to include a good amount of whole, natural foods in turtle diets, especially where less well-studied species are concerned.  The shift from animal-based to plant-based foods is a very definite phenomenon in nature, and may very well hold the key to captive longevity and reproduction for some types of turtles.


Further Reading

An interesting study of the diets of wild Red-Eared Sliders and River Cooters is posted here.

Even baby Sliders will take greens, as this YouTube video shows.

Southern Painted Turtle image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Aka

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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