In Part I of this article, we discussed the role played by plants in the diets of popular North American “basking” turtles such as Red-Eared and Yellow-Bellied Sliders, Map, Red-Bellied and Chicken Turtles, and Cooters.
Useful Plants and Vegetables
As your turtles grow out of the hatchling stage, I suggest offering dandelion, bok choy, kale, mustard and collared greens, romaine, endive and vegetables such as shredded yams, carrots, and squash.
Prolific aquatic plants such as Elodea, Anachris, Watersprite, Duckweed, Water Hyacinth and various underwater grasses (i.e. Vallisneria), easily reared in outdoor tubs or ponds, are also eagerly accepted by many turtles. Keep a few guppies or minnows in your water garden to consume mosquito larvae, or net the larvae as food for fishes, newts and other aquatic pets.
Spinach, beet leaves and other vegetables that are high in oxalic acid should be avoided, as they have been implicated in the formation of stones and other problems.
Persuading Reluctant Feeders
Turtles that have been fed a meat or fish-based diet are often reluctant to try vegetables. Persist in your efforts, however (fasting periods help), as their digestive systems have evolved over eons to process plants – it follows that they are important to good health! You can give comparatively more greens than other foods to your turtles – a plus for those who enjoy feeding their pets on a daily basis.
One useful trick I use is to mix live blackworms in with greens – the worms, a universal favorite, become entangled in the vegetation, some of which may be consumed by over-eager turtles.
Carnivorous Turtles and a Surprise
Many aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles include little if any vegetation in their diets. Chief among these are most of the Musk and Mud Turtles, Spotted Turtles, Diamondbacks and the various Softshells.
Surprisingly, the Common Snapping Turtle, a voracious predator of animals ranging from tadpoles to ducks, also has distinct vegetarian leanings. Their preferences seem to be very individualistic, but some specimens include many aquatic plants in their diets.
Please see my article Reptile Gardens to read about growing your own food for your pets.