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Tag Archives: Feeding Aquatic Turtles

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Slider and other Semi-Aquatic Turtle Diets – Vegetables and Greens – Part 2

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.  Read More »

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

Feeding Aquatic Turtles…the Problem of Water Clarity and Quality

Many aquatic turtles make wonderful pets, but nearly all share one troublesome trait – they are messy feeders, and keeping their water clear is often a major challenge.  Today I’d like to present a simple, time-saving feeding technique and review some helpful products such as undergravel filters and gravel washers.

Separate Feeding Containers

In both zoo collections and with my own aquatic pets, I have found removing the turtles from their aquarium for feeding to be the most effective way of maintaining water quality.  Nearly all turtles adjust readily to this, and feed without difficulty in plastic tubs or other easily-cleaned containers.  I’ve had difficulties only with a few retiring species, such as mata mata turtles (Chelus fimbriatus) and giant soft-shelled turtles (Pelochelys bibroni).  For these, extra space and cover in the form of floating plants did the trick.

Leave the turtles in their feeding container for 20 minutes or so after they finish eating, unless such is stressful for them (turtles are very perceptive…some are uncomfortable in strange surroundings and will try to escape after feeding).  Elimination is swift, and many pass stored wastes shortly after eating.

Partial Water Changes

In terms of water clarity and ammonia management, partial water changes are as important for turtles as for aquarium fishes.  Soft-shelled and Fly River turtles (Carettochelys insculpta) are particularly sensitive to poor water quality, but it is a concern for all species.

When doing a water change, use a gravel washer to pull water from the very bottom of the aquarium.  This is a good idea even if you keep your turtles in a bare bottomed tank, and essential if you use gravel as a substrate.

I’ve found it very useful to siphon water from the aquarium into the feeding container at meal times – this assures frequent water changes and has allowed me to keep even quite large snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and giant musk turtle (Staurotypus triporcatus) aquariums crystal clear.

A Caution

One important point: do not start a siphon by drawing on its end with your mouth to fill the tube, as aquarium water should never be ingested.  Lee’s Self-starting Gravel Cleaner  is the best model to use with turtles.  If you choose a sink-compatible gravel cleaner, be sure to drain the waste water out a door or into a basement sink, and not to one used for food preparation.

Undergravel Filters

An undergravel filter will turn your entire filter bed into a living filtration unit.  Gravel washing and partial water changes are still necessary, but if powered by a suitably strong aquarium pump, an undergravel filter will go a long way in easing tank maintenance.  I use them either alone or in conjunction with canister or other mechanical filters, depending upon the circumstances.

Food Selection

For those times when you must feed your turtles within their aquarium, choosing a suitably-sized food item will assure that less of it winds up floating about and clouding the water.  Please check out our pelleted turtle foods  for some ideas as to the sizes that are available.

Further Reading

Large species such as snapping turtles and alligator snapping turtles are interesting, but pose serious husbandry difficulties for most hobbyists.  For some ideas and tips, please see my article The Captive Care of Snapping Turtles and Alligator Snapping Turtles.


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