Aquatic turtles are entertaining, quiet, and not too complex to care for once you understand the individual species needs. The life of an aquatic turtle can span more than 20 years, a significant commitment for anyone considering owning them as pets. When it comes to their necessities, caring for their specific nutritional needs is important to ensure they live a healthy, happy life.
Environment & Eating Habits
Aquatic turtles live partially in water, occasionally spending time on land. They eat and swallow with their head fully submerged underwater, so feeding them on land will not work for many species. The environment is important, and can significantly affect their eating habits, so the general advice is to feed aquatic turtles in a separate tank, to cater to their messy habits and allow owners to monitor their eating. They also will require constant variety in diet, as aquatic turtles become easily bored at the same old grub and may even refuse to eat if they don’t fancy it, so try switching it up every now and then!
The frequency in which turtles should be fed depends entirely on their age. Baby turtles may need to be fed, up to twice a day, smaller/juvenile turtles expecting daily meals. As they age, adult turtles eat typically every two to three days, provided the portions are decent.
The diet of an aquatic turtle varies across species, but should consist of protein and vegetables. Turtles are omnivores, eating both plants and meat – which can come from a myriad of sources when applied to captivity feeding.
Whilst a wild turtle’s diet cannot be exactly replicated in the wild, there are suitable store-bought alternatives for owners to try. Earthworms, bloodworms, glassworms (a type of seasonal mosquito larvae that are high in fat, so should only be fed occasionally for variety) are easily accessible options. Whole fish are a suitable balanced prey item, with live fish offering a source of environmental enrichment for a turtle’s meal. Feeder fish species that are recommended for an aquatic turtles dinner include Guppies, Platies, Swordtails, and Cyprinis fish (such as Minnows and Goldfish, however these should not be fed in excess). Avoiding Oily fish (Tuna, maceral, and herring etc) is suggested, as they are deficient in vitamin E and contain excessive quantities of unsaturated fatty acids. Dried ant eggs, larvae, shrimp, insects, or mealworms should be avoided due to their imbalanced nutritional value.
Commercially available pellets are a necessary form of protein for captive aquatic turtles. They are a great source of vitamins and minerals, filling the nutritional gap of the prey they’d usually have eaten in the wild. They’re much denser than whole foods, so should be fed in lower quantities. They come in many sizes and varieties, all catered for your pet’s specific needs, considering age and species. The larger sized pellets are ideal for large turtles, as they float well on water, whereas smaller pellets sink quickly, which is no problem for the smaller, or more juvenile turtles. The age-dependant pellet varieties include:
• Growth Pellets
• Maintenance Pellets
• Mature Pellets
Growth pellets are as you’d expect; pellets that promote and aid growth. They are packed with more protein and calcium, ideal for baby turtles, or more carnivorous turtles. Maintenance pellets are designed to imitate a change in dietary preference from animal to plant matter. This change applies to many turtles, as they age and mature, so does their diet, in some cases becoming more omnivorous or herbivorous.
A balanced diet for aquatic turtles basically consists of protein and vegetables, and should be continuously varied. Vegetables are an important component, and should be the majority of their diet, as they provide necessary sources of calcium. Dark leafy greens are the advisable vegetables, we’d suggest romaine lettuce (not iceberg or head lettuce – they have little nutritional value as they’re mostly water already!), collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, water cress, and turnip greens, to name just a few.
Anti-Nutrient plants to avoid
Some plants have naturally occurring phytochemicals that hamper the ability of nutrient absorption, so should not be fed frequently at the risk of serious health consequences.
Firstly, foods containing Glucosinolates, that interfere with the metabolism of dietary iodine, which include bokchoy, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, and cauliflower. Next up is Oxalates. Oxalates are phytochemicals found in many plants, that bind and inhibit the absorption of dietary calcium. Oxalatehigh foods include beet greens, broccoli, carrots, cilantro, pears, tomatoes, and strawberries. Another anti-nutrient phytochemical to look out for are Phytates. Phytates bind to calcium, zinc, iron, and other minerals, hindering their use in the body, as well as interfering with protein digestion. They are typically found in legumes and grains. Tannins are another notable phytochemical found in bananas, carrots, grapes, onions, and spinach, which render protein unusable in the body.