Understanding the Dietary Habits of Baby Turtles

Understanding the Dietary Habits of Baby Turtles
Baby turtles are incredibly cute animals, and they make superb pets. However, these hatchlings are in a critical stage and to ensure that they live long and healthy lives, you must feed them with the best food that will nourish them and help them grow into strong adults.
Quick Tip!
Baby turtles are very messy eaters, as they often defecate while they are eating food. Keeping a secondary tank only for feeding purposes is a good idea, as it keeps its living habitat and water clean, and keeps you from having to change the water daily.

Baby turtles require much more care than an adult one. They are much more vulnerable to infections and diseases, and they are very sensitive to changes in their environment. Also, their feeding necessities keep changing as they grow. Turtle species, such as the red slider and green sea turtles, eat both plants and meat, while they prefer to eat only plants as adults. Other species, such as loggerhead and snapper turtles, have an omnivore diet throughout their lives.
So before you bring a baby turtle home, it is important that you study about the particular species in detail, on their food requirements. Read on to get a general idea about what kind of food is required by most baby turtles when in captivity, or when they are living in the wild.
What Do Baby Turtles Eat in the Wild?
Baby turtles in the wild, due to their small size and weak shells, are more likely to fall prey to almost anything bigger than them. Hence, it is noticed that they are omnivores, and the food they eat depends on what they can find easily in their vicinity.
  • Insects: Baby turtles need a lot of protein, and they gradually move towards plant matter as they mature. For this reason, insects, slugs, snails, and worms, that are smaller than them, are the first food choice for newborn turtles in the wild.
  • Plants and Flowers: Baby wild turtles are attracted to flowers with strong aromas. Also, they can eat some species of poisonous plants to protect themselves from predators. Some plants may also be consumed for their nutritional value.
  • Carcasses of Dead Animals: When fresh food is scarce, baby turtles may consume dead animals for nourishment, this is especially true of land turtles, who spend most of their time on the forest floor.
  • Live Prey: Wild turtles that live in the ocean or in rivers, often prey on small fish, which serves as a good source of protein. Other than fish, they eat, crabs, molluscs, jellyfish, and basically any animal that is smaller than them.

Diet Requirements for Pet Baby Turtles
Unlike wild turtles, those that are bred in captivity are totally dependent on their owners for food. Baby turtles need a balanced diet of proteins, vitamins, calcium, and fiber, to grow into strong, healthy adults. Most baby turtles eat the same kind of food; however, you will have to make species-specific inquiries with your vet, just to be sure. Aquatic turtles can only swallow their food when they are in water, which means that the feeding tank should be filled with enough water to cover the turtle. This is not necessary for land turtle species. The following food options are great for covering the nutritional needs of a baby turtle:
  • Commercial Pellets and Flakes: There are many varieties of food pellets and flakes, that are specially formulated for different turtle species. These pellets are usually good for the baby turtle's health, and pack most of the nutrients needed for their growth. Be sure to measure out the portions so that you don't overfeed the baby. However, baby turtles like to eat live food which moves; hence, you may find it a little difficult to persuade them to eat the pellets, but it's worth a shot. If pellets made for turtles are not available easily, fish food pellets or flakes can serve as a short-term substitute.
  • Meats: Baby turtles can be fed with tiny pieces of raw chicken, fish, or shrimp. However, try to avoid meats such as beef or lamb. It is absolutely essential that the meat be fresh and not any prepackaged type such hot dogs or nuggets. The preservatives in them can be very harmful. If you plan on cooking the meat before feeding the turtle, ensure that there is no spices or fatty items like butter added to it, Boiling in plain water is probably your best option.
  • Live Fish: If you want to replicate a natural environment for your pet aquatic baby turtle, adding live fish to the diet is a good choice. Small fish, such as minnows, guppies, baby shrimp, and baby goldfish, are preferred by turtles. One thing to keep in mind is that a baby turtle will not always be successful in hunting live fish, so provide other easy sources of food to ensure its nutrition.
  • Insects: You can get both live as well as dead feeder insects such as mealworms, bloodworms, grasshoppers, slugs, or larvae of mosquitoes. In this case too, live insects are preferred more than dead ones.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Some species of turtles, such as painted turtles, love eating fruits and vegetables even when they are babies; however, others such as mud turtles gain interest in this food only when they grow up. Experiment to see what kind of veggies and fruits your turtle prefers. Usually, grapes, apples, and cantaloupes are great fruit options, while among vegetables, choose highly nutritional types like kale or romaine lettuce. Avoid vegetables like iceberg lettuce, which provide no nutrition whatsoever.
  • Cuttlebone: A good strong shell and well-formed bones are very important for a healthy turtle. For that, calcium should be an essential component of the diet. Keeping tiny pieces of cuttlebone in the feeding tank, will provide enough calcium to fulfill your pet's need. Alternately, you can use crushed eggshells for the same purpose.

Safety Tips
  • Turtles can sometimes be carriers of salmonella bacteria; hence, you must wash your hands thoroughly after handling them.
  • Avoid feeding the turtles with your hands, as the turtle may bite your fingers, thinking it to be food. Although the bite of baby turtles is not very powerful, it is definitely very painful. Drop the pieces of food directly into the feeding tank instead.
  • It is important that the food you give a baby turtle be cut into very tiny pieces, as the risk of choking is quite high.
  • Initially, baby turtles are voracious eaters, so they need to be fed 2-3 times a day. However, make sure that the food portions are small enough to be eaten in half an hour. Excess food will rot and create an unhygienic environment in the tank.
  • Expose your turtle to sunlight for a little time everyday, as it provides necessary vitamin D, which is needed for good bones and shell.
Take care to feed the appropriate food to your baby turtle, to avoid causing health issues. The above guidelines should be able to help you keep your little pet in good shape.
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