What Do Land Turtles Eat?

By Jacob Reis

Land turtles, like the box turtle, make great pets. Their hardy nature and friendly disposition make them ideal for families with children, dogs or cats. Knowing what to feed your turtle is one of the most important aspects of caring for your pet, and it's not always as easy as one might expect. Fortunately, there are guidelines that you can follow.

Know Your Turtle

Turtles are completely different than tortoises. Turtles swim well and tend to live around water, while tortoises can be found in grasslands, rocky outcrops on islands and even in the desert. Their diets differ as widely as their habitats do. While many tortoises are vegetarians, land turtles require meat. Different species of turtles come from different parts of the world and as such, have different diets in the wild. The most commonly kept land turtle in the United States is the box turtle. These turtles are able to close up inside their shell almost completely to avoid predators, like a box closing its flaps, hence their name. If you aren't sure what type of turtle you have, consult a herpetologist -- reptile scientist-- before changing your turtle's diet.

Box Turtle Diet

Box turtles, while young, consume significantly more meat than vegetable matter. As they grow, this ratio balances out. Offering both meat and vegetables to your pet turtle and allowing her to choose will let her get the nutrients she knows she needs. In the wild, box turtles eat slugs, snails, earthworms, grasshoppers, crickets and even carrion -- the carcasses of dead frogs or ducks -- to get their meat. At home, you can feed them:

  • Earthworms from the local bait shop
  • Crickets from the pet store
  • Mealworms as a special treat. Avoid overfeeding with mealworms, as these are relatively low in nutritional value.
  • Wet dog food made with chicken, with the gravy washed off, can be used periodically.

The wild box turtle is exposed to myriad choices of plant matter to munch on, but at home your typical salad mix with lettuce, cucumbers, mushrooms, etc. complemented with blueberries and strawberries will suffice. Try different veggies to see what your turtle prefers. These turtles also are known to love bananas, but just as with mealworms, these should be used as a special treat.

Meal Times and Feeding Schedule

While box turtles kept as pets readily adapt to their new diet, they may not as quickly adapt to your mealtimes and feeding schedule. In the wild, turtles eat in the morning, especially during and after rains, as that's when the earthworms and slugs come out. For the best results, feed your box turtle in the morning as well. Box turtles in the wild may not even look for food on a dry, clear morning. Since the turtles can sense the change in atmospheric pressure that accompanies weather disturbances, your turtle may refuse to eat on some dry, clear mornings.

Following these guidelines, you can provide your turtle with the fare and spread she needs to live healthy, happy, long and strong.