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What Do Painted Turtles Eat? (Guide to Painted Turtle Diet)

Painted turtles are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals. In the wild, their diet consists of aquatic plants, invertebrates, and small vertebrates. In captivity, they can be fed a wide variety of foods, including commercial turtle pellets and animal proteins like insects and worms.

Painted turtles are one of the most popular species of pet turtles. They are relatively small, hardy, and have a long lifespan. Whether you have a pet painted turtle or are considering getting one, it is important to understand their dietary needs in order to ensure that your pet remains healthy and well-nourished.

This guide will provide an overview of what painted turtles eat in the wild and in captivity, as well as what to feed and not feed your pet turtle.

What Do Painted Turtles Eat?

Painted turtles are omnivores, meaning that they eat both plants and animals. Painted turtles can survive on a diverse range of foods including small fish and invertebrates (animals without backbones), algae, aquatic plants, mushrooms, flowers, and even insects. They also feed on carrion (dead animal tissue) from time to time.[1]

The diet of a painted turtle can vary considerably depending on the season.

For example, during the spring and summer months when food is more plentiful, painted turtles tend to eat more plant matter than they do during the fall and winter. 

This change in diet is likely due to the fact that plants are less nutritious than meat, so less of them are needed to sustain the painted turtle’s body.

How Do Painted Turtles Eat

How Do Painted Turtles Find Food?

Wild painted turtles forage by either sitting at the bottom of a river, completely motionless or by skimming the surface of the water for algae.

Painted turtles have a number of adaptations that allow them to find food underwater:

  • Excellent eyesight.
  • Long neck muscles that help them extend their necks out of the water to look for prey.
  • Strong jaws.
  • Protruding jawbones that act as teeth.

When hunting for food, painted turtles often sit motionless at the bottom of a pond or river, waiting for an unsuspecting victim to swim by. 

Once they spot their prey, they quickly extend their necks and snatch them up with their powerful jaws.[2]

What Do Painted Turtles Eat In the Wild?

Wild painted turtles are opportunistic omnivores. Their diet typically consists of small fish, snails, insects, worms, crayfish, and aquatic vegetation. The specifics of their prey depend on their habitat.

Turtles that live in ponds and lakes tend to eat more fish and crayfish, while those living in marshes and swamps eat more insects, snails, and worms. 

This difference can be attributed to the different ecosystems across the painted turtles’ diverse habitats.

Aquatic vegetation is an important part of the diet of all subspecies of painted turtles. They are known to occasionally eat berries, mushrooms, and other terrestrial vegetation when it is available.

The type and amount of vegetation consumed vary depending on the availability of other food sources.[3]

In general, painted turtles are extremely versatile when it comes to their diet. They consume virtually anything that can fit in their mouth. This allows them to survive even in habitats with limited food options.

How Do Painted Turtles Find Food

What Do Painted Turtles Eat In Captivity?

A diet for a painted turtle pet should mimic its natural diet as closely as possible. This means that the diet should consist of both animal and plant matter. Captive painted turtles eat live insects and fish, turtle pellets, and fresh vegetables.

A variety of fresh, frozen, and live foods can be offered to pet turtles. 

Common meat-based options include

  • earthworms
  • crickets
  • snails
  • small fish.

Painted turtles can also eat a wide variety of aquatic plants, algae, and vegetables.

Some pet owners recommend providing their pet turtles with a mix of different foods for optimal nutrition. Some feed their painted turtles a diet that includes vegetables such as carrots and squash in addition to the traditional protein-based options.[4]

Overall, pet turtle owners should take care to feed their pets a wide variety of foods in order to ensure that they get all the nutrients they need.

Related: How to Take Care of a Painted Turtle

What Do Painted Turtles Eat In Captivity
Image Source

What to Feed a Painted Turtle

Feed your pet painted turtle a balance of commercial turtle pellets, live insects and small fish, and fresh vegetables and aquatic plants.

Turtle Pellets

Turtle Pellets
Image Source

A high-quality turtle pellet is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for your painted turtle. Pellets ensure your pet painted turtle receives the broad range of nutrients they would get in the wild.

It is important to choose a pellet that has been specifically formulated for turtles or tortoises. This ensures your pet gets the right balance of nutrients for healthy growth.[5]

There are several brands of turtle pellets available on the market. Talk to your veterinarian or reptile specialist to find the best food for your pet turtle.

Protein Sources

In addition to turtle pellets, you can also provide your painted turtle with protein from a variety of different sources.

Live insects, such as crickets or mealworms, are an excellent source of protein that can help to keep your pet turtles healthy and energized.

Alternatively, you can give your pet painted turtle fish or other seafood, such as tuna or shrimp.


Raw organic Swiss Chard

Another important component of your pet painted turtles’ diet is plant matter. 

Some good sources of plant matter include aquatic plants like algae and duckweed, but many common vegetables are also suitable:

  • Green beans
  • Mustard greens
  • Carrot tops
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Swiss chard
  • Clover
  • Dandelion greens

How Often Should I Feed My Painted Turtle?

Hatchlings and juveniles should be fed daily as they have higher metabolisms for growth. Adults can be fed 2 to 3 times per week or every second day. Allow them to eat as much as they can within a 10-minute period.

If you are feeding your pet turtle live food, it is important to only give them as much as they can eat in one sitting.

Uneaten food can dirty the water and lead to health problems for your pet turtle. You can also choose to feed your turtle in a separate tank to keep their enclosure clean. 

This is strongly recommended if you have multiple turtles, to prevent any aggression around food.

Life StageFeeding Frequency
Hatchling 0–3 monthsTwice daily
Juvenile 3 months–4 yearsDaily
Adult 4+ years2–3 times per week[6]

What Can Painted Turtles Not Eat?

Painted turtles should not be given any processed human foods, as these can contain unhealthy levels of sugar, salt, and fat. In addition, painted turtles should not be given any bread or other carbohydrates, as these can lead to health problems.

Avoid fruit in your painted turtle’s diet, as the sugar content can be harmful to their health. A small amount of fruit as a rare treat is unlikely to cause any problems.

It is best to stick to a diet of fresh, frozen, or live foods that are specifically designed for turtles. This ensures your pet turtle gets all the nutrients they need to stay healthy and happy.

What Do You Feed a Wild Painted Turtle?

Do not feed wild painted turtles. It is important to leave it in its natural habitat and not disturb or interfere with its life. Fresh vegetables suffice if you need to feed a painted turtle in the short term.

It can be dangerous to get too close to wild animals, as they can carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans such as salmonella.

If you have concerns about the health of a wild painted turtle or believe that it is injured, you can contact a local reptile rescue or veterinarian for guidance on what to do.


Can Painted Turtles Eat Fruit?

Yes, in small amounts. While some fruits, such as grapes and bananas, should be avoided due to their high sugar content, a small amount of fruit is unlikely to cause problems for your pet painted turtle.

Can Painted Turtles Eat Chicken?

While chicken is not a natural part of a painted turtle’s diet, it can be given as an occasional treat. It is important to avoid giving your pet turtle processed chicken, as this can contain unhealthy levels of salt, fat, and other chemicals. Fresh, cooked chicken breast is the best option for your pet turtle.

Can Painted Turtles Eat Iceberg Lettuce?

No. Iceberg lettuce should not be given to pet turtles. While it is not harmful and would be happily eaten, it contains very little nutritional value. Stick to leafy greens, such as romaine or kale.

Can Painted Turtles Eat Cucumber?

Yes, in small amounts. Cucumber can be a nutritious part of your pet turtle’s diet.

Can Painted Turtles Eat Celery?

Yes, in small amounts. Celery is a good source of fiber and other nutrients that can help to keep your pet turtle healthy. However, it should be given sparingly as it can also contain high levels of sodium.

What Do Painted Turtles Like to Eat the Most?

Painted turtles like to eat aquatic insects and crustaceans, insects, worms, and small reptiles for protein. They also eat a large number of plants found in their natural environment.

About Sophie Herlihy (Zoologist)

Sophie Herlihy, a trained zoologist, is a lover of true misfit animals. With a specialty in insects, birds, and rodents, she helps the Misfit Animals craft factual and valuable informational pieces on various animals.

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