Food for Aquatic Turtles

Red eared sliders and other aquatic species of turtles are easy to feed thanks to a variety of commercial pelleted turtle foods that are widely available. We get different brands donated to the rescue and do not recommend one over another. Whichever type you chose for your turtle, however, make sure it is age and size appropriate, as a turtle’s nutrition needs change over time.

  • Hatchling food is intended for baby turtles from the time they hatch until they are six to eight months old. Hatchling food is high in protein, fat, and calcium and is intended to support rapid growth. Hatchling food is very small and is sometimes called baby turtle food.
  • Juvenile food is for turtles up to four inches long and probably says “growth” somewhere on the label. Juvenile food is larger than the tiny hatchling pellets but is not too big for young turtles to swallow. The growth formulas are still high in protein, fat, and calcium, although not as high as the hatchling formula.
  • Adult, or maintenance, food, is appropriate for turtles over four inches long and can be used throughout a turtle’s adult life. The amount of protein and fat is reduced because the turtle’s growth rate is much slower as they age. Good adult turtle food should be fortified with calcium and other vitamins and minerals, especially if your turtle lives indoors.
  • Large or jumbo adult food is intended for older female turtles or large aquatic species who prefer a larger pellet size.
handful of chopped greens and grated carrot for turtles

Dandelion greens, swiss chard, and shredded carrots is one of our rescue turtles’ favorite veggie combos.

As they age, your turtle will be healthiest when provided fresh greens and vegetables in addition to pellets. Safe and healthy greens that our turtles enjoy include:

  • Green leaf lettuce
  • Red leaf lettuce
  • Swiss chard
  • Collard greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Kale
  • Arugula
  • Bok choy
  • Romaine (the least desirable but most readily available)

Other vegetables you can offer occasionally are:

  • Grated carrots
  • Grated squash
  • Sliced sweet potato
  • Green beans

If you are interested in keeping a turtle pet, please visit our adoption page for a care sheet, which includes all the housing and food basics, and to meet our adoptable red eared sliders.

Red Eared Invaders

Don’t get us wrong, we love red eared sliders. These friendly southeastern U.S. natives make wonderful pets. But red eared sliders are also one of the most invasive species on Earth, and people are at fault.

Because they are hardy and easy to breed, red eared sliders are the most popular turtle in the pet trade. They can be found everywhere from pet stores to flea markets. Sliders are often sold as quarter-sized babies in tiny plastic tanks. The problem is they don’t stay small.

large female red eared slider turtle sitting on basking dock

Big Mama came from the wild in 2019 after being hit by a car. Her shell is 11.5 inches long. She lives in a 150 gallon tank.

Male red eared sliders can reach six inches in shell length. The recommended minimum aquarium size for turtles is ten gallons per one inch of shell, so an adult male slider should have a 60-gallon aquarium. While the little plastic tank was doable, many people lack funds, space, or sufficient interest to properly house a turtle.

And that is just the males. What happens if that baby turtle turns out to be a female, who might grow to resemble half a basketball?

What happens, all too often, is people decide their growing pet turtles should be “free,” and release them into ponds and rivers. There, the sliders who survive (and many do – remember we said they were hardy turtles) take over. All it takes is one male in the mix, as a male may mate with many females, and suddenly there are hundreds of baby sliders. Red eared sliders are aggressive and can outcompete native turtles, like our painted turtles, for food and territory. Sliders also introduce disease into the native turtle populations. Outside of their native range, sliders are known to contribute to the decline of local species.

Thanks to the pet trade, red eared sliders have invaded almost every U.S. state and parts of Canada. They are also exported and are now found in ponds in Europe, Africa, and Asia. And everywhere sliders go, other turtles are in danger.

Keeping red eared sliders out of our native turtle habitats is part of Dancing Turtle’s mission. We take in sliders, recovered from the wild or surrendered, to rehome them or, in the case of the big females, to provide a safe place for them to live out their lives. A long-term goal is a pond enclosed by a fence just for our female sliders.

If you are interested in keeping a turtle pet, please visit our adoption page for a care sheet and to meet our adoptable red eared sliders.