One of the most important factors in keeping your box turtle healthy is its diet. That will also apply to every other animal including humans. Getting your turtle to eat the proper nutritious foods means you’ll have to take into consideration the food groups, quantities, and feeding frequency. You’ll also have to consider other factors like the time of year, your turtle’s age, and his current health status. Your goal is to provide your box turtle with a similar diet to the one it would eat in the wild.
Box turtles are omnivores so they will eat mostly fruits and insects. Their diet will mostly consist of: berries, flowers, fallen fruit, mushrooms, beetles, snails, earthworms, caterpillars, grubs, grass, fish, grasshoppers, spiders, millipedes, and frogs. However, box turtles in captivity have a diet that varies from their wild counterpart. They will eat berries, carrots, green beans, worms, bell peppers, squash, mice, crickets, cooked chicken, eggs, melon, greens like collard and mustard, flowers like hibiscus, and commercial turtle food. The animal matter should form most of your box turtle’s diet and the rest should be leafy greens and fruits.
Feeding a box turtle
As mentioned earlier, box turtles are omnivorous which means they eat animal and plant foods, but some turtles like the ornate box turtle that has very sharp eyes and a keen sense of smell eat insects. Young box turtles up to 4-6 years old, tend to be carnivorous while the adults are herbivorous. Different species of box turtles have slightly different nutritional needs so to understand what to feed your box turtle, you can consult a veterinarian. The best time to feed your box turtle is after it has had a few hours of basking in the sun or heat lamp in the morning to warm himself up. Turtles are motivated by the sight and smell of the food, so a varied and colorful diet will be very enticing.
Beyond turtles being picky eaters, it’s not uncommon for box turtles to go on a hunger strike or suddenly stop eating a particular type of food when they were happy eating a balanced and healthy diet a week ago. it’s hard at times to convince your turtle to eat healthy foods like leafy greens, but box turtles are naturally drawn to insects and bright soft fruits so you can easily entice them with them. Apart from being stubborn, an outright refusal to eat may be a sign of stress or your turtle is preparing for a change in seasons.
Always remember to wash your hands before and after handling your box turtle’s items and food to avoid carrying and spreading the salmonella bacteria from your turtle to your loved ones.
Baby box turtle diet
For the first 12 months of the hatchling box turtle’s life, they will need a different diet than the juvenile turtles. You should feed them every day, but limit their snack intake to a small piece every other day. Baby box turtles require a higher amount of animal protein and sprinkle some calcium supplements on their food to achieve the correct ratio of their food and help in shell growth and bone health. Baby box turtles don’t like to eat plant material in the first few months of their life but keep including it in their diet and sooner or later their bodies will crave vitamins and minerals on plant matter.
Baby box turtles can be picky eaters, but you need to be patient and always provide them with a healthy diet. Although they will love eating fruits, don’t overfeed them. Try different meats and greens to find out their favorites. Your baby box turtle may take a few weeks to get used to eating a healthy diet, but it will be better in the long run.
Adult box turtle diet
As the box turtle continues to grow and reach adulthood, its calorie intake reduces, and to help its body adapt to these changes, you should reduce the frequency of feeding time to every other week or once after 3 days. On the days you’re not feeding your adult turtle, you can offer him some of his favorite turtles treats as small snacks and sometimes let your box turtle fast for a whole day every week or so. You should aim for a diet that consists of 60% animal protein, 30% veggies, and 10% fruit. Feed your box turtle 2 or 3 types of meat, dust the insects with some calcium carbonate, and include veggies and some fruit. Most turtles love eating fruits, but they aren’t as nutritional as veggies so you should feed them in moderation.
The diet composition of an adult box turtle includes:
An outdoor box turtle will most likely hunt wild insects and other vertebrates on its own, but an indoor box turtle is careful not to feed its items exposed to pesticides. The best type of insects to give your turtle you can get them from your local pet store or bait shops. The best is live or canned, bagged-moist, or freeze-dried. These include crickets, caterpillars, earthworms, snails, grasshoppers, slugs, beetles, spiders, roaches, feeder fish, eggs, commercial turtle food, moistened dog food, cooked beef meat and organs, cooked chicken, shrimp, and other vertebrates.
Veggies and fruits
Provide a wide variety of fruits and veggies to your box turtle daily to give him a balanced diet. Make sure to clean them and they should be pesticide-free and since you can never be too sure of the food you buy, go for organic foods. Pay more attention to the calcium and phosphorous balance in the foods in your turtle’s diet to prevent metabolic bone disease. Aim for a ratio of 2:1 of calcium to phosphorous will help maintain a healthy diet.
Foods with good calcium to phosphorous ratio include apples, green beans, papaya, Chinese and green cabbage, butternut squash, raspberries, grapes, romaine lettuce (limit the amount), and blackberries. Also dark leafy veggies parsley, collard greens, spinach, mustard greens, endive, dandelion, beet tops, and kale. Be careful when feeding these greens because they contain high oxalates which can bind the calcium in box turtles and become counterproductive.
Some other veggies and fruits you can feed your box turtle include watermelon, broccoli, strawberries, cucumbers, pears, mangoes, lemons, bananas, apricots, oranges, kiwi, cranberries, peaches, plums, and cherries. Chop the tough and hard into small pieces for easier feeding.
Commercial box turtle food
Commercial box turtle foods are available and make a good supplement you can mix with other fresh foods. Your turtle’s vitamins and minerals supplements will depend on whether your turtle is indoors or outdoors. However, it’s best to sprinkle some calcium and multivitamin supplements on your turtle food at least a few times a week. If you keep your turtle outdoors where there’s natural light, it will produceits vitamin D and you won’t need to add a vitamin supplement in his diet only a calcium supplement to prevent metabolic bone disease.
Important minerals and vitamins in your box turtle’s diet
Your box turtle needs the correct amounts of calcium, phosphorous, and vitamin D3 in his food to get the right nutrients for good growth.
Calciumis a mineral that is mostly obtained from foods and supplements. It’s absorbed into the blood system by your turtle’s intestines until it’s used for building bones and other organ functions. For the calcium to be used by the body, there needs to be a proper balance of phosphorous and vitamin D. If your turtle doesn’t get enough calcium, its body will try and balance the calcium and phosphorous in its blood by taking the calcium in its bones leading to metabolic bone disease.
Phosphorous is also a mineral found in most foods your turtle eats so you don’t need a supplement, but you can get a calcium supplement that contains vitamin D3 without the phosphorous.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important for good vision and health and is mostly found in foods like carrots, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, cod liver oil, and winter squash. A vitamin A deficiency can cause upper respiratory problems and eye infections so you should provide your box turtle with foods rich in vitamin A regularly.
This is also another important vitamin that is produced by your box turtle’s body when it’s exposed to sunlight or any other UVB light source. This vitamin is important as it helps to convert calcium into useable compounds.
Additional box turtle feeding tips
Here are a few tips that will help you to ensure that your box turtle eats properly.
- Don’t overfeed your turtle with live food like crickets or mealworms because he will lose interest in eating plain meals and veggies.
- Make sure you vary your box turtle’s diet to keep him interested in his food. If you mostly feed him commercial turtle food, feed him different quality brands to vary the taste.
- Be careful when feeding your box turtle fruits. Although turtles love fruits, veggies should be the staple of their fresh diet.
- If you have more than one box turtle in an enclosure, make sure each has his own feeding spot so they can feed separately.
- Feed your box turtle after misting him and his enclosure, a rainfall, or a thunderstorm.
- Avoid placing your turtle’s food in direct sunlight, especially during the hot summer months.
- Some turtles are shy feeders so you can place their food in a hidden box or under a shrub or at a corner.
Foods you should never feed your box turtle
There is a wide variety of foods you can give your box turtle, but there are a few foods turtles should never eat. These turtles can tolerate almost anything they eat in moderation and can even eat poisonous mushrooms without any adverse effects. But there’s not much information on how much they can eat these foods or why they can tolerate them. However, to be on the safe side, avoid giving your box turtle known poisonous foods. Such foods include poisonous ivy, avocado peels, leaves, and seeds, tomato leaves and vines, and leaves of potatoes, rhubarb, and tobacco.
Apart from toxic plants, there are other foods and food products that humans eat but shouldn’t be shared with box turtles.
Turtles in the wild don’t eat dairy products. Reptiles are lactose intolerant so dairy products like yogurt, milk, cheese, and other dairy products aren’t good for your box turtle.
Such products like canned food, lunch meat, and sausages, or any other food with a high salt content or preservatives aren’t good for humans but we choose to eat them. However, your box turtle depends on you for his food and they would never find such foods in the wild, so don’t feed your turtle such foods.
This category of food include things like chocolate, candy, and other products made from refined sugars. Technically they’re edible but they’re not very nutritious and your turtle wouldn’t find them in the wild and would have a hard time trying to metabolize them.
What are box turtle water requirements?
Box turtles need constant access to water for drinking, soaking, and wading so fresh water should always be available for them at all times. Provide water in a shallow dish or pan that will allow your box turtle to easily climb in and out when he needs a drink or soak. The water level should be about a quarter of its shell height or it should reach its chin when its head is out of its shell. Turtles will often defecate in the water, so make sure to clean the water bowl and refill it frequently or as many times as your turtle defecates or urinates in the water bowl. Use a water bottle sprayer to mist your turtle a few times a week to keep it hydrated.
Common feeding mistakes
If it’s your first time to own a reptile, it will take time to know how to properly feed your turtle and there will be some common feeding mistakes that you will commit. Most of these mistakes can harm your box turtle’s health and even decrease his lifespan drastically. The good news is you can avoid these mistakes with some knowledge, a bit of practice, and a consistent routine.
One of the most common mistakes is feeding your turtle too much or too little vitamin A
A very high level of vitamin A can cause your turtle to become underweight and malnourished, but you can prevent this by feeding you turtle foods rich in vitamin A like sweet potatoes, spinach, mustard greens, carrots, butternut, liver, turnip, winter squash, and dandelion greens.
Another common problem is starvation, especially during the winter months
If your turtle feels lighter and severely dehydrated, it could be because you haven’t fed it properly. A great way to rehydrate your turtle is to soak him in water overnight. Feed your turtle a balanced and nutritious diet to keep it well-fed, especially during the winter.
This is a very common disease in reptiles that is caused by a lack of calcium in their diet. You can easily prevent this disease if you sprinkle a calcium supplement on your turtle’s food at least twice a month.
A guide for the best supplements and treats for your box turtle
Herptivite is a multivitamin, multi-mineral, and amino acid supplement for reptiles like your box turtle. It’s formulated with natural source ingredients with a sea vegetation base. It doesn’t contain any preservative, flavoring, sugar, starch, or artificial coloring that can harm your turtle. It has the exact levels of vitamins and minerals combination for the perfect balance. The beta-carotene in this supplement is an antioxidant that is converted to vitamin A in a regulated way so that it’s not too much.
This scientifically formulated food is a great daily diet to give to your young turtle. This diet food is easy to digest and contains calcium, vitamin C, and other nutrients that will support good health and vitality. It also contains high-quality proteins and essential amino acids to promote healthy growth. You can feed this diet food to your turtle at least once or twice a day.
This reptile fruit mix treats contain nutritious sun-dried and freeze-dried ingredients with high beneficial vitamins. These fruit treats are convenient and very easy to prepare where you only need to add water to rehydrate them and they’re ready to be consumed. It provides a nutritious variety of food items from natural ingredients for your box turtle to enjoy. You can mix it in your turtle’s daily diet to provide variety in the food.
This is a great calcium supplement for your box turtle, especially if you keep your turtle indoors. It will help in improving healthy bones and your turtle’s overall bodily functions. It also contains vitamin D3 that will help in converting calcium into useable compounds. You simply sprinkle the powder on your turtle’s food before feeding him.
Box turtles have specific dietary needs to ensure they remain in good health. You can provide a well-balanced diet by combining common grocery store items from several food groups with some backyard insects and worms. By varying your box turtle’s diet, you are increasing his chances of getting the vitamins and minerals his body needs to stay healthy and also reduce his chances of being fixated on a few foods.