Proper nutrition is essential for successful turtle keeping. In their natural habitats, turtles feed on a variety of different prey, such as dragonfly larvae, naucoris cimicoides, water scavenger beetles, nematocera larvae, water fleas, crustaceans and snails. Amphibian spawn such as tadpoles or salamander larvae also has its place in a turtle’s diet. Grasshoppers and other flying insects that occasionally land on the water surface are also eaten by turtles along with any caterpillars, beetles or worms that fall in. Healthy fish, however, are too quick for most turtles, so usually only sickly, weak or dead fish get caught. Many young turtles feed almost solely on animal foods; however, this is often insufficient to meet the nutritional needs of adult turtles. Therefore they tend to feed on the rich abundance of plants present in the water, at the same time consuming the small creatures that live on the vegetation. Nevertheless, the food supply in natural biotopes varies greatly over the course of the year, meaning that some prey is available in copious quantities in certain seasons and hardly at all in others. Turtles adapt to this natural rhythm and adjust to whatever food is on offer.
In order to respect the variety of food in their original habitat, turtles in a terrarium should be fed as varied a diet as possible. The feeding regime should therefore consist of the following different components:
- A high-quality complete diet in stick form, e.g. Tetra ReptoMin
- Supplements made from natural, untreated animal food sources, such as Tetra ReptoDelica Shrimps, Tetra ReptoDelica Grasshoppers and Tetra Gammarus Mix
- A moist food, for instance Tetra ReptoDelica Snack, as a healthy treat
- Live insects for variety
- Green plants for adult turtles to correspond to their overwhelmingly vegetarian diet
Tetra ReptoMin, a tried and tested product over many years, represents a healthy and flavoursome complete diet for all turtles. It contains all essential elements, for example plant ingredients, fish and fish by-products, plus molluscs and crustaceans, and has a high proportion of easy-to-digest protein. The minerals, especially the optimal calcium content, and added vitamins ensure that turtles receive balanced nourishment. For young turtles, Tetra ReptoMin Baby provides a complete diet that has been specially designed for this age group. At times when nutritional demands are higher, e.g. following treatment for disease, Tetra ReptoMin Energy can be used as a staple. This feed consists of over 55% krill and shrimps and is therefore rich in unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids. These natural fatty acids are high-quality energy boosters and hence see to it that turtle vitality and resilience are improved.
In terms of supplements, there are a number of types in the Tetra reptile range that are made up of natural animal ingredients:
- Tetra Gammarus consists of natural, untreated whole gammarus and is rich in minerals and fibre.
- In addition to gammarus, Tetra Gammarus Mix also contains anchovies. These small fish from the clupeiformes order are especially rich in protein and therefore promote optimal growth in young turtles.
- Tetra ReptoDelica Shrimps is a natural food comprising whole shrimps and is particularly suitable for larger turtles.
- Tetra ReptoDelica Grasshoppers is a new kind of feed that is made of whole grasshoppers and provides additional variety in a turtle’s diet.
Tetra ReptoMin Menu contains both staple and supplementary foods, consisting as it does of Mini Sticks, Mini Krill and Baby Shrimps. Each individual sort of food is packaged separately and therefore can be fed in alternation. This food variety is well suited to turtle keepers who are raising just one animal and consequently do not need so much food.
Another way to mix up the diet of turtles is to give them Tetra ReptoDelica Snacks. This moist food in the form of gel blocks contains daphnia and is enriched with essential vitamins. Thanks to their natural taste, Tetra ReptoDelica Snacks are widely accepted by turtles and therefore represent a good alternative to frozen food.
For widest possible dietary variation, turtles can also be given live insects as an occasional treat, e.g. crickets, house crickets or grasshoppers. Earthworms and tubifex will likewise be eagerly devoured. Anyone who also has an aquarium with fish usually has an abundance of snails – these are a great supplementary food for turtles and furthermore provide beneficial calcium. However, it is wise to be very sparing when feeding beetle larvae (mealworms and zophobas) as these foodstuffs are high in fat and protein. These larvae should therefore only be given very infrequently. To be avoided completely are minced steak, ox heart or other meat from mammals since turtles find this very hard to digest.
As already described, the adults of many turtle species are largely vegetarian in the wild. That’s why the diet of adult turtles should be supplemented with green plants. Acceptable choices include aquatic plants, such as salvinia or lemna, as well as dandelion, plantain, clover, chicory, endives or Chinese cabbage.
When feeding turtles it is important not to overfeed them. Acclimated turtles rapidly learn where food comes from and “beg” for food by swimming around, thrashing about excitedly, and raising their heads out of the water whenever a person gets close. However, only baby turtles need feeding on a daily basis. For adolescent turtles, the frequency of feeds should be reduced to three to four times a week; feeding twice or three times a week is sufficient for fully grown turtles.
Words and photographs: Peter Krause