14 Things Painted Turtles Like to Eat Most (Diet, Care & Feeding Tips)

Painted turtle babies are all alone in the world after their moms lay eggs and leave them. They need to find water and food after getting out of the nest to survive. If you decide to keep one of them as a pet, you need to check its habits and discover what do Painted turtles eat. Let’s see.

Painted Turtles Habits and Biology

Painted turtles (Chrysemys picta) with lovely olive or black shells and yellow and red marks on the neck, tail, and legs usually live over 50 years in the wild.

After cold months spent in hibernation, these animals will enjoy swimming and sunbathing near small lakes or ponds during hot summer days. You can find four subspecies in 45 states from Atlantic to Pacific coasts, including:

  • Eastern Painted turtles – These black shelled turtles lined with red usually reach 7 inches (18 cm) in length. They are common in various regions from southern Canada to northern Mexico.
  • Southern Painted turtles – With only 6 inches (15 cm) in length, it is the smallest turtle in this group, but a yellow-orange stripe over the carapace makes it the most beautiful. You can find it in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Missouri.
  • Midland Painted turtles – You can find these 7 inches (18 cm) long turtles in Tennessee and Alabama.
  • Western Painted turtles – These 8 inches (20.5 cm) long turtles with an olive green carapace live all over the US, Canada, and Mexico.

Interestingly, females are bigger, and males barely reach half their length. The difference in size doesn’t bother them to show love by touching the partner’s cheeks. Then, both swim to the lake bottom to mate. As a result, each pair will fill the nest dug in soft sand with 4 to 20 eggs.

In most cases, these reptiles are not excellent pets for families with small children and seniors because they often carry salmonella. If you want to adopt one, you need to provide a tank of 100 gallons (378.5 l) full of water and a dry dock filled with gravel and larger rock.

Believe it or not, Painted turtles can’t move their tongues while spending time on the land. Therefore, they always eat their meal in the water.

Do Painted Turtles Eat Dirt?

Do Painted Turtles Eat Dirt

It is known that some turtles can intake dirt accidentally while grazing at the lake bottom, although such things are not a regular part of their diet. Even in that case, these animals won’t eat dirt or sand at a high level.

On the other hand, you can be sure that Painted turtles never eat sand or any dirt by purpose regardless of the circumstances. In fact, these clean water animals rarely dig along the bottom but eat plants and small creatures instead.

What Do Painted Turtles Like to Eat Most

What Do Painted Turtles Like to Eat the Most

Both baby and adult Painted turtles are omnivorous and require the same diet. However, babies usually need more proteins for growing and eat more meat than adults.

1. Nature food

Once you pick out Painted Turtle as a pet, you won’t have any problem feeding it since it is not a food picker. It will equally eat veggies, fruits, and meat offered on the menu, so you can’t make a mistake when providing:

  • Vegetables, including spinach, kale, celery, red-leaf lettuce, beets, carrots, and tomatoes
  • Grass
  • Par-boil leafy vegetables
  • Fruit, like banana, cut melon, shredded apple, and berries
  • Water plants, such as duckweed, anacharis, water lettuce, water lilies, and water hyacinth
  • Leaves, algae, and macroalgae
  • Aquatic insects and crustaceans
  • Insects and snails
  • Brown and black worms
  • Snakes, lizards, and frogs
  • Newts
  • Small fish like guppies
  • Meat, especially chicken
  • Carrions

2. Food unusual in nature

Painted turtles don’t eat some ingredients in nature, but you should consider offering your pet some healthy and nutritionally rich food, like:

  • Brine shrimps – Even though Painted turtles prefer live shrimp, the bacteria- and parasites-free brine shrimps can be an excellent protein source for your pet.
  • Duckweed – Keep in mind that this is not regular food for Painted turtles. You should offer it to your pet only occasionally as a snack or meal supplement.

3. Commercial food

You can also choose to feed your pet with food scientifically formulated and designed for turtles, like:

  • Omega One aquatic turtle pellets with natural seafood, salmon, and herring
  • Floating food sticks for newts, frogs, and aquatic turtles produced by Tetra ReptoMin
  • Well-balanced aquatic turtle food that Exo Terra offers
  • Nutritionally complete Aquatic Turtle Diet created by Mazuri
  • Zoo Med’s Natural aquatic food with 25% protein for turtles over 6 inches (15 cm)

Most experts consider freeze-dried food safer for Painted turtles than live ones. Unfortunately, these animals often avoid consuming already dead worms, shrimps, and fish.

No matter which feeding option you choose, avoid overfeeding to prevent undesired health issues. One more thing! Never feed your Painted turtle with cooked and baked food you prepare for your family. Its stomach doesn’t produce enzymes that can allow such food to digest.

4. Treats

You can offer some treats to your pet occasionally, including:

  • Crickets for turtles
  • Feeder fish for turtles
  • Meal-worms

5. Supplements

Remember that Painted turtles in captivity often need supplements periodically to get enough calcium and necessary vitamins. You can quickly prevent possible problems by offering your pet calcium block and commercial turtle pellets.

Food Avoid to Feed Painted Turtles

Food to Avoid Feeding Painted Turtles

You should be careful when feeding your baby or adult Painted turtle since this species shouldn’t consume some ingredients harmful to their bodies.

Painted turtles living in nature will eat small fish they catch, regardless of their type. On the other hand, you shouldn’t feed your pet with fish coming from a body of water but only the one from a pet store.

Only that way, you can ensure that this food doesn’t contain harmful bacteria your turtle is not used to. Always avoid offering Painted turtle the following food:

  • Carps
  • Gizzard Shad
  • Rosy Red Minnow
  • Feathered Minnow
  • Goldfish

As for plants, you should be aware that some types contain high oxalate levels that interfere with calcium absorption. Therefore, you shouldn’t offer your pet anything that can jeopardize its health, including:


  • Spinach, chard, and parsley
  • Onion, garlic, and chives
  • Rhubarb and endive
  • Purslane
  • Beetroot
  • Potatoes and cassava
  • Avocado
  • String beans


  • Blackberries
  • Citric fruit
  • Amaranth and fruit seed
  • Nuts

Keep in mind that baby Painted turtles are carnivores that need more proteins and enjoy consuming meat. These turtles will start eating vegetables and fruits once they turn seven years old.

That is a period when you should avoid feeding it daily and provide food once in two or three days. Plus, you should avoid some groceries, including:

  • Raw meat
  • Dairy product
  • Canned and processed food with preservatives and high salt and sugar levels

Tips to Feed Your Painted Turtles

Interestingly, dried insects are an excellent protein source for Painted turtles. For instance, your pet will enjoy yummy dried crickets rich in proteins with low-fat levels.

If you decide to offer your turtle pellets, you should ensure that it gets the necessary amount of 25% to 30% proteins. Most turtles don’t like their dry texture, so you need to soak them in tuna water or fruit juice before offering a meal.

Anyway, you should provide different food for your pet every day to make it healthy and satisfied. Plus, don’t forget to occasionally add some calcium powder over the meal since it is necessary for healthy bone development.

One more thing! Using a feeding container will make your life much easier. You can only add live fish in the water or directly offer your turtle a living insect, but all other food requires a bowl.

Otherwise, you will spend hours cleaning the entire living space and swimming pool since these creatures are really messy eaters.

Reasons why Painted turtles refuse to eat

Don’t worry if your Painted turtle stops eating at once. The most common reasons are:

  • Inadequate temperature and lighting – Turtles can’t stand low temperatures, so maintaining it in the range of 75 to 80 F (24 – 26.5 C) will solve appetite issues. Plus, you need to provide UVA and UVB light for at least 12 hours a day.
  • Vitamin A deficiency – You will know that this is a reason for your turtle’s poor appetite if you spot white patches on its shell.
  • Respiratory disease – Many Painted turtles living in captivity are prone to respiratory problems and consequent loss of appetite.
  • Constipation – Such a condition will reduce your turtle appetite after a while.
  • Preparing for hibernation – If your turtle refuses food in winter, it probably prepares itself for hibernation. Help it by gradually reducing the temperature to min 50 F (10 C), and let it sleep for approximately ten weeks. When a moment for them to wake up comes, you can start raising the temperature.


Unfortunately, wild Painted turtles are among the least friendly animals you can choose for your pet. They don’t enjoy cuddling or playing and only want to spend time near a river, pond, or lake where they can find necessary food and shelter. You can take one as a pet, but not before checking whether it is legal in your state.

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