What Do Red Eared Slider Turtles Eat?

Red eared slider swimming
Baby red eared slider turtle swimming. Joe McDonald / Getty Images

Red eared slider turtles are aquatic turtles that have been popular as pets for a long time. In fact, at one time they were even sold in dime stores. Red eared sliders are resilient creatures and tolerate a range of conditions (such as various water temperatures, pH, and hardness). They are also comfortable with people and love to voraciously beg for food. Living in the wild, red eared slider turtles feed on aquatic vegetation, little fish, and material that is decaying such as frogs and dead fish.

The young turtles are mainly carnivorous and become more omnivorous as they grow into adults. As pets, red eared sliders and other aquatic turtles can be fed daily as hatchlings and juveniles, reducing the feedings to every other day as adult turtles.

Food for Red Eared Slider Turtles

Red eared slider turtles eat a variety of items in the wild and while we can't exactly mimic these foods exactly for our pets, we can provide them with some options.

Aquatic turtle pellets are a staple for your pet turtle but they shouldn't make up the bulk of their diet. Always feed your turtle in water, limit the pellets to make up about 25% of the diet and then make up the rest of the diet with the following items:

  • Prey items: Earthworms, crickets, waxworms, silkworms, aquatic snails, bloodworms, daphnia, shrimp, krill, and meal worms. For very small red eared slider turtles, prey may have to be cut into smaller pieces. Larger and adult turtles can be offered larger items like tadpoles or feeder fish, though some experts warn that feeder fish may be carrying parasites, etc. and some fish (like goldfish) are too fatty to be fed regularly.
    • Leafy greens: Collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, kale, and bok choy. Head (iceberg) lettuce should never be fed as it contains very little nutrition but dark green leaf lettuces (e.g. romaine) can be fed sparingly. Make sure you only feed items with appropriate calcium to phosphorous levels.
      • Aquatic plants: In both an aquarium or pond you can add aquatic plants on which turtles usually love to snack. Submerged plants like anacharis are often eaten by turtles, as are water hyacinth, water lettuce, duckweed, azolla (fairy moss), and frog-bit.
      • Other vegetables: Carrots (tops are fine too), squash, and green beans.

      Red Eared Slider Turtle Feeding Schedule

      Some people choose to feed adult turtles once only every three days while others prefer to stick to smaller meals and continue feeding them daily. No matter which feeding schedule you choose, the important thing is not to over feed your turtle, especially with items high in protein and fat since red eared sliders and other aquatic turtles often have voracious appetites and will beg for food. Some owners describe their pet turtles doing a frantic swim as if trying to fly straight out of the water or staring at them like a dog begs for food.

      However often you feed your turtle, be sure to monitor their body condition. If folds of skin are developing around their legs, especially when your turtle pulls their legs into their shell, they are getting too fat and need to be fed smaller amounts, eat less often, or offer food with a lower fat content.

      Remember that adult red eared sliders are quite herbivorous so if your turtle seems overly hungry, try feeding more leafy greens and plant material rather than aquatic turtle pellets or prey food items.

      The amount of food you feed depends a bit on your individual turtle. A good rule of thumb is to feed as much as your turtle will consume in 15 minutes. If you feed your turtle in a separate container, it is easier to monitor how much and how fast your turtle eats.

      Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT