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Turtles/Turtle food


QUESTION: I have had my turtle for 5-7 years when some relatives found him in their driveway. I have tried to identify the species but I still have no idea what kind of turtle he (or she) is or exactly how to take care of him. I have the turtle in a glass terrarium with reptile bark and a pool that he swims in and drinks from. The hardest thing has been to feed him; at first he would only eat strawberries, no other fresh veggies or fruit and nothing I've tried from the stores like dry turtle food or insect medleys. He eventually started eating lettuce and now he eats nothing but lettuce, not even the strawberries. He seems fine and healthy as far as I can tell but I can't help but feel like he's not getting enough nutrients. Any suggestions or changes that might be good to make to improve his quality of life? Any advice is much appreciated!

ANSWER: Hi Sarah,

I can't answer your question without knowing exactly what species you have.  It sounds like you have a land turtle, so it might be a tortoise or box turtle, or it could be an aquatic turtle that you're keeping incorrectly.  Can you post a picture?  A very clear one, please.  I can give you better advice once I know what species it is.  You definitely need to make some changes to how you're keeping it--just lettuce is a very incomplete diet, and it sounds like his enclosure needs some changes as well.  I'll try to get back to you as soon as I can once I see the picutre.  If you can't post a pic, please describe him in detail--size, weight, shape of shell, markings on top and underside, on head, etc.  

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hope picture is clear enough. I'm pretty certain he's not aquatic. He's about 4 inches long. Thanks for your reply!

Hi Sarah,

Looks like you have a box turtle.  Easiest way to confirm is to turn him over and look at the bottom shell--box turtles have a hinge that allows them to close their shell completely.  You do need to make some significant changes to how you're keeping him.  A tank just isn't a good enclosure for a box turtle, and actually they do much better living outside in a planted pen.  With a place to dig in over winter, covered with leaf litter or straw, they can hibernate just fine.  If you do need to keep him indoors, he needs an open, roomy enclosure, at least 5 x 3.  Ditch the reptile bark--it's much too dry, and isn't very natural anyway.  A 50/50 mix of playsand and coir (Bed-A-Beast or Ecoearth) is much better.  It should be deep enough for him to burrow into, and kept moist.  Box turtles require quite a lot of moisture in their environment, and yours is likely dehydrated.  I would give him three soaks a week (lukewarm water, about 15 minutes) for a few weeks to get him rehydrated, and then two soaks weekly after that.

Box turtles are omnivores.  Needless to say, your turtle is probably pretty malnourished at this point, but you should be able to get him on a better diet.  Forget about commercial foods; box turtles are 60-70% carnivorous, but they like their food moving.  Snails and worms are favorites, but for now go to the pet store and get what are called "king meal worms" or "superworms."  They're not actually mealworms, but look like them, and box turtles go nuts for them.  You'll need tweezers or forceps to handle them.  Hold one out, and I'll bet your turtle comes running!  I have a very shy ornate box turtle, and she is just wild about superworms.  Get him eating those first, and any other live foods you can get--crickets, spiders, etc.  They will also eat pinky mice (you can get them frozen), but live and moving is best.  Then add in various types of fruit (melons, berries, apples, pears) and veggies/greens (mushrooms, peppers, squashes, kale, dandelion, collards, etc.).  I wouldn't give too much fruit or greens at first, because he's starved for meat and may only eat that for now, so just offer small amounts.  

You didn't say if you have him set up with a basking or UVB bulb, but he needs a basking area of about 88-90 degrees, with a cooler area of around 70 degrees, as well as a source of UVB when indoors.  I would get a ZooMed Powersun bulb, which is heat and UVB in one.  

That should do to get you started.  If you have more questions, please post back and I'll be happy to help further.


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Questions regarding husbandry of Russian tortoises and other Mediterranean species, sulcata, and redfoot tortoises; general tortoise and turtle care; box turtle care. If I can't answer a specific question, I can provide sources for further research. Disclaimer: My advice is not a substitute for vet care. If I think your tortoise/turtle has a specific medical condition or injury that warrants a vet visit, I'll tell you so, and if possible I'll help you locate a vet. It is neither legal nor ethical for me to provide veterinary advice.


I have kept and bred Russian tortoises for over ten years and have other Mediterranean species plus redfoots and box turtles. I've worked with other tortoise and turtle species while doing volunteer rescue work; mostly sulcata but some leopards, California desert tortoises, yellowfoots, all box turtle species, red-eared sliders, etc. I don't personally keep aquatic species, but have access to a wealth of information and research to help you with any questions you might have.

My knowledge is based on hands-on experience keeping, breeding, and working with tortoises and turtles.

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