What Do Tortoises Eat in the Wild and as Pets?

What a tortoise eats will depend entirely on the species of tortoise and what part of the world it is from. And because of that, it’s actually important to know more about what your species of turtle eats in the wild.

So, we’ll start by looking at the natural habitats and feeding habits of different species of turtles in different parts of the world and what you can feed them at home. We’ll also cover supplements and how often you should feed your pet turtle so you can give it a long and healthy life.

tortoise-divider

Turtle or Turtle?

We thought we’d start by looking at the difference between a tortoise and a tortoise, especially since there’s usually a lot of confusion between the two. It is important to know if you have a tortoise or tortoise as it has a significant impact on what they eat.

turtleturtle
FootFront and hind legs like flippersSturdy front and back legs
FootWebbed feetSturdy legs like an elephant
DietomnivoreHerbivore
HabitatLand and wateronly land
shellThinner and flatterDome and round

Turtles are semi-aquatic reptiles that are also omnivores, so they usually need more protein than vegetarian tortoises. Turtles will eat small fish and insects and specially made turtle foods that are higher in protein for those kept as pets.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the differences between these two related reptiles, we will dive into the habitats and diets of several different species of wild tortoises. Understanding what turtles eat in the wild will give you a better idea of ​​what you can feed them at home.

tortoise outdoors

Mediterranean tortoise

There are a number of turtles that come from the arid countries around the Mediterranean. Many of these turtles are the most popular turtles as pets.

  • Greek Tortoise or Paw Thigh: Native to North Africa, Southern Europe, and Southwest Asia in semi-arid grasslands.

  • Hermann’s Tortoise: Located around Southern Europe and its natural habitat consists of forests with oaks and evergreen trees with shrubby vegetation, grassy hillsides and arid rocky slopes.

  • Russian tortoise: Commonly found in Russia, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan in rocky deserts.

  • Marginated Tortoise: Found mainly in Southern Italy and Greece in forests, hillsides and dry scrub.

Mediterranean tortoises typically inhabit semi-arid grasslands where they graze on weeds, shrubs, and succulents.

Dried/Tropical Tortoise

These tortoises live in dry tropical areas and with few food options for them to forage.

  • Leopard Tortoise: Native to Central and Southern Africa in arid savannas in semi-arid regions.

  • African Spurred Tortoise: Also known as Sulcata, they are found in the grasslands and deserts of North Africa and are known to hide to escape the heat.

  • Indian Star Tortoise: Native to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and India and lives in scrub forests and semi-desert grasslands but may also be found in moist forests.

These turtles eat foods such as grass, weeds, cacti, stems, leaves, and flowers.

  • See also: 15 Types of Pet Turtles and Tortoises (With Pictures)

Forest/Tropical Tortoise

These tortoises are inhabitants of lush and dense rainforests where they can eat a variety of plants and fruits.

  • Yellow-Legged Tortoise: These tortoises are found in Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, Bolivia, Southern Columbia, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela and spend time in the thickets of moist tropical forests.

  • Elongated tortoises: They are found in India, Bangladesh, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, Myanmar, Vietnam, Southern China and parts of Malaysia. They are found in humid tropical forests and do not really bask in the sun because they spend most of their time buried in the leaves or at the base of larger tropical plants.

  • Burmese Mountain Tortoise: Ranged from Malaysia, Myanmar, Sumatra, and Thailand, and like the Elongated, they prefer to dig in soil and prefer moist, cool temperatures.

  • Red Footed Tortoises: They can be found from Panama to Argentina and throughout South America. These turtles live in dry and wet forests as well as grasslands and savannas.

These turtles feed on leaves, flowers, fruits, mushrooms, and grass, with occasional amphibians and invertebrates, although these are not very common.

tortoise-divider

Feeding Pet Turtle

While nearly all turtles eat certain types of food that are very similar regardless of where they come from, it’s in your pet’s best interest to have a diet closely related to what they eat in the wild.

turtle eating grass

Mediterranean tortoise

If you have one of the Mediterranean Tortoise species, they will go well with salad greens such as mixed rocket, kale, and baby leaves. However, avoid lettuce like an iceberg as it doesn’t offer any nutritional value.

You can also add some weeds to their diet, such as:

  • Chicory

  • Dandelion

  • Coleus

  • Sowthistle

  • Plantain

  • Clover

  • Vetch

  • Hawkbit

  • shepherd’s wallet

  • mustard fence

  • mallow

  • field bindweed

Make sure the plant is not sprayed with any chemicals or pesticides—in fact, you can grow your own! You can also give them flowers and succulents, such as the Prickly Pear, as part of their regular diet. These types of green leafy vegetables should make up about 80% of their entire diet.

Vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, and butternut squash are also good but only once or twice a week.

Lastly, a rare fruit treat would be nice but only once every few weeks as it can upset their digestive system if you feed them too much.

  • Also Read: Can Turtles Eat Spinach? What you need to know!

Avoid all citrus fruits and follow the following:

  • Wine

  • Mango

  • Strawberry

  • Peach

  • melon

  • Pear

  • Cherry

  • Also Read: Can Turtles Eat Apples? What you need to know!

Dried/Tropical Tortoise

Turtles from this area, if you recall, tend to come from grasslands and savannas. This makes them grass-eaters, in fact, they are also known as mowers because they will happily chew your grass in your yard. You can also feed them the same 80% leafy green diet mentioned for other Mediterranean species.

The Indian Star Tortoise is the only species that would benefit from a small amount of protein. You can offer them a small amount of fish or meat once a week to meet their nutritional needs.

tortoise

Forest/Tropical Tortoise

Diets for Forest Tortoises can follow the same green leafy vegetables as those outlined for Mediterranean Tortoises, and that should also make up 80% of their diet.

The main difference is that you can feed them fruit once or twice a week in addition to other vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower.

Because these tortoises live in a moist and humid environment, they are sometimes omnivores and therefore feed on some animal materials. So you can add a little protein to their diet, but only about once a week.

You can try:

  • Canned fish (not packed in any salt or oil)

  • Dog food (high in protein and low in fat)

  • Cooked chicken

  • earthworms

If you can’t grow your own food for your turtle, consider buying organic instead. The fewer additives in the diet, the better for your turtle’s health.

You may also consider purchasing turtle food that is commercially prepared but also uses it sparingly. It does add variety, but you shouldn’t just rely on it.

tortoise-divider

Water

Not surprising, but water is essential for all turtles. You may not see your turtle drinking water very often, but it is equally important to leave a clean, shallow plate with fresh water changed daily for your pet.

You should also put the turtle in a shallow bowl of water about once or twice a week for about 10 to 15 minutes. This will give them a shower and ensure that they can get the water they need. Filtered water is best because it will remove chlorine and metals from tap water.

Potentially Harmful Foods for Tortoises

It is important to know that there are a number of plants and foods that can be harmful to turtles. When turtles are grazing, they tend to stay away from any plants that are bad for them, but you should also avoid giving your indoor turtle the following items:

  • fox gloves

  • daffodils

  • buttercup

  • Bean sprouts

  • iris

  • wood anemone

  • Azaleas

  • Avocado

  • earlobe

  • Hydrangea

  • citrus fruit

  • Morning glory

  • Also Read: Can Turtles Eat Cabbage? What you need to know!

Calcium Supplements

Adding calcium to your turtle’s diet is very important as it helps to keep the shell strong and maintain good health. Avoid calcium supplements that are high in phosphorus, as they will stop the calcium from being absorbed into the turtle’s system.

Your best bet is to add a calcium supplement that contains vitamin D (also essential for turtles) and does not contain phosphorus.

You may also consider giving your turtle cuttlefish or “tortoise block”, but in the long run, a good calcium powder will do best.

Vitamin D

If your tortoise often grazes outside in the sun, it will get a good amount of vitamin D, but an indoor tortoise will need extra.

You can buy a good UV lamp for your turtle’s cage so they can bask in the sun, which will help with their vitamin D levels. If you don’t have calcium with added vitamin D, you’ll need to find a separate vitamin D powder that can also be sprinkled on their diet.

How Much and How Often?

If your turtle is grazing outside, you shouldn’t worry too much about providing a set meal. If your yard is fertile, you don’t need to give your tortoise as much food as you would for an indoor tortoise.

Most tortoises do well by feeding daily or just three times a week, but this also depends on the tortoise. You can also give your tortoise a small but nutritious meal every few days and place it outside to graze.

Just research your tortoise and make sure the food your tortoise eats is safe—indoor or outdoor. You’ll know the right amount and when to feed your turtle and, of course, talk to your vet for advice.

tortoise-divider

Conclusion

Now you have a better idea of ​​what many turtles eat—both in the wild and at home. If you have a newly acquired tortoise, you will need to do your homework and thoroughly read the species of tortoise you bring home.

Everything about the species and how it interacts in its natural habitat will help determine where to live, the temperature, and, of course, the diet for your new pet that is suitable and will keep your tortoise healthy and happy.


Featured Image Credit: Susanne Edele, Pixabay

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