What Do Baby Painted Turtles Eat? (Diet & Care Guide)

Turtle eating lettuce
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: June 8, 2024
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Among the different types of aquatic turtles, painted turtles are highly popular as pets.

These adorable little reptiles have a wonderful sense of personality with their smiling faces and are the perfect combination of easy going and friendly.

When starting off with a baby painted turtle, it’s important to set them up with a proper heat source and, more importantly, a healthy diet.

Your baby painted turtle’s diet will set up its health for the long run, so making sure to get things right early is a great idea. But what do baby painted turtles eat?

If you’ve ever asked what do baby painted turtles eat, you’ve come to the right place! Read on for the answer to this and many more questions about the baby painted turtle.

Article Summary

  • Baby painted turtles require a proper heat source and a healthy diet to ensure their long-term health and well-being.
  • Vegetables like lettuce, kale, collard greens, and broccoli can be part of their diet, but avoid vegetables with high oxalate content like beets, endives, and rhubarb.
  • Commercial turtle foods can be a convenient option and typically provide additional vitamins and minerals.

What Do Wild Baby Painted Turtles Eat?

Unlike mammals, baby turtles have to rely on hunting for food rather than having milk or other food procured by an adult painted turtle.

In the wild, baby turtles grow up without the presence of their parents whatsoever!

The adult turtle simply lays its eggs in the soil, and around 72 days later the baby turtle works its way out and into the world on its own.

Closeup of a female painted turtle
A painted turtle about to lay eggs

Unlike adult turtles, baby turtles consume a much more protein-rich diet in the wilderness.

Painted turtles are omnivorous in general; they can consume both animal and plant matter, but the diet of the baby turtle needs more of a focus on this central nutrient in order to grow.

… baby turtles eat a much more protein-rich diet in the wild.

Infant wild painted turtles will eat crayfish, live small fish, brine shrimp, worms, small insects, and even detritus such as dead fish or insects.

The general idea is that baby painted turtles in the wild have to search for their own food and will feed on what they can in order to survive.

What Do Baby Painted Turtles Eat?

Your baby painted turtle has many more options than its wild counterparts, but some are definitely better for its health than others.

You still want to orient primarily towards foods that are protein rich and keep things varied when you feed baby painted turtles.

For an idea on what they’ll eat when they grow up, check out the video below.

A look at a painted turtle’s varied diet

White Meat and Fish

Now I’m not talking about giving your baby western painted turtle a steak here, but there are some meats that are perfectly acceptable for them.

In general, you want options that are lean, low in fat, and easy to chew. This means that most red meats are out, but small pieces of chicken and fish can be a great supplement to commercial turtle foods.


Cooked meat is not typically the best option to feed your painted turtle. While the meat itself isn’t too much of a problem, the seasonings, spices, and oils in the cooking process can lead to indigestion and problems for your pet.

When choosing a feeder fish, look at the size of your painted turtle to help you with your selection.

Fish that are much larger than your painted turtle will not be able to fit in its mouth, and if yours is particularly slow-moving than quicker feeder fish species such as guppies may not be the best choice.


Person Holding Bloodworms
Person Holding Bloodworms

In the wild, adult painted turtles and babies alike love snacking on these protein-rich wrigglers as a plentiful food source.

Blood worms and meal worms are easily available at your local pet store, and can even be raised in your own home for minimal effort.

When starting off a baby painted turtle, keep in mind that you may need to cut longer worms into small pieces so that they can consume them.


Another protein packed food for both wild painted turtles and those in captivity, insects are a great option.

Available as either fresh and live or dried insects, there are a plethora of options available when looking at bugs to feed your baby turtle as a pet.

I recommend seeing which ones they prefer to eat, providing a different kind each day to see which your painted turtles like the most.


While breeding your own insects can be a great source of live food, having some dried crickets on hand can be a great way to have food available in a pinch.


Baby painted turtles can absolutely eat many different kinds of vegetables as a good food source.

Turtles eating lettuce in a pool
Painted turtles being fed lettuce (1)

Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, kale, collard greens, and broccoli all make great options. Again, keep in mind that with many of these various foods you’ll want to cut them into small enough pieces for your baby turtle and the fish in your tank to eat.


Some vegetables, such as beets, endives, and rhubarb should be avoided. These possess high levels of oxalates, which can make it hard for your turtle to get the calcium its system needs in order to grow properly.

Water Plants

Much like the snapping turtle, painted turtles come from dense vegetation areas and have adapted to eat many species of aquatic plants. Water hyacinth, hornwort, and water lettuce are all great options!

Keep in mind that while they won’t necessarily be the first target, plastic plants can be something that your painted turtle attempts to take a nibble of if they get really hungry.


This is not to say that turtles will eat through all of the plants in your tank! Rather, turtles will eat vegetation in your tank in order to reach a properly healthy diet, and will likely prefer any of the protein sources of pellets that you offer them.

Every turtle species needs a basking lamp, and your turtle must bask daily to maintain optimal performance. Placing several plants within reach of your turtle’s basking area can be a great way to allow them to snack while resting. Additionally, it will make your basking area look and feel that much more natural.

Commercial Turtle Foods

There are a wide variety of commercial options, much like fish pellets, available for your turtle. Any that you choose for your pet turtle should be specifically formulated for your turtle’s diet, and they typically include additional vitamin c and minerals to aid in calcium absorption.

Wild painted turtles are able to get these from their environment, but yours may need a little extra help.

Closeup of a painted turtle on a log
They can fend for themselves in the wild but they’ll need your help indoors

Keep in mind that some painted turtle food sinks while others float. This may not seem like a big issue, but knowing if your painted turtles like to eat off the surface or under the water can prevent extra food from going to waste in your tank.

If too much waste is going to your tank, you can try to feed them in a separate tank to lessen the effect on the water quality.


Can Painted Turtles Eat Fruit?

Being an omnivore, painted turtles can indeed eat most fruits. That being said, it is not something that painted turtles look for in their natural habitat and does not contain much by way of adequate nutrition when trying to formulate a balanced diet.

Consider allowing your turtles to eat fruits more as an occasional treat (they’ll definitely enjoy the sugar) than as a central part of their diet.

Fruits that work best are soft things such as apples, melons and berries.

I recommend cutting these into bite sized pieces, and be sure to remove any uneaten excess food within 30 minutes of eating so that they don’t have time to decompose and damage your tank’s water quality.

How Much Should A Baby Painted Turtle Eat?

Baby Painted Turtle
Baby Painted Turtle

While your baby painted turtle is still growing, it should be fed about as many aquatic turtle pellets as the size of its head 2-3 times per day.

When it comes to adding in extra food you might feed your baby turtle such as small live fish, water plants, or most fruit, you can keep this size estimate as a good reference point.

How Often Should You Feed Your Painted Turtle?

While adults can make it for up to several days in between feedings (although they typically should be fed more than that,) baby painted turtles should be fed on a much more regular basis.

A captive baby painted turtle should be fed several small meals throughout the day.

Close up of a baby painted turtle
A baby painted turtle will need to cared for and fed

You can feed them a larger meal once a day, but splitting it up allows them more time to digest things properly.

How Long Can A Baby Painted Turtle Go Without Eating?

While you would never want to find the answer to this question personally and we recommend that you feed your baby painted turtle regularly, they can last around one to two weeks without anything to eat.

Beyond that, they may see irreparable health problems due to starvation as their body’s functions begin to cease. To avoid such situations, you can consider investing in an automatic turtle feeder which ensures that your turtles are fed in case of emergencies.

How Long Can Painted Turtles Go Without Water?

Painted Turtle On Land
Painted Turtle On Land

Unlike food, young turtles can only go without water for a few days without water.

Your painted turtle is an aquatic creature, and it needs water both in order to feed and to keep itself properly hydrated so that it can digest, respire, and do everything its body needs in order to stay healthy.

The size of the turtle tank should be 10 gallon per inch of their shell length and the water needs to be as deep as two times the length of the turtle’s shell. Looking up the maximum size of the painted turtle species you have can help give you an idea of the right tank size.


When it comes to what you should feed your baby painted turtle, there are a lot of viable options out there. From preformulated commercial turtle food, to aquatic plants or even small fish, there are a lot of ways to keep your turtle happy.

I recommend making a game of it and trying to find out just what combination of fresh vegetables and commercial food your turtle likes best! A happy turtle goes a long way to a healthy turtle in the long run.

Feel Free To Share!

As always, thanks for taking the time to read this article, I hope that it has helped you figure out just what do baby painted turtles eat.

Feel free to share this with any other turtle enthusiasts you may know, and join us next time for more!

(1) Turtles Eating Lettuce by Jason Pratt – licensed under CC BY 2.0

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