What do Yellow Bellied Turtles Eat? Diet and Feeding Habits

Yellow-bellied turtles are extremely popular reptile pets that originate from the US, where they inhabit primarily aquatic ecosystems.

They can be found in slow-moving streams, rivers, and even stagnant bodies of water like lakes, where they consume a variety of aquatic foods.

But does this turtle’s diet change in captivity, and what should you feed it to ensure optimal nutritional intake? Let’s talk about it!

Diet of Wild Yellow-Bellied Turtles

Yellow-bellied turtles have a predominantly omnivorous diet, much of which originates from the animal’s native ecosystem. These turtles can sometimes hunt their food on land as well, but they prefer to feed in the water for the most part.

Some of the turtle’s favorite foods include fish, crayfish, shrimp, crickets, grasshoppers, frogs, duckweed, water lettuce, and many other items.

These turtles are more like opportunistic eaters since they won’t lose any chance of getting some food on board.

Things are rough in the wild, and food isn’t always available, so the turtle cannot afford to play favorites and be picky about it. So, how do the turtle’s eating preferences translate to captivity?

Diet of Pet Yellow-Bellied Turtles

Captive-bred yellow-bellied turtles have similar nutritional requirements, but you will have to find alternate foods compared to what they’re getting in the wild.

Suffice it to say, wild turtles tend to have a significantly more varied diet than turtles in captivity, simply because Mother Nature is more diverse than a human keeper.

That being said, you can provide your yellow-bellied turtle pet with a tasty and nutritious diet so long as you understand the animal’s nutritional requirements.

In this sense, there are 3 areas that are worth considering:

  1. Animal protein – This is a necessary part of the turtle’s diet and should include as much variation as possible. Insects, various aquatic invertebrates, mealworms, and even small amounts of lean meat or fish are recommended in this sense. Just keep in mind that young turtles tend to consume more protein than adults. Adult turtles lean more towards a vegetation-rich diet, although they, too, demand some animal protein and fat occasionally.
  2. Fruits and veggies – These make up an adult turtle’s main dietary needs. Fruits and veggies are stacked with fibers, vitamins, and minerals that keep your turtle healthy and in peak condition. Aim for leafy greens, squash, carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, cucumbers, and zucchini, as veggies and pineapple, oranges, apples, bananas, and mangoes as fruits. These are general recommendations, obviously, so you can expand the list to your heart’s content, depending on your pet’s preferences and nutritional needs.
  3. Supplementation – While, technically, not all turtles require food supplements, I would say that most do. This is because of their diet in captivity not being as nutritionally-rich as in the wild, which can lead them to experience deficiencies over time. The 3 nutrients of primary concern here are vitamin A, vitamin D3, and calcium. If your turtle isn’t getting these 3 nutrients in sufficient proportions, it can experience health issues, like eye and skin problems and even Metabolic Bone Disease.

Regarding the last point, I recommend speaking to a nutritionist experienced in reptile and turtle nutrition.

Providing your turtle with too much of anything, including vitamins and minerals, can actually backfire and cause health problems.

Diet of Baby Yellow-Bellied Sliders

Baby and juvenile yellow-bellied turtles have a protein-rich diet with some fruits and veggies. This is primarily due to their exponentially higher metabolic rate and faster growth, in which case animal protein is the most nutritious and useful.

Wild baby turtles consume almost exclusively insects, tadpoles, and small crustaceans, while juveniles begin to incorporate some plant matter into their diets with time.

Mature turtles will gradually switch to a plant-based diet with some occasional protein snacks to complete their nutritional requirements. If you’re breeding yellow-bellied turtles in captivity, consider investing in an insect feeder tank for a stable source of fresh insect food for your turtle.

You can easily set up several feeder ecosystems to cultivate multiple insect species, given that these are cheap to maintain and don’t take up much space or effort on your part.

It’s also important to adapt to your turtle’s nutritional needs as it grows. Remember, your turtle’s dietary preferences change gradually with time, along with its metabolism and growth rate.

Best Practices for Feeding Yellow-Bellied Turtles

Feeding your yellow-bellied turtle properly doesn’t only refer to the type of food. Other factors matter as well when looking to provide your turtle with the best nutritional experience.

So, let’s dive into those:

Feeding Frequency

Feeding frequency is just as important as the food itself. If your turtle doesn’t eat frequently enough, it can experience starvation and nutritional deficiencies. If it eats too frequently, it can become overfed and obese.

So, what exactly is the right feeding frequency? The answer is that it depends.

It depends on your turtle’s age, size, and preferences, as well as the type of food you’re serving.

To cut it short:

  • Baby turtles – 3-4 feedings per day, depending on their appetite. It’s rather difficult to overfeed baby turtles because they have accelerated metabolisms, so they use most of the nutrients instead of storing them as fat.
  • Juvenile turtles – 2 feedings per day at most. The turtle’s appetite will diminish gradually as its metabolism slows down with age.
  • Adult turtles – 1 feeding per day. There are some cases where the turtle requires more than one feeding per day, but most are fine with just one meal. However, feel free to adjust to your turtle’s requirements since turtles are all different.

Always check for signs of obesity in your yellow-bellied turtle to make sure you’re not going overboard with the feeding.

These include fat deposits under the chin, armpits, and groin and difficulties retreating all of the limbs inside the shell simultaneously.

Portion Size

How much food your turtle needs in one serving depends on the reptile’s size and age, for the most part. But it also varies based on the type of food in question.

As a general rule, though, take the turtle’s head as a measurement. The amount of food fit for one serving shouldn’t be larger, when put together, than the turtle’s head.

You can start with this and adjust the portion size afterward, depending on your turtle’s needs. In time, you will learn your turtle’s behavior and appetite and tell whether the reptile has had its fill or could use a couple more bites.

Preparing Food

The preparation process refers to providing your turtle with bite-sized servings. Insects are fair game just the way they are because your turtle can eat them in one go. But veggies, fruits, and meat may need some cutting beforehand.

Wash, peel, and un-seed veggies and fruits and cut them into smaller pieces so that the turtle can eat them easier.

Do the same for the meal or fish for ease of consumption. You may even consider cooking the meat to eliminate the risk of bacterial infections. And keep in mind that turtles only need meat sporadically, especially adults.

One moderate serving every 2 weeks should be fine, with the rest of the days being taken by veggies, fruits, and insects.


When discussing food supplements for turtles, or even reptiles in general, we’re actually talking about 3 nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin D, and calcium.

These are essential for a healthy and powerful reptile with a strong immune system, so, realistically, these are the ones you care about.

However, you can’t really tell whether your turtle actually requires any food supplementation or not. To make sure, I recommend speaking to a nutritionist expert to guide you in this sense.

You might even need to take your pet to the vet for a more in-depth assessment to detect any early signs of nutritional deficiencies.

Doing so allows you to get a better idea of your turtle’s nutritional needs so you know how to approach the situation. Follow your vet’s recommendations in terms of the right supplements to use for the best results.

Avoid Overfeeding

Overfeeding is a serious health risk among household reptile pets. The danger is even greater for lizards due to their need for daily feeding; after all, it’s rather difficult to overfeed a boa, for instance, given that the snake only has one meal every 1-2 months.

To prevent overfeeding, you need to consider several factors, such as:

  • The turtle’s age and size – Younger turtles require more frequent feedings to keep up with their faster growth rates. Larger turtles need more food in one sitting due to their extra energy expenditure; the same applies to turtles that are more active than the norm. You should adjust your turtle’s feeding routine based on these factors first and foremost.
  • The type of food – Some foods should be fed more sparingly than others. Fruits fall into this category, and the same goes for mealworms, meat, and other types of fatty insects and larvae. These often come with high-fat content and more calories than your turtles could spend.
  • Supplementation – Supplements aren’t always necessary. Make sure your yellow-bellied turtle actually requires nutritional supplementation; otherwise, you’re just fueling your turtle’s fat deposits.

Yellow-Bellied Turtle Won’t Eat

Yellow-bellied turtles eat pretty much daily, which means you should notice any drastic changes in their appetite fairly easily.

So, what should you do if your yellow-bellied turtle won’t eat anymore? Well, you should first understand the reasons responsible for this behavioral change.

Let’s look into that!

Reasons Your Turtle Refuses to Eat

  • Stress – A stressed turtle will exhibit a variety of symptoms, the lack of appetite being one of them. Your job is to figure out why your turtle is stressed, to begin with. Some common causes include being placed in a new home, unfit housing conditions, poor environmental parameters, insufficient food or water, etc.
  • Illness or injuries – Turtles express their physical discomfort via hiding and not eating anymore. If your reptile pet doesn’t eat as it used to or not at all, assess its condition more closely. Look for signs of illness like visible injuries, eye or nasal discharges, signs of bacterial or viral infections, signs of digestive problems, etc. If you can’t nail down the case, contact your vet and have the professional involved.
  • Incorrect diet – Turtles can exhibit poor appetite if they’re not being fed the right things. Turtles demand a bit of everything, so you should strategize your pet’s diet carefully to prevent deficiencies and keep its appetite high and healthy.
  • Hibernation – It’s normal for the yellow-bellied turtle to stop eating for one or 2 weeks before entering hibernation. The reason is to allow the digestive system to consume all of the food still present in the belly before hibernation sets in. If the turtle enters hibernation with food still present in the belly, it may experience health problems because the digestive system basically stops working during this phase. So, the food will simply rot in the stomach.
  • Boredom – This may sound like a weird one, but it’s actually true. Despite being animals, turtles are not as simple-minded as we make them out to be. These reptiles also need physical and mental stimulation to keep themselves from being bored. Turtles need a varied ecosystem with plenty of things to stimulate exploration. If your turtle is bored, it can become lethargic and stressed and will stop eating as a result.

Now that we’ve broken down the main reasons why some turtles will stop eating let’s go over the main solutions to the problem.

Encourage Your Turtle to Eat

Here are some tips that could help you in this sense:

  • Check environmental conditions – Make sure that your turtle’s refusal to eat has nothing to do with the environmental parameters. Check the temperature, humidity, lighting, and ventilation and adjust them accordingly in case of any mishaps. This alone can increase your turtle’s comfort levels and restore its healthy appetite seemingly overnight.
  • Vary the turtle’s diet – Turtles tend to develop healthier appetites if they have a varied diet consisting of fresh foods. Maybe your turtle isn’t eating anymore or as much as it should simply because it grew bored with the foods you’re providing. Vary your pet’s meals a bit and see whether that changes things.
  • Make feeding fun time – Turtles are more inclined to express a healthy appetite when they have to work for it. Use a feeding dish and even try moving the food around the enclosure so that your turtle needs to explore and look for it actively. This might reactivate the reptile’s appetite.
  • Speak to your vet – Maybe the problem and the subsequent solution are really out of your reach. Contact your vet and have your pet turtle checked up to shed light on the matter.


Yellow-bellied turtles usually have healthy appetites and ask for food daily. But, as you can see, the whole feeding aspect is more complex than it might seem at first glance.

Learn your turtle’s feeding routine and nutritional needs, and contact your vet in case of unexpected changes in your pet’s behavior.

Robert from ReptileJam

Hey, I'm Robert, and I have a true passion for reptiles that began when I was just 10 years old. My parents bought me my first pet snake as a birthday present, which sparked my interest in learning more about them. read more...