Meat for Your Box Turtle


Mealworms are a good source of protein for box turtles.

Mealworms make tasty, protein-rich snacks for box turtles
Image is cropped version of “Mealworms in plastic container of bran“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


About half of your adult box turtle’s diet—or 75% of your hatchling box turtle’s diet—should be “meat.” This includes both actual meat products from your kitchen and live foods either from the pet store or the backyard.

You can buy commercial turtle foods to make your life easier once in a while.

Cook for Your Box Turtle

No, you don’t need to cook special meals for your turtle, just set aside a little of your own (or Fido’s) dinner for him. Prepare his portion by boiling or microwaving. Good choices include:

  • Boiled chicken: Chop it finely and sprinkle with calcium before feeding
  • Cooked ground beef: Also sprinkled with calcium
  • Beef heart: Chop it finely

Once in a while you can also give boiled eggs or tofu. Yes, tofu is really plant-based, but it’s high in protein, and protein is the main reason for feeding meat.

Low-fat canned dog food is also ok once in a while, but it should never be your turtle’s main source of protein.

Do not give your turtles processed meats like lunch meats or hot dogs.

Hunt (or Buy) Live Prey for Your Box Turtle

Your captive box turtle can’t go in search of live prey on her own, but you can bring it to her. Many box turtles seem to really enjoy catching their food, almost as if it’s a game.

Earthworms are a favorite of many box turtles. In fact, most box turtles seem to love worms of all kinds, including nightcrawlers. Even a turtle that hasn’t been eating is likely to go after these wrigglers. If you don’t have a yard to dig them up yourself, bait worms work just fine.

Really, your box turtle should enjoy just about any tasty snack you uncover during gardening. For example:

  • Pill bugs
  • June bugs
  • Slugs
  • Grubs of all kinds

You don’t want most of these guys in your garden anyway, so collect them and let your pet feast.

Crickets and grasshoppers also make a much-loved snack. The one downside is it takes more effort to ensure the snack doesn’t escape into the house before your turtle catches it. Prevent that and make it easier for your turtles to catch by pinching the hind legs at the “knee” to remove them. Some suppliers also sell dried insects, but they’re less fun for your turtle.

Pet stores also sell mealworms, waxworms and Zoophobas (superworms). Turtles should not have more than about five mealworms or three superworms at a sitting.

“Pinkies” are just-born mice. You don’t actually feed these live; in fact, you buy them frozen. It’s a good idea to sprinkle them with a little calcium before feeding, since they don’t contain much themselves. Of course, if you’re squeamish you’ll probably want to skip this snack.

Your live crickets, mealworms and other insects can pack more of a nutritional punch for your turtles if you keep them for a day or two and gut-load them.

Box turtle eating strawberry

Remember to keep your box turtle’s diet at about half protein. It’s ok to go over that once in a while, especially if he hasn’t been eating but is showing interest in live foods. In that case, gut-loading is especially important.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *