What Do Painted Turtles Eat? 20+ Foods They Thrive On

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: December 20, 2021
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Painted turtles are the most common aquatic turtle in all of North America, and they live throughout large portions of the United States and Canada. Their name is derived from their colorful bodies and shells, making them beautiful creatures that people frequently keep as pets. Being that they live on land and in the water, painted turtles have a reasonably active lifestyle that requires a fair amount of energy. So, what do painted turtles eat?

Discover the foods that painted turtles prefer to eat and how they find foods in aquatic and terrestrial settings.

What Foods Do Painted Turtles Eat?

Group of Painted turtles on a rock

Painted turtles

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eat insects

, aquatic vegetation, algae, and carrion.

©Brian E Kushner/Shutterstock.com

Painted turtles eat insects, vegetation, fish, crustaceans, algae, and carrion. They are omnivorous turtles that consume foods in the water and while they’re on land. They are opportunistic predators, too.

The foods that painted turtles consume most often are:

These foods are the most common elements of a painted turtles’ diet. Painted turtles also eat different foods depending on where they are located. Some of them are primarily insectivores while others mostly subsist on aquatic vegetation.

The adaptability of painted turtles certainly plays a role in helping them live in adverse conditions, a topic we’ll cover later.

How Do Painted Turtles Hunt?

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Painted turtles use their sense of taste and opportunistic predation to find food.

©Jonathan Novack/Shutterstock.com

Painted turtles are omnivores that both forage and hunt for food. When they are searching for food in the water and on land, painted turtles will use their barbels as a way to sense when they are near something they want to eat. Barbels contain taste buds, so these reptiles can sense tasty morsels in the water. This is also helpful for finding carrion to feed upon.

Painted turtles are often found in the bottom of slow-moving bodies of water where they can find and feed on vegetation, crustaceans, and fish.

In the case of hunting for food, painted turtles are opportunistic; they’re usually too slow to catch many bugs by surprise except in the case of insects floating on or nearby water. The painted turtle has great vision, and they can spot a potential meal and make their way to it before taking a sudden bite.

When they find food that they like, painted turtles will use their relatively sharp beak to grab and bite the meal into smaller pieces.  

What Do Painted Turtles Eat During Winter?

Painted Turtle close-up

The painted turtle will


in the freezing winter and not eat anything.

©Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock.com

Painted turtles live in areas that are not well-suited for them in many cases. They are cold-blooded creatures that live in areas that can be brutally cold during the winter. So, what do they eat and how do they survive in the winter?

The answer is that they do not eat much of anything because they go into a state of hibernation where their body’s natural metabolism comes to near halt. Often, they painted turtles will bury themselves in the mud at the bottom of a body of water and simply wait out the winter.

Their unique physiology allows them to absorb some oxygen while they’re beneath the mud, but they basically survive the winter without oxygen or food.

Painted turtles can survive in some extraordinary conditions, but there are cases where extreme cold weather can kill turtles, especially those that are undernourished or young.

What Do Baby Painted Turtles Eat?

Painted Turtle with a baby on a stump in the water

Baby painted turtles eat egg yolk when hatched and then eat plants and insects.

©David Byron Keener/Shutterstock.com

Baby painted turtles are hatched from eggs after an incubation period of between 70 and 80 days. Oftentimes, they emerge in the late summer into the buried nest that their mother has prepared for them. Although some turtles may leave immediately, some of them will wait out the first winter in the nest, a process called overwintering, and emerge the following spring into more advantageous conditions.

When they first emerge from their eggs, the baby painted turtles eat the remaining egg yolk. The painted turtles that leave the nest will do so less than two weeks later when they will start feeding on vegetation and small insects alike.

The natural range of painted turtles puts their young in danger from freezing temperatures. As we have already mentioned, some of the painted turtles will stay in the nest until the following year. Their unique body chemistry allows their blood to supercool, helping them resist some of the freezing temperatures of the winter season.  

However, many baby turtles are lost each year during the winter season, especially in the northern reaches of the painted turtle’s range.

What Predators Eat Painted Turtles?

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can swallow turtle eggs!

©K Quinn Ferris/Shutterstock.com

Painted turtles are not the fastest creatures in the world, reaching a top speed of 3 mph. However, they can’t sustain that speed for long, even in dire situations. Instead, painted turtles make use of their sharp beak and the ability to pull themselves into their shell to survive predation attempts. They have good sight and will often make a run for water when they sense danger.

Unfortunately, their attempts to escape predators are not always successful. These are some of the creatures that can make a meal from painted turtles:

Their relative slowness and inability to hurt most of their predators causes painted turtles to frequently end up as a meal for another. These are just a handful of the various beings that find and eat painted turtles. Unfortunately, they also fall victim to human activities as well.

Humans rarely eat painted turtles, but they do accidentally run them over on roads and trap them for resale. Unfortunately, painted turtles have to compete with harsh natural elements and predators to survive.

Painted turtles are beautiful reptiles that eat a wide variety of different foods. They’re omnivores that can find vegetation using special sensory organs called barbels, and they are also opportunistic predators.

Although some of them prefer insects and others prefer to eat plants, the painted turtle has plenty of meals to choose from throughout their wide natural distribution.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Tom Reichner/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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