Musk Turtle Food

To keep your musk turtle in the best of health it’s crucial that you offer them the right food.

While musk turtles may eat the odd piece of pond weed in the wild, their diet is almost exclusively made up of meat. In captivity, this carnivorous diet can be supplemented with a number of specially-made turtle foods, which can make feeding your musk turtle much easier.  

Here are some of the best foods for your musk turtle:

Commercial Turtle Pellets

A number of different specialist foods are available for turtles.

While these aren’t cheap to buy, they do represent a carefully formulated diet that is ideal for ongoing maintenance. They’re also dry, and are sold in tubs, which can make them very practical to work with. I recommend that every musk turtle owner keeps a tub of this food on hand to cover any “shortfalls” when you run out of feeder insects etc.  

Sale
Zoo Med (3 Pack) Natural Aquatic Turtle Food - Hatchling Formula
  • Formulated to ensure nutrition at different stages
  • Contains proper protein levels
  • Ideal for most species of aquatic turtles

Catfish Pellets

An interesting observation is that musk turtles seem to crawl along the bottom of their cage looking for food, so food that sinks tends to be far more readily accepted than anything that floats.

Catfish pellets have been designed specifically for bottom-feeding fish. They can therefore represent a cheap and easy food source for your musk turtle.

Live Bloodworms

Also available from aquarium shops are live bloodworms. These small, red aquatic worms are typically bought in a sealed plastic bag. Just snip the corner off and pour the bloodworms into your turtle tank.

Crickets

Crickets are routinely available from reptile stores or can be ordered online. A range of sizes are available and I would suggest you focus your energy on smaller crickets. Ensure the crickets you select will easily fit into your turtle’s mouth.

Locusts

Adult locusts are certainly likely to be too big for your musk turtle to eat but hatchling locusts offer a suitable alternative to crickets.

Roaches

Just as the previous two options, red runner cockroaches are being commercially bred and can make up another interesting part of your turtle’s diet. Be aware that these little insects can be very quick indeed, so can be challenging to handle. A good plan is to empty the tub into an unwanted aquarium or plastic tub, then individually pick out roaches using a long pair of forceps.

Earthworms

Earthworms wriggle and writhe in the water, making them very appealing to musk turtles. They can be ordered from some reptile suppliers. Alternatively, some garden centers sell them as a means to start vermicomposting. Try to select smaller earthworms if you can, or consider chopping up an earthworm into smaller chunks.

Chopped Fish

Most human-safe fish can be fed to your musk turtles – either raw or cooked. Note that marine fish can be very high in salt so it is advisable to only feed these occasionally. In contrast, freshwater fish like salmon or trout should be safe to feed routinely.

Bivalves

Some keepers have found that bivalves like cockles and mussels are also readily accepted by musk turtles. Once again, however, be sure to limit the intake to avoid increasing sodium levels too rapidly.

The Importance of Variety

Did you know that if you ate nothing but rabbit, you’d die? Not from hunger, but from a vitamin B deficiency. All of the above foods are suitable for musk turtles, but it’s also important to appreciate the importance of variety when feeding exotic pets.

There’s nothing wrong with having a few staple food items, but I would also strongly advise you to regularly swap around your musk turtle’s diet to ensure they receive the full range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients necessary for lifelong health.

Supplementation

Turtles require suitable levels of calcium and phosphorus in their diet to maintain a healthy skeleton and a strong shell. Turtles that have insufficient nutrients in their diet can end up with shells that are soft, or that don’t grow properly. Alongside a varied diet another crucial aspect of feeding musk turtles is therefore supplementation.

Unlike lizards, whose live food can be dusted with vitamin powder, this doesn’t work well in an aquatic turtle tank. A better alternative here is known as “gut loading”. A mineral-rich supplement is fed to feeder insects like crickets or roaches for 24-48 hours, before the insects themselves are fed to your musk turtles. When your turtle eats the insect, they also benefit from all the nutrients inside the gut.

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Zoo Med Repti Calcium Without D3 (48 oz)
  • Highly bio-available source of calcium carbonate
  • Free of harmful impurities (not from Oyster Shells)
  • Safe levels of Vitamin D3

I recommend you opt for a good quality gut loading supplement, and follow the manufacturers guidelines to the letter.

How to Feed Your Musk Turtle

Let’s be honest; like other chelonians, musk turtles can be messy feeders. So how do you feed a musk turtle in the most efficient manner possible?

Ensure the Water is Warm Enough

Observations in the wild have found that musk turtles do almost all their eating in the water – not on land. Furthermore, studies have shown that when the water temperature drops below 18’C musk turtles simply stop eating. The first step in feeding musk turtles is therefore ensuring that their water is warm enough. I’ve written about the best heaters for turtle tanks here – select a suitable water heater to bring the temperature up to around 22’C.

Place Food into the Water

Placing food onto dry land very rarely elicits a feeding response in musk turtles. Instead, drop the food into the water infront of your turtle. If your turtle is hungry then it should start feeding rapidly. Note that some musk turtles can be quite shy. Sitting there with your face pressed up against the glass may therefore not be the best bet; instead consider giving your pet a little privacy while they eat.

Remove Uneaten Food

Turtles are messy feeders, and this can quickly start to soil the water. To keep your turtle tank hygienic, and minimize your water changes, it is a good idea to remove any uneaten food when your pet has finished eating – normally just 10-15 minutes.

To ease this process some turtle keepers opt not to use gravel on the bottom of the cage. Use a kitchen sieve or an aquarium vacuum to quickly remove any uneaten food with the minimum of fuss.

Keep Records

Lastly, it can be a good idea to start a journal of feeding records. Over time you’ll gain a better understanding of how often your turtle needs feeding, which foods are most readily accepted, and any seasonal variations in appetite. This will mean less wasted food, a more accurate feeding regime, and represent a useful source of information for your vet if there are ever problems with your turtle.

Musk turtle food is crucial to get right - but what is a balanced diet, what foods should be eaten and how often? Find out in this extensive feeding guide for musk turtle owners.

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region

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Richard Adams

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