What Do Newborn Turtles Eat?

Mother and baby turtle

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

As a child, I remember being mesmerized by the gentle journey of a baby turtle making its way to the sea, a moment that sparked my lifelong fascination with these incredible creatures.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the intriguing world of newborn turtles, specifically focusing on their dietary needs – a crucial aspect for their survival and health.

Newborn turtles generally eat small, soft-bodied aquatic organisms. Sea turtle hatchlings feed on zooplankton and algae, while freshwater species often consume insects, small fish, and plant matter. Their diet supports rapid growth and development in their early life stages.

baby turtle on hand

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Dietary Needs of Newborn Turtles

When it comes to the dietary needs of newborn turtles, whether they are sea or freshwater species, their early diet is crucial for their survival and growth.

I’ve gathered that young sea turtles have a different start than many freshwater species.

Upon hatching, baby sea turtles from their nests make a perilous crawl to the ocean, where they begin their lives feeding in the marine ecosystem.

The initial diet of these young sea turtles often includes small organisms, like crustaceans and jellyfish, providing them with necessary proteins and other nutrients essential for their development.

the number one thing that you are going to want to provide your little baby turtle is nice clean water quote

In contrast, freshwater turtles, such as those from the Amazonian regions, are known to consume a variety that may include plants and small aquatic creatures like insects, earthworms, mealworms, and snails.

This diversity offers a balanced intake of nutrients, critical for their health and proper growth. I understand the importance of calcium and vitamins, particularly vitamin D, for the proper development of their shells and bones.

My knowledge indicates that a nutrient-rich diet in the early stages of life supports the overall health and vigor of turtles. This is why adequate feeding habits, featuring an optimal mix of protein, calcium, and vitamins, are fundamental.

Here’s a quick rundown of the key components of a newborn turtle’s diet:

  • Protein: Found in small aquatic creatures and insects; vital for growth.
  • Calcium: Necessary for strong shell and bone development.
  • Vitamin D: Obtained from exposure to sunlight; assists in calcium absorption.
  • Other Nutrients: A mix of vitamins and minerals to support healthy functioning.

By ensuring newborn turtles have access to these dietary components, we contribute to their chances of thriving in their natural habitats. Whether in the sea’s depth or a freshwater stream, each species has its unique dietary needs that help secure its survival.

What Do Newborn Sea Turtles Eat?

Immediately after hatching, baby sea turtles have a diet primarily composed of the yolk sac they carry from birth, which contains vital nutrients required for their early days.

Once they use up their yolk sac reserves, these young turtles commence oceanic life, foraging for food in their environment.

The ocean is a rich source of protein, essential for their growth and health. As they venture into the sea, their diet begins to include small organisms available in the water column such as tiny crustaceanszooplankton, and insects.

Their early feeding habits are critical as they contain the nutrients and vitamins necessary for strong development, providing energy and supporting the formation of a healthy shell and body.

expert quote turtle the above tank basking area allows you to fill the tank water all the way up so you are maximizing your swimming space in your aquarium

The components of their diet play significant roles; for example, calcium is crucial for developing strong bones and shells, and vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption.

The consumption of various plants and algae, which come later in their diet, introduces additional vitamins and nutrients, further contributing to their overall health.

In the first few years, which are sometimes referred to as the ‘lost years’, newborn sea turtles are believed to passively drift with ocean currents, during which their diet can include a range of available oceanic items such as jellyfish and floating seaweed.

As they mature, their dietary preferences may change depending on their species, with some types transitioning to a largely herbivorous diet, eating sea grasses and algae.

While others remain omnivorous or become primarily carnivorous, eating a variety of marine invertebratesearthwormsmealworms, and snails.

two baby water green turtles play in an aquarium on a rock

What Do Newborn Freshwater Turtles Eat?

The diet of newborn freshwater turtles is critical for their survival and growth. As a hatchling, a balanced intake of proteins and other nutrients is essential. 

Protein is vital for their growth, often coming from animal sources. In the wild, baby turtles will consume small insects, earthworms, snails, and even tiny fish. In captivity, protein needs can be met by providing mealworms or specially formulated turtle pellets.

The importance of calcium and vitamins, especially vitamin D, cannot be overstated. These nutrients ensure the proper development of shells and bones, with a particular emphasis on vitamin D for its role in calcium absorption.

While sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D, hatchlings in indoor enclosures may require supplements.

In contrast to their marine cousins, freshwater turtles have a more varied diet. Sea turtles are more specialized; for instance, green sea turtle hatchlings tend to consume more plant-based materials, such as algae.

However, freshwater turtle hatchlings have a higher reliance on nutritional needs geared towards both animal and plant matter, which supports their overall health as omnivores.

Feeding schedules for baby freshwater turtles should be frequent due to their rapid growth rates. Observing and adjusting their diets to match their appetite and developmental stages is crucial.

Besides live prey, hatchlings can benefit from a mix of leafy vegetables and aquatic plants to mimic their natural diet.

Always ensure access to fresh water; hydration is paramount for their health. Through a balanced and carefully monitored diet, we can support the nutritional needs, healthy growth, and wellbeing of these young reptiles.

Turtle family with mom and baby

What to Feed Newborn Turtles in Captivity?

When caring for newborn turtles, my focus is on providing a balanced diet that meets their specific nutritional needs. In captivity, the absence of a natural environment requires me to ensure an optimal diet for the health and growth of these young reptiles.


Newborn turtles require ample protein for proper development. In the beginning, I predominantly offer them small, soft-bodied aquatic animals. A suitable diet includes:

  • Live food: Bloodworms and brine shrimp are commonly used. They mimic the natural prey that newborn turtles would hunt in the wild.
  • Commercial turtle food: Pellets designed for hatchlings serve as a good supplement to live food. These often contain the correct protein-to-fat ratio necessary for growth.


As they grow, I introduce finely chopped aquatic plants and vegetables, as some species gradually shift to a more herbivorous diet.


A vital mineral for shell development, calcium is supplemented through cuttlebone pieces or calcium powder dusted on their food.


Vitamin supplements are added to their diet to prevent deficiencies, especially vitamin D3, which is crucial for calcium absorption.

Here are a few additional tips for anyone looking after newborn turtles:

  • Feeding Frequency: Offer food twice a day in small, manageable amounts to avoid overfeeding and pollution of the water.
  • Water Quality: Maintain clean water to prevent the spread of diseases, since hatchlings are particularly sensitive to poor water conditions.
  • Observation: Monitor their eating habits and growth to ensure they are ingesting and digesting food properly.

By adhering to these guidelines and adjusting the diet as the turtles mature, I aim to replicate the benefits of a natural habitat and contribute positively to their early life stages.

expert quote turtle avoid overfeeding turtles their feeding frequency should decrease as they age also be wary of feeding them goldfish or rosy red minnows, as these can block the absorption of essential vitamins

Do Newborn Turtles Drink Milk?

Contrary to mammals, newborn turtles do not drink milk. 

They are reptiles, and therefore, they hatch from eggs fully equipped to fend for themselves without any need for maternal care or milk.

As soon as a baby turtle breaks out of its shell, it’s self-sufficient, already possessing the instinct to hunt for food and to survive in its environment.

Pet Turtle Diet & Feeding Chart

Pet Turtle Diet Feeding Chart

For a printable version of this amazing diet chart, click here!

About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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