Omnivore Diet

There are many ways to put the basic nutrition ideas into place for omnivorous turtles and tortoises (and you should probably read that section before this one). Some typical plans will be listed here but be sure to check the ‘Notes for Various Species’ section below to see how to adjust the plans to your species.

Diet plans

Salad Mix
Many authors have recommended
a ‘salad’ based on a selection of high-calcium greens (collards, turnip
greens, endive lettuce); a handful of ‘approved’ fruits like pineapple,
mango, and strawberries; some sort of meat such as cat kibble or
chicken; and occasional supplements.
This ‘traditional’ salad has a few weaknesses- high in carbs with
all of those sweet. wet fruits; high in fats with the open selection of
meats; and not really well-balanced with calcium, fiber, etc. It is not
a bad diet, but can be improved with a few tweaks.

Better salad mix

Suggested by many experts, this is an improvement on the ‘traditional’ salad diet (And note- it does not all need to be served every day, or even every week! You can offer just the greens most days and the other items 1-3 times a week) …

  • 8
    parts dark, leafy greens or other plant matter. (try to use
    things like cactus pads, dandelion leaves, grape or mulberry leaves,
    live plants, etc. rather than lettuces when possible).
  • 3 parts fruits, mostly those lower in sugars and moisture- cherries, squash, bell pepper, figs, pumpkin, etc. 
  • 1 part ‘something interesting’, like a mix and match of any of these…
    • mushrooms, especially wild mushrooms or fungi.
    • vegetables, like carrots, sweet
      potatoes, etc. for variety.
    • sweet, moist fruit, like papaya, mango, strawberries, melon, pineapple, plums, apples, and most tropical
      fruits. Can also include naval oranges, bananas, and grapes occasionally.
    • live worms, insect larvae, bugs, or other
    • live or frozen/thawed young or baby rats and mice
      (‘pinkies’, ‘fuzzies’, and ‘hoppers’)
    • other meats- lightly cooked egg, poultry, organ meats, dog or cat fod
  • Pinch of calcium supplement.
  • Pinch of fiber supplement (long fiber strands, such as chopped hay, etc.).
  • Smaller pinch of multivitamins.

“Rotating days” plans

Many sites suggest some plan of rotating days, such as ‘greens, fruits, greens, fruits, greens, meats, fast’ or similar. This is fine as long as you roughly follow healthy ratios of foods. Mix it together, serve it on different days, or serve it in different bowls if you want- whatever works for you!

A good rotation would be something like this:

  1. Greens or greens mix and a low-moisture/high-fiber fruit or vegetable (like red peppers or figs)
  2. Greens or greens mix
  3. Greens or greens mix and one of the items from the ‘Something Interesting’ list above
  4. Greens or greens mix
  5. Greens or greens mix and a low-moisture/high-fiber fruit or vegetable
  6. Greens or greens mix
  7. Use up your leftovers, offer something different and interesting, or fast day if the week was kind of ‘heavy’.

An easier rotation plan is to offer greens and green mixes 5-6 days a week, then offer a larger pile of fruits, vegetables and meats on the days you do shopping or gardening 1-2 days a week.

The Tortoise Library plan- the “two bowl” method

We just use two imaginary bowls to fulfill the ‘How Much To Feed’ part of the Basic Tortoise Nutrition 1- Overview page-

  • The Shell

    is about the size of the tortoise’s shell, offered every day, and is
    filled with greens, plants, non-sweet fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms
    (the first four items from the ‘Better Salad Mix’ above).
  • The Head

    is about the size of the head, offered 1-4 times a week, and is fulled with the sugary fruits
    and/or invertebrates/meats.
  • Pinch of ‘Tortoise
    Library Nutrient Mix
Then, rotate the offerings. Buy as many greens as your tortoise(s) will eat in a week. If they would polish off three bunches of stuff, buy three different bunches. If your little guy would barely finish off one bunch, offer him things from selections you buy for your family.

Next time you go to the store, you buy different stuff, and repeat. This slow rotation helps ensure that any bad foods are only a small part of the overall diet and also helps ensure the widest selection of nutrients. 

Half and half plan
Even easier than the Tortoise Library Plan above! Besides being
easy to prepare, it also offers a good range of nutrition and flexibility, and follows
the Improper Diet Cascade

  • About 1/2 fresh Mazuri Tortoise
    or another good ‘tortoise chow’. (See “Prepared Foods or Natural Diet” for more on this topic.)
  • About 1/2 mixed green salad with a little fruit,
    varying the ingredients over time. (See the salad mixes above)

The Tortoise Library nutrient mix
There are several good supplements available, such as the excellent TNT (Total Nutrition for Tortoises), but you can
make up an easy-to-use mix of fiber, calcium, and vitamins if you would
rather not buy it.

  1. Chop or grind up dried, cubed, or pelleted hay
    (Timothy hay, etc.), until it is like dried parsley.
    The easiest way to break down the cubes is to tap them with a hammer to separate then into thin layers, then just crumple a layer
    up, tossing out any hard bits.
  2. Add about
    a heaping teaspoon of calcium powder per cup of hay.
  3. Add one crushed human vitamin tablet (or about 1/8th teaspoon of powdered vitamin)
  4. Toss or
    stir and store in an air-tight container.
Notes for various species

  • Indotestudo (Asian tortoises)- Basic omnivorous diet listed.
  • Chelonoidis (Red- and yellow-footed tortoises)- Basic omnivorous diet listed.
  • Kinixys (hinge-back tortoises)-
    Basic omnivorous diet with less greens and more worms and other invertebrates.
    Mealworms, millipedes, snails and watermelon are favorites.
  • Manouria (Indochinese tortoises)-
    Basic omnivorous diet with significantly increased amounts of squash, yams, and worms. Wild mushrooms are important to these species- store-bought oyster mushrooms are a partial solution.
  • Terrestrial turtles
    Basic omnivore diet, but more proteins- up to about 50% of the diet-
    especially live slugs, snails, worms and other invertebrates.
Developing theories…
Tortoise diets are still developing and new research and ideas are popping up all around. Two thoughts that are being widely discussed are:
  • Hatchling or juvenile forest tortoises may be heavily carnivorous. The idea here is that these young tortoises keep very hidden in the wild, and hide in places where there are lots of insects and other invertebrates. Even nesting sites are often filled with worms and other potential food items. Another aspect to this theory points to many other reptiles that are well-documented to be insectivores or carnivores when young- Red-ear Slider turtles, Bearded Dragons, and more. 
  • Diets should probably vary in captivity to reflect seasonal selection and abundance. Tortoises naturally have varying access to things like fruit, flowers, etc. as rainy and dry seasons affect their options. This pattern of abundance and scarcity, nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor affects the growth and may play an important roll in proper development. The ‘slow growth periods’ may allow the slower growing structures to catch up with the faster growing ones as well as offering other benefits to the tortoise and the keeper.

    We can simulate ‘two seasons’ by offering the full, varied diet listed above in the warm, humid months, and offering mostly greens, mushrooms, and the drier fruits in the cooler, drier months.

Revised 3-4-2013 (C) Mark Adkins