Best Feeder Fish for Turtles – All You Need To Know!

Turtles are underrated. They can live for more than 70 years in captivity with a balanced diet, and they are arguably the least demanding. The only hard part of having a turtle is probably a lack of a lot of helpful advice, especially on what to feed your beloved hard-shelled turtle. The truth is, turtles can feed on a diverse quantity of food. They share their diet with most other aquatic species, making them easy to maintain in captivity.

Turtle owners may prefer to introduce other fish in the aquarium as feeder fish. This way, the turtle feeds on the fish. But is feeder fish safe for turtles, or is it dangerous? How often should turtles eat fish foods? This guide offers insightful facts about feeder fish for turtles and everything you need to know about turtles eating feeder fish.

Copyright: kapu

Do Aquatic Turtles Eat Fish?

Yes, aquatic turtles eat fish such as platies, guppies, bass, and comet goldfish according to size. There’s no doubt that aquatic turtles love fish meat more than the land turtle. While the latter are also scavengers, the former is known for eating fish food. Aquatic turtles are also fed on greens like spinach, kales, and broccoli.

Swampy turtles eat berries, flowers, grasses, mushrooms, and weeds. Crayfish also form a big part of the aquatic turtle diet. This will also depend on the size and location of the species. As such, keeping a turtle and a fish might seem like a good idea but expect to miss the small ones as the turtle might be eating them.

What Is Feeder Fish?

Most pet turtle owners should find this term familiar, but here’s a recap for starters. It’s a common name for a specific group of inexpensive fishes that are meant to be a source of natural protein source for pets, e.g., turtles and sharks. The most common feeder fishes used include goldfish and guppies.

Is Feeder Fish Useful?

Most feeder fishes are easy to find, rear and breed. These groups of fish live and thrive in overcrowded ponds and are more preferred for their rapid growth and high fecundity. It’s why there are some many facilities where pet owners can buy feeder fish at an affordable price.

Most turtles like fish, with some turtle lovers saying it helps to stimulate their hunting instincts in the wild. Besides, chasing aids in exercise. Fish is also an excellent source of calcium as long as the turtle eats the entire fish, including bones.

Is Feeder Fish Safe for A Turtle?

Despite having significant benefits, providing your turtle’s feeder fish is not safe like most people think. For one, it has spiny bones that can not only hurt the turtle’s throat and even cause internal damage to the turtle. Besides, certain species of fish tend to be too fatty, which can cause obesity in turtles if fed continuously.

Depending on the source of your feeder fish, some may contain diseases, parasites, and harmful bacteria. Experts also say that feeder fish causes thiamine deficiency when used often for too long. It’s why you should probably offer a feeder fish as an occasional treat like celebrating anniversaries or birthdays.

Are Feeder Fish Dangerous?

For most turtles, the most common feeder fish is goldfish, which is harmful to turtles to consume due to their spiny bones that cause damage to the throat as well as the intestines.

As you probably know, turtles don’t chew food which means they can chock from the larger ones. Instead, turtles tear them apart into two, usually quite sloppily. When it happens, some random bones can stick against the throat and insides and potentially lead to damage. This does not happen frequently but can be a potential issue to be aware of.

If you must feed your turtle some feeder fish, go for tiny ones that can be eaten in one or two gulps. Just because your turtle can swallow a feeder fish whole, it doesn’t make it totally safe.

Are Feeder Fish Bad for Turtles?

A common issue most turtle owners are unaware of is just how unhealthy some of the feeder fishes are. Goldfish, for example, are high in fat content, which can affect your turtle’s health. Most turtles’ protein needs range from 30 – 40 percent – the rest ought to be leafy greens and veggies. Turtles should not be fed fatty foods as they lead to Vitamin E deficiency. A turtle with chronic vitamin E deficiency is prone to many issues such as a weaker bone/shell, slower healing, and more. Avoid falling into this pitfall by avoiding feeder fish with high-fat content, such as goldfish.

What About Wild Feeder Fish?

Goldfish isn’t the only thing to avoid. You also need to avoid any feeder fish caught outdoors. These are the most dangerous because they can potentially transfer harmful things to your turtle. Wild fish has a reputation for hosting parasites and deadly bacteria that run through their slippery bodies. When consumed, these parasites can infect your turtle and cause severe sickness.

You might ask, but turtles eat wild fish in the natural wild environment. Well, that’s right, but it’s just part of the story. With their slow speed, turtles rarely trap wild fish, leave alone eat them. In the indoor aquarium it’s entirely different because it’s not as big for the wild fish to flee from danger. In other words, it’s much more difficult for a turtle to eat a wild fish unless it’s within the limited confines of an indoor tank.

This sums up why your turtle goes crazy when they see an edible fish. It knows it’s a rare delicacy, a chance to feed on fish. All in all, it’s important to refrain from feeding your turtle any fish that you caught outdoors.

How Does Feeder Fish Lead to Thiamine Deficiency?

Unfortunately, most turtle owners are unaware of thiamine deficiency in turtles and, more importantly, how to prevent it. Commonly known as vitamin B1, thiamine is an essential nutrient to regulate a turtle’s metabolism.

The problem is that the two most common species of feeder fish, Goldfish and Rosy Red minnows, contain an enzyme known as thiaminase. This enzyme blocks the absorption of Vitamin B1 or thiamine.

When consumed often for a long time, chronic thiamine deficiency can develop, causing the turtle to become susceptible to infections and diseases. Besides, they can become more lethargic, have a low appetite for food, develop a slow metabolism as well as potential muscular disorders, not to mention death may occur in severe cases.

Basically, you want to avoid feeding your turtle any feeder fish, often at least, or it will block the absorption and destroy any thiamine in your turtle’s system.

How Often Should Your Turtle Eat Feeder Fish?

If you plan to feed your turtle some fish food, it’s best if you keep it minimum. Instead of including it in most meals, make it an occasional treat. You want to minimize it not to mess with your turtle’s natural diet. It’s okay to add a few morsels of fish food weekly, but you should avoid it if you can. If you prefer certain fish foods for turtles, it’s best to feed a few flakes or pellets once a week. You can keep it safer by feeding them fish food once per month.

Keep in mind that feeding them too much fish food can be the reason your turtles don’t want to feed on most of their ideal diet.

Why Do Turtles Eat Fish Food?

Turtles will eat and munch on just anything even when they are not hungry. That’s why they will eat a morsel of food available in the tank. If hungry, these opportunistic eaters will eat fish food. Turtles do not know the difference between their foods and food specifically offered to them in the tank. They will eat anything edible, even when it’s not for them.

What Is the Best Feeder Fish for Turtles?

If you decide to use feeder fish for turtles, make sure it’s:

  • Easily digestible without damaging the insides
  • Not too fatty
  • Thiamine-free
  • Not too fatty
  • Free of parasite and harmful bacteria
  • Small enough for easy swallowing

Therefore, better feeder fish to the rear are Killifish, Guppies, Platies, Mosquitofish, Bluegills, bass, and crappies. Many times, you can’t be sure whether a small batch of feeder fish you bought at a local store is clean and disease-free.

That said, you are much better off using feeder fish sparingly. After all, wild turtles do not depend on fish in their staple diet. They prefer to munch on plants, insects, and sometimes berries. This does not mean that feeding your turtle with some occasionally doesn’t have benefits. You could let your turtle chase a small fish sometimes to get the stimulation and excitement. It’s certainly beneficial and livens up their environment a bit.

Can You Keep Turtles and Fish Together?

Absolutely. However, there are some factors to consider when keeping turtles and fish together, such as the species of fish, species of your turtle, and the cost.

Species of the Fish

Not all turtle species and fish are compatible. Some turtle species are much easier to coexist with turtles. Here are some.

  • Pink belly Side neck turtles are common with turtle enthusiasts and can cohabitate with fish if brought the right way from a young age.
  • Red-eared sliders should be introduced to a fish tank because they lose interest in protein when offered greens and other aquatic plant food.
  • Painted turtles are also another favorite turtle for owners who wish to pair fish and turtles because they can only eat the very tiny fish varieties.
  • The mud and musk turtles are rarely seen hunting, and when they do, they are extremely poor at it.

The Cost of Fish

At times, the cost of fish may be discouraging, considering that there’s some risk. Let’s say you have an extremely expensive tropical fish, so it’s not worth it to put them together. Even if the fish survives, there’s a chance they will be bruised and not look so good. The main reasons owners prefer to keep minnows and goldfish in the same tanks as turtles are because they are inexpensive and reproduce fast.

Some Fish Can Harm the Turtle.

Most of the time, the aggressive fish hunter can become the hunted in the aquarium setting. But this is not always the case. Big enough and voracious enough species of fish may actually threaten your turtle. Koi and Oscars are good examples of tough and aggressive fish that can kill and eat turtles.

What Else Do I Feed My Turtle Besides Turtle Food and Pellets?

If you want to avoid feeder fish, you may still want to try out some live treats for your turtle. It’s recommended to make live food a treat instead of a portion of staple food. Some good options to try include:

  • Worms such as mealworms, super worms, and earthworms. Use sparingly because they contain more fat.
  • Crickets – another great live food that turtles can eat more often
  • Snails
  • Grasshoppers
  • Small shrimp

Make sure that you use live food that has been caught in organic soil to prevent exposure to any harmful chemicals or pesticides, as these harm your turtle if ingested. It’s for this reason you should feed your turtle more crickets and grasshoppers. Now that you know the type of feeder fish and live food to give your turtle, what’s the best way to feed them?

How To Feed Your Turtle Live Food?

Experienced turtle owners give this usual piece of advice when feeding your turtle: feed in a separate tank. Reasons why you should consider using a separate tank include;

  • It makes it easier for your turtle to catch live prey in a smaller tub of water than in their spacious aquarium.
  • It helps to keep the aquarium clean as the food particles are left in a separate tank.

However, you should note that you do not need to keep turtles in a separate tub. Let’s say your tank is quite large, and you just own a single semi-aquatic turtle, and the feeder fish has lots of nooks to hide in. It might make more sense to use a separate tub for feeding.

Why Do You Need Bottom Feeders?

Bottom feeders are useful for many reasons, but the biggest benefit is probably picking up the food that was missed by turtles in the water column.

This keeps the tank cleaner longer, especially for owners who are prone to overfeeding. Bottom feeders also eat plant matter and algae, which would otherwise rot and require vacuuming.

Best Bottom Feeder Fish

There are numerous great bottom feeders for turtle tanks, but here are a few we can recommend. Ensure you take good care of them for them to thrive in the tank.

Corydoras Catfish

  • Origin: South America
  • Scientific Name: Corydoras Spp.
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Adult Size:  1 – 3.5 inches
  • Tank size: 20 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Temperature: 72 – 82 0F
  • Lifespan: up to 5 years
  • PH: 6.0 – 8.0

The Corydoras are some of the cutest bottom feeders, and you should adore these little guys. These fishes flit around, and you can glance all day long as they scour the bottom all day long, feeding on the food lying on. The freshwater bottom feeder fish comes in many species, so you are spoilt of choice.

Some of the species, such as Pygmy and Dwarf Cory catfish, are suitable for nano aquariums, small as 10 gallons fish tank. Most Corydoras catfish species prefer at least 20-gallon tanks, though. One thing you will learn is that they feel lonely, and need to be kept several in the same aquarium. Cories prefer to root around the substrate, so you need to go for the smoother substrate. They do well on a balanced diet consisting of mainly live/dried foods.

Botia Loaches

  • Origin: Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sumatra
  • Scientific Name: Botia Spp.
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Adult Size:  2 – 12 inches
  • Tank size: 30 – 150 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivorous
  • Temperature: 75 – 85 0F
  • Lifespan: up to 20 years
  • PH: 6.0 – 7.0

Botia loaches are another cute bottom-feeder fish species that are suitable for larger aquariums. These are active and peaceful and could work great for community tanks. They love company, so you need to ensure you keep at least for in the tank. Do some homework on the species you choose because they can grow quite large, up to a foot length, and require at least 100 gallons tank. You can still find some other small varieties such as Botia striata and Ambastaia sidthimunki. Keep in mind that some of the species, such as the Skunk loaches and blue Botia, can fight other fishes.

Otocinclus Catfish

  • Origin: South America, Argentina, Venezuela
  • Scientific Name: Otoclinus spp.
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Adult Size:  1.5 – 2 inches
  • Tank size: 10+ gallons
  • Diet: Carnivorous
  • Temperature: 70 – 78 0F
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years
  • PH: 6.5 – 7.5

Oto cats are little peaceful guys that do best in a group of at least 10. They love to feed on algae, which makes them suitable for cleaning your glass aquarium and ornaments. In short, mature aquariums offering a healthy amount of algae provide the ideal environment for this fish species.

Other things to include in their diet are slices of veggies like zucchini and algae wafers. They require minimal care as long as the water quality is good, the main reason for their popularity.

The Otocinclus genus has over 17 different species, but the most common species in aquariums is Otoclinus vittatus because it’s possible to breed this species in the tank.

Bristlenose Pleco

  • Origin: South America
  • Scientific Name: Ancistrus cirrhosus
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Adult Size:  3 – 24 inches
  • Tank size: 20+ gallons
  • Diet: Vegetarian (algae)
  • Temperature: 73 – 81 0F
  • Lifespan: 10 – 15 years
  • PH: 6.5 – 7.5

Bristlenose Plecos are adorable catfish from South America that are suitable for most community tanks. These sucker-mouthed catfish are commonly added to aquariums to clean up substrate and algae. However, keep in mind that they tend to be semi-aggressive to others of the same species. For this reason, you should avoid keeping more than one adult in the same aquarium. Nevertheless, these amazing bottom dwellers will do a perfect job keeping the tank clean and munching on food leftovers and algae.

Kuhli Loach

  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Scientific Name: Pangio kuhli
  • Care Level: moderate
  • Adult Size:  3 – 5 inches
  • Tank size: 20+ gallons
  • Diet: omnivorous, frozen foods, algae wafers
  • Temperature: 75 – 85 0F
  • Lifespan: Up to 10 years
  • PH: 5.5 – 6.5

Kuhli loaches are unusual-looking and peaceful little bottom feeders that are fun to watch when not hiding. The nocturnal species are known to hibernate during the day and come out at night. As such, ensure you provide sand or fine gravel where they can retreat to during the day. They are among the best bottom feeder fish in the aquarium, locating any food using the whiskers. They do best in groups of at least 5 and will happily scour the tank for anything that interests them. The curious fish will dig under décor for anything small that may have ended up there. Other types of loach are Dojo loaches.

Synodontis Catfish

  • Origin: Africa
  • Scientific Name: Synodontis nigriventris
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Adult Size:  4 – 10 inches
  • Tank size: 30+ gallons
  • Diet: Vegetarian (algae)
  • Temperature: 72 – 77 0F
  • Lifespan: about 10 years
  • PH: 7.5 – 8.2

This catfish family is mostly found in the wild of African rivers and lakes and is a great bottom feeder for cichlid tanks. These catfish appear shy but are active nonetheless. You can find over 300 species of Synodontis, and most are suitable for use in aquariums. Although some like Synodontis petricola and angelica are small, some species can grow to 9 inches. They are scavengers by nature with a gentle temperament. It’s not unusual for them to squabble amongst themselves.

Other Great Bottom Feeders to Consider

Other honorable mentions include:

Siamese Algae Eaters – this is an efficient algae-eating fish that can happily live alone or in groups of 5 or more. They are long and thin and can grow up to 6 inches in a 40+ gallon tank.

Twig Fish – here are some of the most interesting bottom-feeder fish that can grow up to 9 inches. They appear like thin twigs, which is a defense mechanism against predation. These, however, are not recommended for beginners.

Pictus Catfish – These fish have long, trailing barbels, similar to catfish, and can typically grow to about 5 inches with 8+ years of lifespan. These laid-back fish tend to be very active with their eye-catching colors that are a delight to watch.

Yoyo Loach – these are characterized by markings on the sides. They are a peaceful species that help snack on snails and shrimp in the tank.

Dwarf Shrimp – these may not be fish at all but some of the best bottom feeders around. The tiny animals eat any little particle of food, decaying plant matter, and even dead mates. Since they are so small, they may not be ideal for large turtles.

Worst Types of Bottom Feeders

 Common Pleco – the common pleco is more popular than it should be. The bottom-feeding fish can grow to over 20 inches. Only keepers with very large tanks should take care of them.

Chinese Algae Eaters – these are not the ideal choice for many reasons. They can grow over 10 inches and are pretty aggressive as adults. You need at least 55 gallons to keep these.

Tiger Shovelnose Catfish – these are mostly found in South America and can grow to 3 feet. They also become aggressive and can eat mates that fit in their mouths.

Channel Catfish – these are arguably some of the bad boy catfish that could reach 3 feet and weigh 50 pounds. Although tasty, their size could require up to 300 gallons.

Redtail Catfish – this is a south American behemoth that can rapidly grow to 6 feet which is extremely large. They can happily eat other fish and small turtles.

Apple Snails – These are common, but we do not recommend them because they grow big really quickly and can reproduce extremely fast. Left to breed, they can destroy any live plants in the aquarium.

Tiger Shovelnose Catfish – These cool-looking catfish can grow to over 3 feet in length! The large carnivorous fish can eat the rest of the mates and should only be kept in a very large aquarium.

Is Romaine Lettuce Good for Turtles?

Yes, all lettuce varieties are suitable for turtles and full of valuable nutrients. Radicchio and romaine lettuce are also delicious, making them a popular snack for turtles. Iceberg lettuce, on the other hand, is just full of water and has very little nutritional value, so don’t count on them as a daily meal for your pet turtle, or else they might become malnourished.

Ensure that you only feed your turtle wild-grown lettuce or those grown without chemicals or pesticides. This reduces the possibility of your turtle getting sick from eating contaminated vegetables. Ensure that you wash the lettuce before cutting it up and feeding it to the turtle.

Do Turtles Eat Fish in Ponds?

Omnivorous turtles will hunt down fish in a pond. Typically, they prey on weakfish, but they will hunt down healthy fish if the chance arises. If you have one or two turtles in a pond, it’s not really a big deal, but if they start overpopulating, they can take over the pond and eliminate the fish and other smaller species.

Frozen Fish for Turtles

Turtles can consume frozen fish after thawing it. However, you should limit your turtle’s fish consumption as a protein-rich diet can often lead to shell pyramiding, feed your turtle a few bites of fish twice per week for adults and at least four times for hatchlings. Over time you should reduce frozen fish consumption to prevent your turtle from becoming obese.

How should Wild Caught Fish Be prepared Before Feeding it to a Turtle?

Start by cleaning any wild-caught fish and deboning it. You should then cook the less fatty pieces under medium heat, eliminating parasites and harmful bacteria. Only feed little amounts of cooked fish to your turtle to avoid overfeeding them on a protein-rich diet.

What Can Turtles Eat from Human Food?

A turtle’s omnivorous diet makes it much easier for them to consume some of the human food you might have in your fridge. From meat to fish and vegetables, you can also feed turtles pieces for fruits which they gladly munch on.

When feeding your turtle fish for human consumption, make sure that it’s free of any pathogens and not high in fats. These can cause vitamin E-deficiency turtles and exacerbate obesity. Look for fish rich in phosphorus and calcium, such as bluegills, bass, and crappies.

Turtles love meat, and you can feed them bits of your favorite meat, but don’t overfeed them as it will cause the build-up of keratin in the scutes as they grow. Avoid feeding your turtle fatty pieces of meat as well.

Turtles didn’t evolve naturally to digest milk, so avoid feeding your pet any dairy products. Consumption of such leads to severe indigestion in turtles, with zero nutritional benefits.  You should also keep sweets and chocolates or any other sugar-rich human food away from turtles as they lack the enzymes to break down such large amounts of sugar. Bread also lacks any nutritional value for your pet turtle.

Wrap Up

Out in the wild turtles survive by hunting down small creatures and feeding on vegetation. Keeping your pet turtle on a diet that closely resembles what they eat in the wild will keep them healthy even in captivity. For this reason, you should control the amount of feeder fish your turtle costumes to avoid obesity and shell pyramiding. A few pieces of fish every week will provide your turtle with the protein content it needs to grow optimally. Ensure that the fish is deboned as some spiny bones can harm your turtle’s digestive tract.

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