Turtles and slugs both dwell on the ground, so you may wonder if these slow-moving creatures ever cross paths. If you’ve spotted a turtle in your garden and want to know if it snacks on those slimy slugs munching your plants, you’ve come to the right place!

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Most turtles do not purposely eat slugs, although small slugs may accidentally be ingested along with vegetation. Turtles prefer more substantial meals like insects, fish, vegetation, fruits, and vegetables.

Do All Kinds of Turtles Eat Slugs?

Herbivorous Turtles Avoid Slugs

Herbivorous turtles like box turtles, tortoises, and red-eared sliders primarily feed on plant materials like fruits, vegetables, grass, and flowers. They do not typically eat meat or insects. As slugs and snails fall into the category of meat, herbivorous turtles tend to avoid consuming them.

In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Herpetology, many herbivorous turtles have developed adaptive behaviors to detect and avoid accidentally ingesting small animals like slugs that may be found on the plants they eat.

For example, red-eared sliders are known to carefully inspect leaves for insects before consuming them (Source).

Omnivorous Turtles May Accidentally Ingest Slugs

In contrast to strictly herbivorous species, omnivorous turtles like painted turtles and mud turtles have more diverse diets consisting of both plant and animal matter. As a result, they may occasionally ingest small slugs while foraging for other food among vegetation.

However, one study analyzing the stomach contents of 260 individual painted turtles found that only 3 of the turtles had traces of slugs/snails, accounting for just 1.2% of prey items consumed (Source).

This suggests accidental slug ingestion occurs infrequently and makes up a very minor part of most omnivorous turtles’ diets.

Predatory Turtles Actively Hunt Larger Slugs and Snails

Predatory turtle species like common snapping turtles have a primarily carnivorous diet, feeding on worms, insects, mollusks, fish, frogs, snakes, and even small mammals in some cases.

These species will actively hunt larger slug and snail prey on occasion. For example, one study on snapper diet in Ontario wetlands found 7% of studied samples contained gastropod remains (Source). While not a primary food source, these findings show predatory turtles do directly consume noticeable numbers of slugs/snails when available.

Turtle Diet Type Slug/Snail Consumption Frequency
Herbivorous (plant-eating) Rarely, if ever
Omnivorous (plants + some animals) Occasionally ingested accidentally
Carnivorous (meat/insect-eating) Actively hunted in small quantities

What Do Different Types of Turtles Like to Eat?

Box Turtles Enjoy Fruit and Vegetables

Box turtles are omnivores that enjoy a diverse diet of plant and animal matter. In captivity, pet box turtles should be fed a variety of fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, melon, squash, collard greens, and sweet potato.

According to the My Turtle Cam website, box turtles enjoy leafy greens, berries, tomatoes, bananas, grapes, and squash. These small turtles will also eat protein sources like mealworms, crickets, earthworms, slugs and snails. Their varied diet provides balanced nutrition.

Red-Eared Sliders Prefer Aquatic Plants and Small Fish

As a semi-aquatic turtle species, red-eared sliders thrive on a diet of aquatic plants and small fish. According to Reptile Knowledge, an educational reptile website, red-eared sliders enjoy eating duckweed, water lettuce, water hyacinths, fish (like goldfish and minnows), earthworms, tadpoles, crickets and aquatic snails or slugs.

They may also eat commercial turtle pellets. Owners should feed juveniles daily and adults every other day. Offering plants and hiding places also encourages natural foraging behavior.

Snapping Turtles Eat Fish, Frogs, Snakes, and Aquatic Invertebrates

Snapping turtles are opportunistic feeders that will eat almost anything they can swallow whole. As Reptile Magazine reports, common prey includes fish, frogs, snakes, small mammals, aquatic birds, leeches, crayfish, aquatic insects, worms, snails, slugs and mussels.

Hatchlings and juveniles eat more invertebrates, while adults graduate to consuming vertebrate prey and carrion. Large snappers have even been known to eat young waterfowl. Their powerful jaws allow them to be such effective hunters and scavengers.

Can Turtles and Slugs Safely Live in the Same Garden?

Take Steps to Protect Young Seedlings

Both turtles and slugs are common garden visitors, but they can cause serious damage to young vegetable and flower seedlings. Turtles munch happily on tender young greens, while slugs chew irregular holes in leaves and can girdle small seedlings at ground level.

Here are some tips to protect vulnerable seedlings:

  • Use plastic or metal barriers – Cut the bottoms from plastic nursery pots or aluminum pie plates and place them as collars around seedlings. This creates a physical barrier to protect plants from slugs and turtles.
  • Apply diatomaceous earth – Sprinkle this fine powder around seedlings. The sharp particles irritate soft slug bodies, causing them to avoid treated areas. Reapply after rain.
  • Set out beer traps – Sink shallow dishes of beer at ground level to attract and drown slugs.

Take action while plants are small and most vulnerable to serious damage. As they mature, seedlings can withstand more grazing.

Provide Alternate Food Sources to Deter Turtles

One of the best ways to protect your garden plants is to make sure turtles have access to more enticing foods. Generously stock a “turtle buffet” in a corner of your yard to distract them from your prized vegetables and flowers.

Excellent turtle delicacies include:

  • Earthworms – Worms provide protein and are a natural part of many turtles’ diets. Place them in shallow dishes sunk into the ground.
  • Chopped dark, leafy greens – Kale, collard greens and mustard greens are nutritious treats. Rinse well and chop leaves into bite-size pieces.
  • Fruit slices – Turtles relish melon, berries, peaches and plums. Just remove rinds/pits and slice the flesh into small pieces.

Replenish the turtle buffet daily to keep it well-stocked. Locate it in a shady, quiet corner of your yard. Once turtles find this veritable feast, they will be less likely to munch on tender new garden growth.

Consider Fencing Options for Vulnerable Growing Areas

In some cases, fencing may be necessary to protect precious plants. There are several effective, yet turtle-friendly options:

  • Hardware cloth – Sturdy 1/4-inch wire mesh fencing can be erected around vulnerable garden beds. Use posts to hold it 12-18 inches high. This excludes turtles while allowing pollinators to enter.
  • Electric fencing – Special low-voltage electric wires or meshes can be installed around gardens. The mild shock deters turtles without harming them.
  • DIY repellents – Set up ropes, mylar tape strips or aluminum pans that will move in the breeze and startle turtles away from plants.

Always maintain plenty of open, unmowed areas so turtles have habitat space. And be sure to inspect any fencing frequently to remove turtles or slugs trapped inside planted areas.


As we’ve explored, most turtles do not directly consume slugs as a main food source. However, small slugs can accidentally become turtle food when they munch the same vegetation. Larger predatory turtles may actively seek out slugs and snails if other prey is scarce.

By understanding what foods attract turtles to your garden and taking sensible precautions to protect vulnerable plants, you can certainly share your outdoor space with these unique reptiles and slimy slugs alike!

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