Feeding Cuora amboinensis : the dilemma

Scientific sources (i.e. Ernst & Barbour) refer to Cuora amboinensis as entirely or "decidedly herbivorous" in the wild, but note that they eagerly take animal foods in captivity. This creates a dilemma:

1. A truly herbivorous turtle should not be fed high protein foods, no matter how much it likes them, as the excessive protein damages the kidneys over time.
2. Perhaps amboinensis have simply not been scientifically observed eating meat (slugs, worms, bugs, small fish) because of its aquatic nature--no one put on a snorkel and followed around a turtle long enough. In that case, the turtle may actually require animal proteins.
3. Following the animal's whims will not resolve the dilemma. Many species of turtles and tortoises are known to eat, and seem to prefer, highly damaging diets, for many years. Some develop shell deformities, but others may appear perfectly healthy until they become ill from terminal renal failure.

Simply put: Does the turtle need meat or will meat kill it?

The answer, put just as simply: I don't know for sure.

While I continue to search scientific references, I recommend taking the safest course--tread lightly with meat, eggs, and other high protein animal foods. This species has not been studied extensively in the wild, and may very well be eating a wide variety of animal proteins available in the aquatic environment. But we know for sure that it does eat lots of plants. My experience would suggest that this species will do very well on aquatic plants, with just a small amount of "meat." I feel that is the safest course for healthy ambos. However, sick ambys are inclined to eat far more live foods, and seem to crave them. They may need more proteins to recover.

For healthy C. amboinensis, feed aquatic plants (duckweed, anacharis, water lettuce, etc.), weeds (dandelion, plantago, chickweed, etc.), grocery greens and lettuces (romaine, red lettuce, collards, endive, etc.), fruits (figs, cantaloupe, grapes, kiwi, etc.) and occasionally meats, such as insects, worms, and snails.

Something else to think about: Why do so many turtles love food items that they would never encounter in their natural habitats?

Many turtles enjoy the taste of canned cat food. Turtles that are not eating well can often be enticed with cat food. Unfortunately, these foods are not formulated with turtles in mind. (And, in any case, different species of turtles have different needs.) Cat food should be used sparingly. However, it should be mentioned that occasionally feeding dry cat food to aquatic turtles can help keep their beaks from becoming overgrown.

Cats with kidney problems are often fed foods that are especially formulated for them. These preparations are low in protein and fat, and utilize plant-based nutrients. This may be the better option for turtles who love cat food. Adding finely minced greens, carrots & other veggies to canned varieties will improve the nutritional value for turtles.

A similar healthy, palatable "patè" can be made by adding minced greens/veggies to the yolk of a hard-boiled egg--another favorite of many turtles.

Cheese is another unnatural favorite. The calcium content would seem to be good. But the protein and fat are way out of line for turtles. Further, reptiles do not have the enzymes required to metabolize dairy products.

back to the Care Sheet

There's more on feeding on the Vivarium page

General Information on Turtle Nutrition

"One Turtle's Tale: The Malayan Box Turtle's Story"

Check these sources for more information.

The Turtle Puddle

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