From turtles to snakes, reptiles are surprisingly cute and fun to care for. Making sure that your scaly friend has the right food to eat is just as important as watching your own diet.
There are currently estimated to be more than 10,000 different species of reptiles on the face of the planet, from the meat-gobbling crocodile to the lettuce-loving tortoise. There’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” reptile diet.
That means it’s important to do your research on your pet. Spend time reading about the wild diet of your reptile’s species, and then find the appropriate mix of fresh food, pellets, and supplements to keep him healthy for a long life.
Different Diets for Different Pet Reptiles
Every species of reptile eats a slightly different diet. Let's take a peek at some of the foods that each group of reptiles generally eats.
What Do Snakes Eat?
Most snakes are carnivores or insectivores. They need to eat meat and don't eat any fruits or vegetables for the most part. Most snakes eat some combination of:
- Insects of all shapes and sizes
- Other reptiles
- Larger mammals
- Eggs, though this isn't very common
You'll probably feed your pet snake rodents because they're by far the easiest way to feed a captive reptile. These may be fed at different ages and can be frozen, freshly killed, or alive. Be careful feeding your snake live prey; live prey could attack or injure snakes in some scenarios. If you want to feed your snake live prey, make sure the snake eats the prey; otherwise, remove the live animal from your snake's environment if it doesn't show interest after 10 to 15 minutes.
Some snakes won’t eat food unless it’s moving, meaning that there aren’t really any options for avoiding rodents if you’ve got a carnivorous reptile. If you’re squeamish about feeding frozen or live mice to your new pet, consider avoiding carnivorous snakes!
Feeding your carnivorous snake can get expensive quickly if you’re not able to raise your own rodents.
What Do Lizards Eat?
Lizards are a varied bunch. Most smaller lizards are mostly insectivores. However, other species of lizard can be herbivorous (vegetarian) or omnivorous (both meat and veggies). Some big lizards are true predators, eating larger mammals with ease—but those aren't common as pets.
Insectivorous lizards are probably a better choice if you’re comfortable with killing crickets but not rats.
In the wild, lizards might eat:
- A wide variety of worms, spiders, beetles, flies, and other insects
- Gut-loaded insects
- Other small animals like baby birds, baby mice, or smaller lizards
- Fruits and veggies
- Larger prey, depending on the size of the lizard
The specific diet varies a lot depending on the species of lizard. Most people feed their lizards crickets, mealworms, or waxworms.
It’s usually pretty easy to find crickets at your local pet supply store, making it easy to feed these reptiles. That said, if you only feed crickets, your insectivore can develop deficiencies in some nutrients. You may want to explore supplement options.
Examples of pet insectivorous lizards include anoles, leopard geckos, and long-tailed skinks. Iguanas, another common pet lizard, are mostly vegetarian. Bearded dragons and blue-tongued skinks are omnivores.
What Do Turtles and Tortoises Eat?
The pacifists of the reptile world, pet turtles and tortoises usually don’t eat any meat or insects. These slow-moving animals prefer to eat things that can't run away, such as:
- Lettuce, beet greens, and other leafy greens
- A variety of fruits, including apples, melons, and mangoes
- A wide variety of other veggies
- Some aquatic turtles eat fish or insects
Herbivorous turtles and tortoises might be appealing if you don’t like the idea of other animals dying to feed your pet. Turtles and tortoises often have complex nutritional needs because they evolved to eat such a variety. Many omnivorous reptiles do best with a vitamin supplement or pellets to augment their fresh meals.
Does My Reptile Need Supplements?
Most pet reptiles eat much less varied food than they would in the wild. For example, we often just feed crickets to our anoles and mice to our corn snakes.
Even what the mice eat when they’re alive is pretty bland, which can reduce their nutritional quality. If the mice always eat nothing but plain old pellets, they’re less nutritious for your snake.
Nutritional deficiencies can lead to weak bones, vulnerability to disease, and a generally shorter life for your pet. Pellets are a great way to augment your reptile’s diet, especially for herbivores and omnivores. These balanced diets go a long way to making your reptile more healthy. Even with a mix of pellets and fresh food, many pet reptiles benefit from—or even need—supplements.
Which supplements your reptile needs will vary greatly based on what you feed and what species it is.
Some reptile owners feed their crickets and mice a supplemented diet, dust their crickets with supplement powder, or sprinkle supplement powder onto fruits and veggies. You can even add supplements to water for some reptiles.
In short, there are a lot of different ways to ensure that your reptile gets the diet it needs. The most important thing is knowing your species and doing your research to provide it with the best diet possible.
Metabolic and Endocrine Diseases of Reptiles. Merck Veterinary Manual.