In the wild, painted turtles survive on a diet of algae, plants, aquatic insects, crustaceans and fish. Instead of adopting a sit-and-wait approach, the turtles forage along the bottom of the water body, flushing prey out into open water with exploratory strikes into the vegetation.
The turtles may also skim the water surface with mouth agape to catch particles of food. When it catches large prey, the turtle will hold the animal in its mouth and tear it open with its forefeet; however, it must have its head submerged to swallow. For the most part, younger turtles are mostly carnivorous and become more herbivorous as they grow older.