Published in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, Volume 72, Issue 1, January 1, 1999, pages 101-108. Copyright © 1999 University Of Chicago Press. The definitive version is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/316642.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Shannon J. McCauley was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
Several species of freshwater turtles in the family Emydidae undergo an ontogenetic dietary shift; as juvenile turtles mature, they change from a primarily carnivorous to a primarily herbivorous diet. It has been hypothesized that this shift results from an unfavorable ratio of gut capacity to metabolic rate that prevents small reptiles from processing adequate volumes of plant material to meet their energetic demands. Effects of dietary dilution on intake were evaluated in two size classes of red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) to test whether small reptiles have a lower capacity to compensate for low-quality diets through increased intake than do larger conspecifics. Artificial diets with an inert diluent were offered to two size classes of turtles, and mass-specific intakes of dry matter, energy, and nitrogen were calculated. Both small ( 28.7 ± 4.9 g body mass, mean mass ± SD) and large ( 1,230 ± 94 g body mass) turtles compensated for dietary dilution and maintained constant energy and nitrogen intakes on diets with lower energy content than common aquatic plants. Thus, body size did not affect the ability to respond to nutritional dilution, which suggests that processing limitations imposed by small body size do not constrain juveniles from adopting an herbivorous diet.