What Do Sea Turtles Eat?

Anyone who has seen a sea turtle before can tell you how big they are. You might expect an animal that size to need lots of food for survival. So, what do sea turtles eat?

Sea turtle diets include jellyfish, crabs, shrimp, snails, and algae. Sea turtles have no teeth, which affects how they eat their food. Each type of sea turtle has a special diet. Different species have evolved to eat what’s available in their environment. Sea turtles like to eat what they come across and are opportunistic eaters.

You might have noticed the fact that sea turtles have no teeth. It can be confusing since they eat hard-shelled organisms like crabs and snails. Now you could be thinking about how turtles eat food.

This article will go into more detail about specific sea turtle diets and how they eat and hunt. We’ll also explain why they eat these things and how they feed their young.

Let’s dive in.

What do sea turtles eat

What do sea turtles eat?

1. Jellyfish

Across all sea turtle subspecies, most eat jellyfish. Jellyfish make up a massive part of sea turtle’s diets because they are easy to catch.

Jellyfish gives no nutritional value to sea turtles. Sea turtles play a key role in controlling the jellyfish population because they like to eat anything they can find.

But this can be a big problem for sea turtles. With plastic pollution, many sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish. This can affect their lifespan and lower the population.

Since jellyfish are poisonous, how do sea turtles eat them without being affected? Sea turtles have evolved to defend their self against the venom of jellyfish. These include:

  • Thick skin around the mouth
  • Lining in their throats and stomach
  • A shell that acts as armor
  • Closing their eyes when they attack

First, the turtle attacks from the top. Sea turtles have sharp beaks instead of teeth. This separates the jellyfish from its tentacles which contain the most venom.

Once they eat the jellyfish, the lining of the throat and stomach protects them from the jellyfish stings. It also gets rid of seawater from the jellyfish.

Their hard shell protects them from stings by the jellyfish. The shell does have nerve endings, but not enough to cause major pain to the turtle.

While attacking the jellyfish, turtles close their eyes to stop the venom from entering their eyes. This can be painful for the turtle, so they have learned to hunt jellyfish without their eyes.

2. Invertebrates

Other than jellyfish, sea turtles also like to eat other soft-bodied invertebrates. This includes sea squirts and tunicates.

Leatherbacks have specialized diets where they only eat gelatinous prey. They are often called gelatinivores.

They also have beaks with two cusps on the upper and lower jaw. This enables the leatherback to puncture the soft-bodied prey. Their jaws could be damaged by anything else other than jellyfish.

3. Algae and seagrass

Green sea turtles often like to forage for seagrass and algae. Their jagged beaks allow them to scrape the algae off rocks. Their beaks also help them cut seagrass easily.

Green sea turtles are crucial for preventing the overgrowth of algae and helping maintain normal levels. Overgrowth of algae could result in the death of seagrass, as they consume all the oxygen and sunlight.

But algae can harm green sea turtles if they eat too much. They prefer to eat seagrass, and the loss of these plants can affect sea turtles. Eating just algae is less healthy and makes the turtles more prone to diseases.

Only adult green sea turtles eat algae and seagrass as they are herbivores. Other subspecies eat different types of plants like sea sponges and corals.

4. Sea sponges

Hawkbill sea turtles have a specialized diet where they mostly eat sea sponges. Sometimes, they can eat squids and shrimps, but this is rare.

Their head and jaw have evolved to be able to grab sponges and corals from crevices.

In a hawkbill’s digestive system, they can digest the toxic chemicals found in some sponges. Hawkbill sea turtles are among the few animals that can eat sea sponges.

These sea turtles play a large role in helping maintain coral reefs. They help contain sea sponge growth and allow sunlight for corals to grow.

5. Crustaceans

Sea turtles like to eat a variety of crustaceans like crabs, shrimp, and lobsters. Mostly loggerhead, olive ridley, and kemp’s ridley turtles prefer to eat crustaceans in their diets.

Kemp’s ridley and olive ridley turtles have strong jaws allowing them to crush and grind up hard-shelled organisms. Loggerhead turtles can eat bigger crustaceans as they have large heads and powerful jaws.

6. Snails

Sea turtles like to enjoy a variety of snails like whelks and conchs. Flatbacks often like to eat sea snails. Their jaws are slightly jagged, allowing them to eat many different types of marine life.

Adult green sea turtles sometimes eat snails, and so do their hatchlings. Sea snails are the only non-plants adult green sea turtles will eat, but their hatchlings will eat other organisms.

What do Different sea turtles eat?

Sea turtles have a varied diet, depending on where they live and what’s available. Most sea turtles are omnivores, whilst others are specialists. This shows what the different subspecies eat:

Sea TurtleDietMain foods
GreenHerbivoresAlgae, seagrasses, and seaweed
LeatherbackSpecialistsJellyfish, and other soft-bodied invertebrates
LoggerheadOmnivoresCrabs, conchs, whelks, and horseshoe crabs
Kemp’s ridleyOmnivoresCrabs, fish, jellyfish, shrimp, and mollusks
Olive ridleyOmnivoresCrabs, shrimp, lobster, sea urchins, jellyfish, algae, and fish
FlatbackOmnivoresSea cucumbers, jellyfish, corals, shrimp, crabs, mollusks, fish, and seaweed
HawksbillSpecialistsSea sponges

What do baby sea turtles eat?

Before they emerge from their nests, they have embryonic sacs that provide them with food. They then wait until night to leave the nest and enter the water.

Hatchlings often have different diets from their adult counterparts. They are mostly omnivores as they need protein from other animals for growth.

Their diets include crustaceans, fish eggs, seaweed, and jellyfish. But these baby sea turtles mistake tar balls, plastic, and trash for food which can kill them.

Do sea turtles need water?

Sea turtles still do need to drink water. They consume seawater from their prey but also the swimming environment.

Since seawater contains high salt levels, sea turtles need to remove the excess salt. They cry to eliminate the excess salt from their system.

Can you feed sea turtles?

You shouldn’t feed wild sea turtles. This encourages them to rely on humans and stop searching for food.

It also lowers their survival instinct, making them more vulnerable to predation.

The food also won’t be what the sea turtle is used to and won’t be nutritious for them. This can cause health issues for the sea turtle.

In conclusion

Sea turtles have a varied diet, eating whatever they come across. They eat a broad range of foods like plants, crustaceans, and jellyfish.

Each sea turtle species has its own diet, suited to its environment and availability.

Hatchlings often have a different diet to help them grow and mature. This includes eating other animals for protein.

Turtles do still need to consume water as a part of their diets. They need to excrete the additional salt by crying.

Don’t feed a sea turtle if you encounter one. This can make it dependent on humans for food and harm their health.

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