What Do Sea Turtles Eat?

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Sea turtle eating jelly-fish

Sea turtle diets vary by species and age. Not only are some species carnivores while others are herbivores, some change what they eat as they age. The reason for such variety comes down to anatomical factors like jaw shape and size and immunity to toxins found in some prey.


Green Sea Turtles
Remarkably, green sea turtles are the only herbivorous species. Their jaws are perfectly adapted for eating sea grasses, seaweed, and algae. With their serrated, saw-like beak, they can scrape the algae off rocks and tear grasses. In fact, green sea turtles are crucial for maintaining coral reefs by preventing overgrowth of algae. There is even a seagrass species known as "turtle grass" because, in areas like the Caribbean, the green sea turtle eats it exclusively.


Leatherback Sea Turtles
If you've been wondering, "Do sea turtles eat jellyfish," the answer is yes. Leatherback sea turtles are carnivores with delicate, scissor-like jaws perfectly suited for eating jellyfish. While they will also occasionally eat fish, mollusks, squid, and sea urchins, they prefer soft-bodied animals. Interestingly, some leatherback turtles have been tracked crossing the entire Pacific Ocean to feed on swarms of jellyfish found off the coasts. The leatherback's mouth and throat are lined with spine-like structures called papillae which help them swallow. Unfortunately, because their diet consists of mainly jellyfish, they often eat plastic bags floating in the ocean which leads to their deaths.


Loggerhead Sea Turtles
Unlike the delicate jaws of leatherback, the loggerhead turtle's jaws are strong and adapted for grinding. They typically have large heads and strong feet that allow them to catch and crush prey found on the ocean floor. They primarily eat crabs, horseshoe crabs, other mollusks, and shrimps. They do also eat jellyfish.

 

Hawksbill Sea Turtles
Because they have jaws that meet at an acute angle, hawksbill turtles can easily reach food in crevices and tight spaces like those found in coral reefs. They are omnivores and are known to eat mainly sponges, shrimps, squids, sea grasses, sea urchins, and barnacles. Interestingly, while sponges contain glass-like spines called spicules which are typically toxic to sea creatures, hawksbill turtles are immune to it. They are also known to eat only certain types of sponges which help give more rare sponges a chance to grow, creating a more diverse eco-system.

 

Hawksbill Sea Turtle Eating On Sea Floor


Baby Sea Turtles
What do baby sea turtles eat? As mentioned before, the diet of many species of sea turtles changes as they age. For example, young green sea turtles are omnivores, consuming a variety of insects, crustaceans, sea grasses, and worms. Loggerheads are also omnivorous as hatchlings, only growing more carnivorous as they become adults. Young hawksbill turtles are unable to dive deep, and as a result, spend their early years finding food amongst sea plants near the water’s surface.


Do Sea Turtles Eat Fish?
Protein is crucial to the diet of many sea turtles. Therefore, fish is part of the diets of some species. Olive ridley turtles and Kemp ridley turtles specifically are known for eating fish among other crustaceans and mollusks. Flatback sea turtles also can eat fish.



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