What Do Sea Turtles Eat?

Turtle meat and eggs may expose consumers to leptospirosis, an infectious bacteria which can lead to meningitis, kidney damage, respiratory distress or even death. Even cooking does not completely eradicate bacteria, parasites and heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and pesticides from your system.

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Diets of sea turtle species vary, with different varieties being either carnivorous or herbivorous. Their jaw structures reflect this; for instance, green turtles begin as primary carnivorous eaters but gradually transition into herbivory as adults.


Green Turtles

Green turtles rely on seagrasses for sustenance, foraging them by cutting the top blades near sediment surfaces to improve health and increase biodiversity of beds. Green turtles also feed off seagrass roots along with algae, sponges and invertebrates such as jellyfish crabs and shrimp.

As adults, turtlegrass (also called eel grass) and green algae which grow near coral reefs is their main food source, their sharp horny jaws acting as shears to cut the fibrous plants. Additionally, they consume soft-bodied marine invertebrates like jellyfish, sea cucumbers, and mollusks which they feed upon as food sources.

Loggerhead Turtles

Loggerhead sea turtles can be found throughout ocean waters worldwide. Their massive heads and strong jaws allow them to feast on conchs, bivalves, whelks, shrimp and horseshoe crabs as well as horseshoe crab eggs; but these turtles are omnivorous eaters and will consume jellyfish, fish eggs and brown algae known as sargassum as part of their daily diets.

A loggerhead turtle’s ability to find food is vital to its survival. Their digestive tract contains papillae that can pierce through protective membranes of jellyfish and allow the turtle to consume it without risk of tentacle bites.

As part of their open ocean feeding phase, loggerheads feed on floating items discarded by humans; such as garbage. A recent study of 150 stranded and bycaught loggerhead turtles from Adriatic and Tyrrhenian seas demonstrated their predilection for various prey phyla, fragments of litter, as well as satellite tracking has confirmed their migration from Japan and Australia beaches to coastal regions in Baja California and Mexico where they feed for years before making their first breeding migration back home along the Pacific Coast where they had first hatchlings as hatchlings migrate from.

Hawksbill Turtles

Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) take their namesake from their long heads and beak-like mouths, which enable them to feed on sponges, algae, sea urchins, jellyfish, mollusks, crustaceans, fish and other invertebrates such as sponges. Although mostly solitary in nature, Hawksbill turtles usually nest every 2-3 years.

Young Hawksbill turtles typically spend the first 1-3 years after hatching in the ocean on floating rafts of sargassum or near coral reefs, maturing into adult size. When adulthood arrives, hawksbills migrate to their feeding grounds where they become adept at eating sponges as they have the tendency to specialize in feeding on them.

These turtles use their specialized mouths and interlocking carapace scutes to reach into cracks in coral reefs to feed. Their diet consists of small animals such as birds, mammals and fish; as well as toxic blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) that thrive alongside certain sponges symbiotically. Their bodies allow them to digest these toxins; in humans however their consumption could cause illness or even death.

Leatherback Turtles

The leatherback sea turtle, with an 8-foot carapace and weight reaching over 2,000 pounds, is the largest living reptile. Their distinct dark coloring marked by white spots or blotches makes them easy to identify.

Mike James at Dalhousie University installed video cameras on 19 leatherbacks’ shells so she could study their feeding habits; she observed them swimming deep down to the ocean floor, finding jellyfish to swallow before returning up again to find more jellyfish to consume. To gain more insight into their foraging habits, small video cameras were attached as they made their journey and eventually sighted jellyfish which had to be swallowed whole before swimming up again to swallowing another jellyfish!

Researchers discovered that leatherback turtles use deep dives to access prey at levels beyond what scuba divers can reach, avoid predators, and escape excessive heat in warmer waters. Although leatherbacks possess these impressive abilities, they still face threats at sea such as poaching eggs and adults as well as becoming trapped in fishing nets and shrimp traps.