You may not realize, but the food habits of each species on the earth are interlinked. As a part of the ocean, the sea turtles play a huge role in balancing the ecosystem of their habitat. Have you ever thought about a marine turtle’s diet? Or what the sea turtles like to eat?
Sea turtles have a broad range of food options. The favorite diet of the sea turtles includes seaweed, seagrass, algae, snail, jellyfish, etc. The exact food habit of a marine turtle depends on its species and habitat.
Are you interested in the food culture of a sea turtle? If yes, then dive into this food journey of a marine turtle with me.
Sea Turtle Diet: What Do They Like To Eat?
Sea turtles can be,
- Carnivorous (prefer animal-based protein)
- Herbivorous (enjoyplant-based foods)
- Omnivorous (eat a balanced diet consisting of both animal and plant matters)
The diet of a sea turtle totally depends on its species, habitat, jaw structures, and other physical characteristics. Not only that, the food preferences of a marine turtle may change with its age.
Right now, there are 7 species of sea turtles in the world. Each species has a distinct food habit, which comes to them naturally and keeps them healthy.
In the following subsections, I will include the diet preference of each of the 7 marine turtle species.
Green Sea Turtle Diet
Green turtles are known for their greenish appearance on fat and cartilage. The species grows about 5.5 feet and weighs 400 pounds. Even though these turtles begin their life near the open surface, they spend most years in the deep sea.
The diet of a green sea turtle depends on age. Experts have found out that even though a green turtle starts its life as an omnivore, it adopts a herbivorous food habit in its adulthood.
Basically, during the first 3 to 5 years, the green sea turtle hatchling diet focuses on animal-based matters, such as zooplankton, shrimp, worms, crab, insects, snails, mollusks, jellyfish, crustaceans, etc. As the diet includes a small amount of seagrass and algae, many experts refer to the baby green sea turtles as carnivorous.
With the growing age, the baby green sea turtle moves to the deep sea. At this point in life, the turtle shifts to a more plant-based food plan. The diet of a juvenile green sea turtle includes a large amount of seagrass, seaweed, algae, etc. These turtles also eat a small portion of invertebrate sea species like jellyfish, crab, and sponges.
An adult green sea turtle is a total vegetarian. Its life in the shallow ocean water depends on seagrass, seaweed, and algae. A green sea turtle scrapes off the weed or algae from the rocks with the serrated or saw-like beak. Hence, the species often live near the reef during its adulthood for food collection. Sometimes, the creature feeds on sponges or crabs by mistake.
Experts suggest that the fat cell of this marine turtle species has a green color pigment, which is responsible for their greenish appearance. They also assume that the green pigments come from the herbivorous diet.
Leatherback Sea Turtle Diet
The leatherback sea turtles are famous for being the largest of all turtle species. A leather-like shell, instead of a hard one, is the main story behind this species name.
Leathery flat shells of these turtles also help them swim swiftly and deeper than most other marine turtles. A report says that a leatherback sea turtle can dive 3000 feet deep in the ocean. Such characteristics affect the food habits of this species.
Leatherback sea turtles go by the name of gelatinivore, which means they feed on gelatinous prey. As these turtles travel great distances in the open ocean, soft invertebrates are more available to them.
The main diet of a leatherback sea turtle is jellyfish. Besides, soft-bodied organisms like pyrosomes, siphonophores, tunicates, sea squirts, crustaceans, squid, urchins, salps, etc., are also included in the food list.
Besides living in an open sea, the physical characteristics of the leatherback sea turtle are also responsible for its food choices. Unlike most other marine turtles, leatherback sea turtles do not have serrated jaws. Instead, the species has two sharply pointed beak-like cusps, one on the upper jaw and one on the lower portion.
With weak jaws, it is challenging for a leatherback sea turtle to tear up hard-bodied prey. However, the species can easily grasp a jellyfish or other soft-bodied prey and pierce it apart with the pointy cusps. The mouth cavity and backward pointed papillae lines on the throat make sure the organism does not exit the mouth and aids in swallowing.
Leatherback sea turtles sometimes mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and consume eagerly. Unfortunately, this is unhealthy for the turtles and risks their life.
Loggerhead Sea Turtle Diet
Loggerhead sea turtles are the second largest among the 7 existing species. The species has different food preferences at different stages of its life.
As a hatchling, the baby loggerhead sea turtles are omnivorous. They feed on both plant and animal matters. Most of the hatchling diet includes seagrass, algae, and a small portion of floating mats called sargassum, snail, mussels, etc. Many experts claim that the loggerhead sea turtles stay herbivorous in the early development years of their life.
Juvenile and adult loggerhead sea turtles are carnivorous, which means they are dependent on animal matter. Loggerhead sea turtles generally feed on the hard-shelled and bottom-dwelling invertebrates. Such as,
Loggerhead sea turtles go after hard-shelled prey because the species have a solid body structure. These turtles have massive heads and powerful jaws, which are enough to crush the tasty food.
Loggerhead sea turtles are also known as opportunistic fish feeders. It is because these turtles feast on fish whenever they get a chance.
Hawksbill Sea Turtle Diet
Hawksbill sea turtles are endangered species and mostly live in the mangrove swamps, rocky areas, reefs, lagoons, and estuaries of tropical and subtropical area waters. Even though these turtles are omnivorous, they have a unique taste in food.
The hawksbill hatchlings usually live in an open ocean, and during those years, the babies follow the similar diet of a green sea turtle. Fish eggs, crabs, macroplankton, algae, barnacles, etc., cover up their meals. With growing age, the hawksbill sea turtles switch their diet to mostly sponges.
Reports say that hawksbill sea turtles mostly live on anemones, soft corals, and exclusively on sea sponges. Experts often refer to these turtles as spongivores because of such food preferences. You will be surprised to know that an adult hawksbill sea turtle consumes almost 1200 pounds or 544 kgs of sponges each year.
An interesting fact is, on reefs, sponges compete with the coral for survival. Without any predators, sponges would take over, hindering the growth of the corals. Hawksbill sea turtles are one of the few sea animals that can consume toxic sponges. Food habits of this species allow the corals to thrive and manage a balance on the eco-system.
However, the diet of a hawksbill does not only include the sea sponges. The species can eat other living matters like,
- Sea stars
- Sea cucumber
- Sea squirts
- Sea urchins
- Small fish, etc.
Remember, I have said the physical characteristics of marine turtles affect their diet? The rule stands for this species too. Hawksbill sea turtles have narrow bird-like beaks, which aids them in reaching within the crevices on reefs and cutting through the marine corals. Also, the name of the species came from their narrow beak.
Olive Ridley Sea Turtle Diet
The smallest marine turtles, Olive Ridley sea turtles, live in the warm waters of the tropical parts of the world. Olive Ridleys are omnivorous, and the open ocean provides them a wide range of food options. Diet of the species mostly contains,
- Sea squirt
- Rock lobsters
Like the loggerhead sea turtles, the Olive Ridleys also exhibit opportunistic feeding behavior. These turtles run for fish if they get a chance to eat. Olive Ridley sea turtles are known as bottom feeders and eat organisms on the sea bed and algae.
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Diet
Kemp’s Ridleys sea turtles are rare and endangered. These turtles are considered carnivorous, and the meals of this species are primarily based on benthic organisms like crabs. When the creatures grow up, they start exploring other food options.
Crabs, mollusks, fishes, jellyfishes, shrimps, etc., top the food list of juvenile or adult Kemp’s sea turtles. The species also shows opportunistic fish feeding behaviors like loggerhead and hawksbill turtles.
Flatback Sea Turtle Diet
Even with thorough research, we know a little about the diet of flatback sea turtles. Different studies include that the flatback sea turtles are primarily carnivorous. When they grow juvenile or adult, these marine turtles switch to an omnivorous lifestyle.
The flatback sea turtles prefer spending their time at the bottom of the ocean. These turtles do not have strong jaws for ripping hard-shelled animals apart. Instead, the flatback sea turtles have slightly serrated lower jaws.
Such characteristics have affected the feeding habit of the flashback sea turtles. Their diet consists of seaweed, sea cucumbers, soft corals, jellyfish, mollusks, squid, crab, fish, shrimp, corals, etc.
What Do Sea Turtles Eat To Get High?
Many people claim that sea turtles get high by eating jellyfish. Even some fans of the movie ‘Finding Nemo’, link ‘Crush The Turtle’ and the jellyfish forest scene to something similar to the marijuana effect.
Is it true? Can sea turtles really get high by eating jellyfish?
Well, this topic is an ongoing controversy on IMGUR. One group suggests jellyfish are nothing lesser than drugs for the turtles. Though the species is considered poisonous, it is not to the sea turtles.
It is believed that the poisonous elements inside the jellyfish actually intoxicate the sea turtles. The components also help them experience a similar feeling people get after having marijuana.
However, another group seems to disagree with this theory and claim it to be an internet rumor. They believe that jellyfish are nothing more than a surviving food for the sea turtles.
According to this group, marine turtle species feed on jellyfish, yet no chemical effect is included. They also disagree with the link between ‘Crush the turtle’ and ‘Jellyfish marijuana effect’.
What is the truth? I have researched a lot and did not get any solid basis that sea turtles do jellyfish to get high. I have asked a few experts, who gave me the same answer.
Jellyfish make one of the main foods of marine turtles because of their availability in the sea and body structure. Sea turtles are omnivorous and can tear the gelatinous jelly-bodies apart with their jaws. And consuming the jellyfish has no cognitive effect on them.
However, do you know turtles actually can get high? Yes, recently, scientists have discovered cannabis receptors inside their bodies. They claim that turtles will feel hallucinations or a similar effect after getting high.
Sea Turtles Diet And Ocean Eco-System
You may or may not realize it, but the diet of a marine turtle plays a huge role in balancing the food ecosystem and diversity in the ocean. For example, green sea turtles maintain a healthy growth of seagrass beds by eating them away.
Seagrasses have a rapid development and can take over the sea bottom. Overgrown of such greens invite algae, fungus, and bacteria buildups. Green sea turtles graze on the seagrasses and prevent them from polluting the ocean.
Similarly, the hawksbill sea turtles manipulate the toxic sponges from growing and let the corals thrive. I have already discussed their role in the previous sections.
Again, sea turtle’s love for jellyfish actually helps balance the eco-diversity of the ocean. The jellyfish hunt for fish eggs or larva and compete with the fishes for food. If jellyfish outgrow fishes, there might be a food scarcity under the sea.
Marine turtles, especially the leatherbacks, live on jellyfish and manage a healthy population balance.
A report claims that an adult leatherback sea turtle can eat about 200 kg of jellyfish in a day.
Species like loggerhead sea turtles also have a play in preserving the ecosystem. As the marine turtles eat crustaceans, it eventually increases the nutrient rate in the sea bed. Also, the bottom hunters may improve the aeration by clearing the sands while hunting for prey.
Sea Turtles Eat Plastics: Why?
The increasing amount of plastic wastes is affecting ocean creatures. The dumped plastics in the sea do not degrade in a day and stay there for decades.
Unfortunately, the sea turtles may feast on the plastic bags mistaking them with jellyfish or food. Experts suggest that the transparent color of the plastics or the smell might confuse the species.
Recent studies have shown that the loggerhead sea turtles consume around 17% of plastic, mistaking them as jellyfish, and the green sea turtles might eat them while hunting for algae.
Ingesting dozens of plastic can be the cause of death for sea turtles. How?
The small sharp plastic pieces can cut the internal organs and make the creatures bleed. Similarly, plastic bags can block their intestines and lead to a slow death. Do not think a sea turtle can survive feeding on plastic just because they can eat them. Plastic has no nutritional value and shuts the species growth and reproduction.
Another thing that bothers the sea turtles is marine debris. Turtles may also mistake them for food. Sometimes the plastic or marine debris entangles the turtles, which increases the risk of drowning.
As responsible human beings and turtle lovers, it is our sole duty to reduce plastic consumption or prevent dumping waste into the sea. Also, let’s encourage plastic recycling as it would definitely decrease a huge load of sea plastic.
Sea turtles are old creatures that are still fighting for survival. The species live on jellyfish, crabs, shrimps, seagrass, seaweed, or algae. Marine turtles are listed as endangered due to human-made pollution and the consumption of plastic wastes dumped in the ocean. We should come forward and work with marine life conservation organizations to save our sea nature.
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