What Do Sea Turtles Eat? It’s an interesting question with many answers, simply because what they eat is based on what type of turtle they are and where they live. Sea turtles will have a very different diet to freshwater turtles, and will also vary from species to species.
The general rule of thumb with turtles is that as babies and juveniles they are carnivores, in that they eat meat. As they grow older they become herbivores or omnivores. This change comes about due to the different nutritional requirements as the turtles age. There are however some turtles who eat the same foods from babies through to old age.
What Do Sea Turtles Eat?
The diet of a sea turtle varies depending on the species. Some are omnivores and will eat a variety of foods while others will only eat one or two foods. The foods they eat are also dependant on where they live and breed. For example,the green sea turtle lives amongst seagrass, so much of their diet will be plant based, while the leatherback turtle is found in the open ocean, and their diet revolves around jellyfish as well as other soft-bodied invertebrates.
The jaw and mouth of sea turtles also have a role to play in the type of foods they eat. As we’ve mentioned above, green sea turtles live amongst seagrass so their jaws have evolved to have a beak that has fine serrated edges which allows them to rip apart seagrass and eat algae off rocks and other hard surfaces. The jaws and mouth of a leatherback turtle are sharp and pointed, allowing them to pierce and keep hold of jellyfish, while the strong jaws of the loggerhead turtle lets them crush their hard-shelled prey.
Here’s a quick overview of the diet of sea turtles. You’ll notice that many are omnivores with a few exceptions.
Green Sea Turtle:
Adult green sea turtles are herbivores while the juveniles are omnivores. Their diet consists mainly of algae, seagrasses and seaweed. The saw-like beak gives them the ability to shred seagrass and scrap algae off hard surfaces.
The leatherback turtle is often referred to as gelatinivores, their diet is made up of jellyfish and other soft-bodied animals like sea squirts. Sharp points on their mouths allows them to pierce soft-bodied animals, making them easier to eat.
Adult loggerhead turtles are carnivores, often eating crabs, conchs and the like. Juveniles are omnivores, including both plant and animal materials in their diet. With strong jaws, they can easily crush hard-shelled animals.
The hawksbill turtle has been referred to as spongivores because their diet consists of sea sponges. With a sharp, narrow beak they can reach sponges nestled within rocks and crevices on the reef.
The flatback turtle is an omnivore, feeding on sea cucumbers, jellyfish, soft corals, seaweed, crabs, fish and shrimp.
These various diets are a benefit to the health of coral reefs and our oceans. With the consumption of algae by the herbivores, these turtles help the ensure the coral isn’t overtaken or competing with algae. Turtles are often particular in which types of foods they eat which means rare species of plants or sponges get the opportunity to grow due to not needing to compete for space.
Unfortunately, these diets can also have their downsides. With leatherback turtles primarily eating jellyfish, they are often attracted to things that look like jellyfish – like plastic bags. Eating these often does lead to death, so remember to ensure your plastic bags are going in the bin and not down the drain.
Both sea turtles and freshwater turtles are major contributors to the healthiness of our waterways, and with diets ranging between species, their contributions can help to ensure the longevity of native plants and animals.