Toxic To Tasty: Do Sea Turtles Eat Jellyfish?

do sea turtles eat jellyfish

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Sea turtles can be found in many of the world’s oceans, aside from the freezing cold polar seas.

Adults of most turtle species can be found roaming around shallow coastal waters in search of food.

With seven different species of sea turtles ranging from big to small, these unique animals are characterized by long, streamlined shells that offers them protection.

In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at the diet of sea turtles and more specifically answer a question many turtle lovers are interested in. Do sea turtles eat jellyfish?

Yes, sea turtles certainly do eat jellyfish. Sea turtles will eat just about anything they can get their mouths on, which includes one of the easiest animals to catch in the ocean, the jellyfish.

Do Sea Turtles Really Eat Jellyfish?

Jellyfish are even a favorite food source of some species such as the leatherback turtle. This turtle eats almost exclusively jellyfish and is the biggest of the turtle family, growing up to an impressive 640kg.

But it’s not only the leatherback turtle that enjoys feasting on jellyfish, it’s also some of the other carnivorous species such as the loggerhead turtle.

Jellyfish are some of the easiest prey in the ocean to catch, so it only makes sense that given the turtle’s anatomy, they make use of this plentiful food source.

Why Do Sea Turtles Eat Jellyfish?

Sea turtles eat jellyfish because they are omnivores, which means they eat both animals and plants.

It’s also very easy for turtles to catch jellyfish in the wild as they are very slow swimmers and can often be found in swarms of hundreds sometimes thousands strong.

Although jellyfish are not particularly nutritious for turtles, they do play a vital role in helping to control the jellyfish population.

Despite the lack of nutrition from jellyfish, leatherback turtles manage to grow to a huge size and can sometimes weigh as much as 640kg from eating almost exclusively jellyfish?

But how?

Well, leatherback turtles tend to feed on only the largest jellyfish, the Lionsmane jellyfish. This jellyfish’s bell can reach several inches across and there is a 100% success rate for the turtle.

Jellyfish are not exactly the fastest animals in the ocean, and they have no chance of escaping a giant hungry turtle that is hot on its tail.

It takes on average 22 seconds for a turtle to catch a jellyfish and only another minute to eat it, which means they can feed on a surprising amount of jellyfish in a single day.

It’s estimated that during the summer months, the turtles can eat around 73 percent of their body weight every single day and pack in around 16,000 calories, that’s around 3 to 7 times the amount of calories they actually need to survive.

This summer binge eating allows the turtles to pack on as much size as possible to prepare for the long travel to the Indo-Pacific in search of a mate and find a partner to breed with.

It’s a 9,000km trip that is fuelled by the strict diet of jellyfish and a lot of them!

How Does A Sea Turtle Eat A Jellyfish?

When it comes to eating jellyfish, turtles have a beak that they use to take a bite out of the jellyfish before slurping it up like spaghetti.

As the jellyfish are unable to escape the grip of the turtle’s beak, this allows sea turtles to really take their time and enjoy their meal.

If the jellyfish is small, sea turtles can swallow it whole, including the tentacles. But if it’s a bigger jellyfish then the turtle will take a little longer to consume it by taking bites out of it to make it more digestible.

Check out this video below of a sea turtle eating a jellyfish:

Do Sea Turtles Get Stung By Jellyfish?

Jellyfish are known for their long tentacles that contain toxins and are able to paralyze small animals and defend themselves from predators.

However, there are a few evolutionary adaptations that sea turtles have that allow them to eat jellyfish without being stung.

Their main defense mechanisms are:

  • Thick skin
  • Armored shell
  • Papillae lining their throats

Sea turtles, particularly leatherbacks have thick skin around their beaks that allows them to eat jellyfish without fear of being stung.

Their beaks are also incredibly sharp, which allows them to clamp down on jellyfish and pierce almost anything they can get a hold of.

In some cases, sea turtles will even attack jellyfish from the top, staying well away from their tentacles and separating the jellyfish from its tentacles completely.

Sea turtles also have papillae which is essentially a lining that protects the turtles from being stung in their mouths and helps them expel seawater.

Papillae are small growths that provide armor for the turtles all the way from the esophagus to the stomach, ensuring that they are protected from any jellyfish stings.

The turtle’s thick shell ensures that their bodies are protected from jellyfish stings too, meaning that their whole body, apart from some sensitive spots is protected against jellyfish stings.

Final Thoughts

So, do sea turtles eat jellyfish? Absolutely. Jellyfish is the main part of many sea turtles’ diet, especially the leatherback turtle.

Leatherbacks are the biggest of the turtle species and feed almost exclusively on some of the biggest jellyfish on the planet.

They are easy prey for sea turtles as they are unable to swim away fast enough, which gives the turtles an easy meal that often comes in abundance.

Sea turtles have special adaptations that protect them from jellyfish stings, allowing them to eat and eat until their heart’s content.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and I hope you’ve learned something new today about sea turtles eating jellyfish.

If you have enjoyed this article, feel free to stick around to learn more about sea turtles and other marine life.