The Surprising Truth About Sea Turtle Teeth

do sea turtles have teeth

Sea turtles are some of the most interesting marine reptiles that are perfectly suited to life in the ocean.

They can be found in many of the world’s oceans but do not visit the icy waters of the Antarctic or Arctic as they much prefer warmer tropical waters.

In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at the turtle’s anatomy and more specifically its mouth. We are going to answer the question of do sea turtles have teeth?

No, sea turtles do not have beaks in the traditional sense as you may expect. Instead, they have beaks and powerful crushing jaws that they use to crack open the shells of crustaceans like crabs or clams.

Do Sea Turtles Really Have Teeth?

Turtles do not have teeth, instead, they have beaks that they use to bite and chew their food. Baby turtles are born with one egg tooth, but this is different from a human tooth and disappears after a couple of days.

With seven total species of sea turtles that all have a varied diet, their mouth structures differ from one another depending on what they eat.

For example, some species like the Green Sea turtle have serrated ridges along the inside of their beaks that simulate teeth.

Whereas omnivorous species such as Loggerhead turtles have powerful jaws that they use to crunch their hard prey, usually crabs, clams, or whelks.

Leatherback turtles feed on almost exclusively large jellyfish, so they have a sharp, pointy beak that allows them to firmly grip onto their prey and prevent it from escaping.

What Type Of Teeth Do Sea Turtles Have?

Sea turtle mouths are quite unique and can even look scary and nightmarish. Seven different species of sea turtles, all have different mouths depending on their diets.

The Leatherback sea turtle feeds almost exclusively on large jellyfish that are notorious for being full of toxins and capable of stinging predators.

So how do Leatherback turtles not get stung by the jellyfish they eat?

Well, they are full of spikes that are known as papillae. These papillae line the turtle’s esophagus from the opening of its mouth all the way to its stomachs.

Papillae are made out of the same protein found in our hair, skin, and nails, keratin.

Not only does it protect the turtle from being stung by jellyfish, but it also helps them to break down food and expel saltwater.

Leatherback turtles are the biggest consumers of jellyfish in the world, and they play a big role in helping control the jellyfish populations.

Whilst these papillae may look like teeth that could chomp and slice their way through just about anything, they are not the hard, enamel-based teeth that we as humans know.

Can Sea Turtles Bite You?

Although sea turtles do not have teeth in the traditional sense, they do still have sharp, powerful beaks that are capable of biting you if they feel threatened or in danger.

A bite from a sea turtle is incredibly rare, these animals are very timid and shy, and would likely flee from you rather than try to attack.

That said, if for some reason you did find yourself up close and personal with a large sea turtle and the animal did feel threatened, it’s more than capable of biting you.

A bite from a sea turtle can be incredibly painful and even has the power to break bones which could leave you in the emergency room.

This is why it’s not advised to get too close to sea turtles in the wild. Always admire these beautiful animals from a distance as you don’t want to stress them out or make them feel in danger.

Why Do Turtles Have No Teeth?

Just like a bird, sea turtles have a beak that they use in order to eat their food. The reason they don’t have teeth is due to their diet, as a beak is much more effective than teeth if you are a sea turtle.

Baby sea turtles do have something called an egg tooth which they use to break the shell of the egg they are born in, but this disappears after a few days.

This is the closest to a turtle ever having an actual tooth, but it’s simply used for them to hatch themselves and not eat food.

Whereas once they reach adulthood, this tooth is no longer available and instead they grow a beak that they use to crack open crustaceans and hold onto prey (depending on their species).

No species of sea turtle has teeth, purely because they are not required for what sea turtles eat.

Turtles do not need large canines to attack and kill their prey, instead, need a more practical tool to grip and open their food.

Final Thoughts

So, do sea turtles have teeth? No, they do not. Sea turtles have a beak that is perfectly designed for their species and allows them to feed and eat their prey much easier than teeth would.

Leatherback turtles have a sharp, pointy beak that ensures that their slippery jellyfish prey can not escape their grip.

Whereas the Green Sea turtles have serrated edges along their mouth that simulated teeth and allow the turtle to tear and shred seagrass and algae off the seafloor.

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this post today and learned something new about sea turtles’ teeth and their lack of them.