What Sea Turtles Eat - A Guide to Their Feeding

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It is necessary to know basic information about sea turtles to learn about them and to know why it is important to take care of them, while taking care of their environment. For example, many people already know that they are marine reptiles that spend their entire lives in the water, except when they are born on the beach and go towards the sea and when the females leave the sea towards the beach for nesting. However, many other people still wonder: exactly where do sea turtles live and what do they eat? What role do they play in food chains? Among many other issues.

For this reason, in this article by Ecologist Verde, and thanks to the help of the CRAM Foundation (Conservation and Recovery of Marine Animals), we focus on explaining what do sea turtles eat.

Are sea turtles omnivorous, carnivorous, or herbivorous?

The truth is that there is omnivorous, carnivorous and herbivorous sea turtles. In addition, some species adapt their type of diet as they grow, that is, when they are young they have one type and when they become adults they have another type, even within the same species we can find different feeding patterns. Next, we detail the diet of several species of turtles that inhabit the sea:

  • Loggerhead or loggerhead: It is an omnivorous species and in the juvenile stage, it already has enough strength to feed on crustaceans, mollusks, echinoderms or slow-swimming fish. The diversity of their diet grows in line with the size of the animal, so they can have a very varied diet depending on the area they inhabit. In their diet enter invertebrates such as jellyfish, also a variety of algae, etc.
  • Green: in its juvenile stage it has an omnivorous diet and feeds on floating algae, marine invertebrates and fish eggs. When he reaches adulthood, a change occurs in his digestive system and he begins to have an intestinal flora capable of digesting plant nutrients, such as cellulose, then he adapts to a herbivorous diet, feeding on algae and marine plants.
  • Tortoiseshell: it has a carnivorous diet and its prey varies according to the area where it lives: tunicates, crustaceans, annelids, bryozoans, mollusks, marine sponges … The shape of its beak allows it to capture food between the cracks of the corals. One of its characteristics is that it repeatedly feeds on sea sponges.
  • Lute or leatherback: They are gelatinivorous turtles that feed mainly on jellyfish and sea squirts. Typically, they search for groups of these animals or dive up to 300 meters to reach and eat them. When they spot a cluster of jellyfish, they can wait until night for the jellyfish to climb to more affordable depths so they can catch them.
  • Flat: It is an omnivorous species, it eats algae but has a greater presence of carnivorous food. Its diet is very varied and it usually feeds on shallow depths and on benthic organisms: mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms, cnidarians …
  • Lora: it is an omnivorous species, but it consumes mostly benthic animals. In its diet we can find a great variety of prey: mollusks, tunicates, marine flora, crustaceans … Some studies indicate that crabs are a very frequent food in the diet of this species.
  • Golfina or olive tree: it is an omnivorous species with greater weight towards carnivorous feeding. Its diet is based mainly on crustaceans, but it also feeds on mollusks, fish and cnidarians, among other animals. Juvenile individuals are usually carnivores and in adulthood they become omnivores, adding seaweed to their diet.

What do omnivorous sea turtles eat?

We now go into more detail on the diet of these species and begin by investigating what omnivorous seawater turtles eat. Omnivorous animals feed in a very varied way and, in the case of these marine reptiles, it means that they eat as much algae and sea plants as a great diversity of Marine animals.

Depending on the species, it may be that they feed mainly on green, brown, red algae, etc., or that they feed mainly on cnidarians (such as jellyfish), crustaceans (such as crabs and prawns), mollusks, mainly gastropods and cephalopods (such as sea slugs. , cuttlefish or squid), echinoderms (such as sea urchins and starfish), fish and their eggs, as well as many other animals, both invertebrates and marine vertebrates.

Green turtles are omnivorous in their juvenile phase, olive ridleys are in their adult phase and parrots, flat and loggerhead are always omnivorous, although they tend to eat more animals than vegetables.

What do carnivorous sea turtles eat?

The species that are basically carnivorous are those that they feed exclusively on other marine animals. These marine reptiles with a carnivorous diet eat prey such as cnidarians, echinoderms, crustaceans, mollusks, tunicates, annelids, fish, etc. However, they not only hunt such prey, but also eat carrion or remains of decomposing matter.

In the case of hawksbill and leatherback species, we speak of carnivorous feeding from when they are juveniles and throughout their adult phase.

What do herbivorous sea turtles eat?

Finally, we talk about herbivorous sea turtles that, like all herbivorous animals, only eat vegetables. Thus, in the marine environment, turtles that have this diet eat a variety of algae and also marine phanerogams or marine angiosperms.

As we have seen at the beginning, the only species that feeds exclusively on algae and marine plants is the adult green turtle.

What do sea turtle hatchlings eat?

Normally, when they are young they do not have enough strength to catch large prey, they are omnivorous and they feed on small dams within the plankton, which is in the first meters of the sea surface, which is where they live during their breeding phase. Some of its usual prey are:

  • Microalgae.
  • Marine invertebrates.
  • Gelatinous zooplankton.
  • Fish eggs.
  • Floating inert matter.

During the first week of life, while learning to hunt, they actively swim feeding on the embryonic yolk residue from the egg.

Do sea turtles drink water?

A common question when thinking about animals that live in the sea is whether they drink water when swimming. The truth is that they swallow sea water through their mouths at certain times, but it is not that they drink it as we drink fresh water.

In the case of turtles, we can affirm that they don't drink water. So how do they hydrate? How do they obtain fresh water for their organisms? It's simple: they get the water to hydrate themselves from the water in the bodies of their prey, so we could say that they eat and drink at the same time.

How much do sea turtles eat?

An ideal diet for sea turtles would be 5% to 10% of their live weight (5-10% LW) daily, that is, an adult specimen weighing about 70 kg should eat between 3.5 to 7 kg daily. .

This diet is ideal but not real, since sea turtles feed on easy prey and are opportunists, and even scavengers, since they are not very skilled animals when it comes to hunting due to their low swimming speed, so they do not always they can feed every day. Therefore, they are accustomed to eat whenever they have the chance and everything they can in case there are days when they don't find food.

Can sea turtles go without eating for a while?

Specimens have been found that had passed many days without eatingbut that only happens if they have previously fed enough like to endure long periods without being able to feed. These periods can be mainly due to two situations:

  • A food shortage, so they may be forced to search for new feeding sites and go through this search period without feeding.
  • In periods of hibernation or lethargy, for example, in the case of the loggerhead or loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), due to drops in temperature in which individuals eat in abundance just before entering a period of lethargy. In this lethargy, they lower their metabolism to use little energy and be able to go without feeding for a long time.

Sea turtles that eat plastic by mistake

After having read this far, you will know better what sea turtles eat, but it should be borne in mind that they eat more than they really want for food and that can harm them. You may have heard of the problem of sea turtles and plastic, a problem that all marine animals actually have when plastics end up in the seas and oceans, which is the case with the vast majority.

Sea turtles can mistakenly eat different types of plastics present in the water since, as we have commented before, they are opportunistic animals and they eat practically everything they can find to ensure food, because they do not know if they will soon have more or if they will spend days searching without taking a bite. A) Yes, many turtles eat plastic without knowing that it is harmful for their health, thinking that they are food and even confusing large pieces of plastic, especially plastic bags, with jellyfish, which are one of their usual prey.

They can also eat plastics through the prey that may contain them inside, since plastic, like heavy metals, is bioaccumulative by not being able to be digested by the majority of organisms. Thus, if there is a small plastic (or microplastics) in the sea and a fish eats it, when a turtle eats the fish it will also ingest that plastic, which will accumulate in its body, even in tiny particles. This is very harmful to the health of these animals and to the health of any animal, since there are few living beings that can consume plastic (some bacteria can). It should also be noted that people, without realizing it and for a long time, ingest and breathe plastic in the form of microplastics or microscopic particles of this material, for example, by eating some fish or other marine animals.

Ingesting plastics can smother the turtles, produce them Gastrointestinal disorders mild to severe, such as traffic jams and related infections, or intoxicate them little by little through bioaccumulation. In addition, these animals have other types of accidents with plastics, not only by ingesting them, as is the case with plastic gillnets or tangles and abandoned fishing nets on their limbs, which can cause amputations of their fins, suffocation, etc. .

How to help sea turtles

Now that you have learned all this about the feeding of sea turtles and even about their problem with plastics in the sea, you may be interested in knowing how we can help them, since there are some species in a vulnerable state and there are also others in a state of danger. of extinction. Here you can learn about the endangered Turtles.

For help sea turtles you can perform actions to take care of the environment in general and specifically the oceans, from using less plastics and producing less greenhouse gases by adjusting the energy consumption of your home and transport, to collaborate with foundations and associations dedicated to safeguarding marine ecosystems or specifically for the conservation of sea turtles. For example, here you can find out how to help the CRAM Foundation: you can donate from € 1 up to the amount you want, go to the center to volunteer and help spread the word about their cases, among many other actions. However, if you see a nest on the beach or a turtle that needs help, you will have to notify the relevant authorities. In the case of Spain, you must first call 112, who will give the emergency notice to the agency in charge of helping to conserve marine life; For example, if it happens on the Catalan Mediterranean coast, they will contact the CRAM Foundation. So that you better know their work to conserve marine species, here below you can see a video of the Rambo turtle story.

With this article on what sea turtles eat, you have probably learned a lot about their diet. Do you want to know more about what are the characteristics of sea turtles? If so, we recommend you read our other articles about these fascinating animals:

  • Mediterranean turtles.
  • How sea turtles reproduce.
  • How many eggs do sea turtles lay.

In addition, we encourage you to learn a little more about the work of the CRAM Foundation by watching this video about one of the turtles they rescued.

If you want to read more articles similar to What do sea turtles eat, we recommend that you enter our category of Animal Curiosities.

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