Leatherback sea turtle image by Tom Doyle

What's So Special About A Sea Turtle Mouth?

September 03, 2018 5 Comments

What's So Special About A Sea Turtle Mouth?

Ok, did you just look at the featured image and think "what in the world is that!?"  

Well, its the inside of a leatherback sea turtles mouth! A mouth with sharp papillae like that can look very intimidating, but, unless they feel threatened by you and you're as slow as a sea turtle on land, you'll be just fine. They're actually completely harmless to humans.


What is Papillae?

What you see in the sea turtles mouth runs through the esophagus lined with protuberance that help the turtle digest the food.

The papillae end between the esophagus and the stomach.

The inside of a leatherback sea turtles mouth image by Tom Doyle

      I came across this image from a very interesting article by Graeme Hays and Margie Morrice on The Conversation and knew we had to share it with you!

      What Exactly Does This Help With? 

      Sea turtles have these sharp like-prongs (papillae) that line their mouth because it helps them get a grip on their meals.

      Consider a jellyfish, one of the sea turtles favorite meals, it would be awfully hard for them to hold onto a slippery jellyfish if the turtle couldn't get a grip.

      Sea turtles eat all kinds of foods that would be impossible for humans to eat. Some bite down on hard-shelled crustaceans and others eat stinging jellyfish.

      Some turtles eat sea grasses that would be too tough for other animals to eat. 

      Sea Turtle Mouth Sandy Ripple Blog

      Why Does The Inside Of Their Mouth Have This?

      Sea turtles are protected from the stings of jellyfish by special parts of their mouths.

      They have spiny projects that point toward the throat of the turtle.

      Papillae line the turtle esophagus all the way down to the stomach.

      These papillae are kind of like very coarse hairs and are made out of the same type of protein that helps us to grow fingernails.

      The structure of the mouth and throat protect sea turtles from jellyfish stings and they help the turtle break the food down so that it’s ready to digest.

      They also have a long esophagus that helps slow down the food so it is even more broken down.

      If turtles eat plastic or rubber, it can catch on the same projections that protect the turtle from its real food. This can kill the sea turtle, so plastic straws, bags, bottles, balloons, and tires are terrible for the sea turtle environment.

      Sea Turtle Mouth Sandy Ripple Blog Post

      Sea turtle jaws are very strong. Green sea turtles and Hawksbill sea turtles have beaks that help them tear the food.

      Some turtles have serrated edges along the jaw, just like a saw blade.

      These serrations and the muscular jaw help them crack the shells of prey, bite off strong plants and scrape algae off of surfaces.

      Without the sea turtles, some of the animals they eat would grow in population and make beaches more dangerous. Sea grass could overgrow and change the entire ecology of the oceans.

      Inside the Leatherback Sea Turtle Mouth Close Up

      Take a look at this close up image of a leatherback sea turtles mouth above!

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