Sea turtles eat a variety of plants and marine animals, including algae, seagrass, jellyfish, and other mollusks.
Sea turtles can eat other animals, be vegetarians, or munch on a mixture of meat and plants. With the lone exception of the green sea turtle, most are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and other animals. Each of the seven species of sea turtle has its own favorite foods.
Adult green sea turtles are the only vegetarians, though they don’t start out that way. Baby green turtles start eating fish eggs, mollusks, and crustaceans after they hatch. As they grow older, their tastes shift to a diet filled with algae, seaweed, and sea grasses. Green sea turtles have finely serrated jaws developed for noshing on marine plants.
Leatherback sea turtles almost exclusively feed on jellyfish, though they also eat squid and other jellyfish-like invertebrates.
Hawksbill sea turtles love sponges, which can make up 95% of their diets. These turtles have narrow jaws to help them pick out prey from narrow spaces.
Loggerhead sea turtles have the most wide-ranging diet, consisting of sponges, corals, barnacles, sea cucumbers, jellyfish, sand dollars, and many other marine plants and animals. Its large and powerful jaw helps it tear through all types of prey.
What Do Turtles Eat?
|Sea Turtle Species||What Does It Eat?|
|Hawksbill||Almost exclusively sponges. They also eat shrimp, squid, algae, and other marine life.|
|Green||Algae, seaweed, sea grass, and other vegetation|
|Leatherback||Almost exclusively jellyfish, though they also eat squid and other jellyfish-like invertebrates.|
|Loggerhead||Mollusks, jellyfish, crabs, and a wide variety of plants.|
|Kemp’s ridley||Crabs are their favorite. They also eat fish, jellyfish, and other mollusks.|
|Olive ridley||A variety of foods, including crabs, shrimp, lobster, urchins, jellies, algae, and fish.|
|Flatback||Sea cucumbers, jellyfish, seaweed, and more|
What Eats Sea Turtles?
Adult sea turtles have few natural predators. Sharks, crocodiles, seals, and killer whales have all been known to eat turtles.
Baby sea turtles are much more vulnerable, and they have many natural predators. Birds, fish, ghost crabs, and other animals prey on sea turtle eggs and hatchlings. More than 90% of hatchlings are eaten by predators. Sea turtles lay an average of 110 eggs — this means only 11 baby turtles will actually grow up.
The biggest threat to sea turtles isn’t other animals — it’s us. Overzealous hunting, habitat loss caused by development, and water pollution are among the largest threats to these creatures, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy.
Six of the seven sea turtle species are classified as threatened or endangered, largely because of humans. Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is the most critically endangered of the bunch, and hawksbill and green sea turtles are also classified as endangered. Loggerhead, olive ridley, and leatherback turtles are considered vulnerable species, according to the World Wildlife Fund. We don’t know enough about the flatback sea turtle to accurately assess how endangered it is.
Climate change poses a major threat to sea turtles. As sea levels rise, the beaches they use for nesting are rapidly disappearing. Higher temperatures also affect sea turtles in a way you might not expect. A sea turtle’s gender is determined by the temperature at which the eggs are incubated. Warmer temperatures mean more female sea turtles, which makes reproduction more difficult.
Many nonprofit organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and Sea Turtle Conservancy are working hard to save these creatures from disappearing forever. We can join them by reducing water pollution and doing our part to fight climate change.