Turtles are mostly associated with an aquatic environment with webbed feet to enable them to swim well. Their protective shell is flatter than tortoises which makes them more efficient in the water and there’s less resistance while swimming. But have you ever wondered if turtles have teeth?
It’s interesting to know that turtles, tortoises, and terrapins are the only reptiles that don’t have teeth. The only turtles with teeth are the young ones that are born with a single tooth located at the front of the upper jaw known as the egg-tooth that they use to break out of their egg shell. A few months after the turtle hatches, the tooth falls out. Turtles have a powerful and oddly-shaped beak that will tell you a lot about what they eat. Some having serrated ridges along the inside of their beaks, others powerful jaws, while others have a sharp pointed beak that helps them in chewing their food.
Different types of turtle mouths
There are turtles with either flat or sharp beaks depending on the type of turtle. The different types of mouths serve different purposes and their mouths will also depend on whether the turtles are omnivorous, herbivorous, carnivorous, or sea turtles.
Herbivorous turtles have beaks that will help them to tear, cut, and mash plants, veggies, and fruits. They have beaks that are flat and broad. Herbivorous turtles like the river terrapins have short, tough beaks with serrated ridges along the edge of their mouth that act as teeth to eat their food.
Carnivorous turtles have sharp-pointed beaks that help them to tear through the meat and break bones. They also use the beaks to protect themselves from predators. Their horny hooked beaks allow the turtles to pierce and crush shells and kill their prey like the musk turtle.
Omnivorous turtles need beaks that are similar to those of herbivorous and carnivorous turtles. This is because they eat both plants and meat. The omnivorous beaks are pointed and robust and look more like the beaks of the herbivorous turtles.
Sea turtles like the leatherback have sharp spines in their mouth that protect them when they feed on sea creatures like jellyfish that sting. The sharp pointy stalactite-like structure prevents the jellyfish from escaping from their mouth. Apart from its scary mouth, turtle species have a very long esophagus that extends way past the stomach up to the rear. Leatherbacks are omnivorous so apart from eating jellyfish and small fishes, they also feed on grasses and sea plants.
Do snapping turtles have teeth?
Snapping turtles don’t have teeth, instead, they have a robust and bony beak. These turtles are known for being voracious eaters that eat small mammals like mice and ducks. However, their main diet mostly consists of plant-based foods. In the wild, they use their beaks as a weapon for hunting.
Different types of turtles
Type of mouth
Herbivorous turtles( river terrapins)
Flat, broad beaks
Omnivorous turtles( map, painted, and cooter turtles)
Robust and pointed similar to herbivorous beaks
Carnivorous turtles( sea turtles)
Pet turtles( red-eared slider turtles)
Pointy ridges with sharp grooves on both jaws
Soft-shelled turtles(spiny soft-shell and Florida soft-shell turtles)
Do turtles bite you?
Although turtles don’t have teeth, it doesn’t mean they can’t bite. Turtle’s main focus is survival and they will do anything to survive, so if they feel you’re a threat to them, they will not hesitate to bite you. However, not all turtles have a biting behavior, this will depend on the turtle species. Some turtles like the snapping turtles aren’t violent and will rarely bite also the painted turtles are very docile and will rarely bite.
Some other turtles will bite anything within their reach and at any time they get a chance. Even if turtles have no teeth, their bite can be very painful, they can even injure you to the point where you’ll need to seek medical attention. This shouldn’t scare you from getting a turtle, you only need to be careful and don’t get too close to their mouth. Most turtles are peaceful.
What do turtles eat?
What turtles eat will depend on the species of the turtle and especially the kind of jaw they use for chewing their food, where they live, and the available food sources.
Large aquatic turtles like the snapping turtles mostly feed on ducks and other birds that rest on the water, frogs, fish, and snakes. Soft-shelled turtles mostly eat protein found in the water that includes snails, fish, spiders, crayfish, and crickets. Sea turtles depending on their species will feed on a variety of marine invertebrates and vegetation that include shrimp, algae, crabs, sponges, seagrasses, sea squirts, sea cucumbers, jellyfish, or cuttlefish. Freshwater turtles have a varied diet that may include water plants, insect larvae, snails, aquatic insects, algae, crustaceans, worms, and fallen fruits.
Land turtles like desert turtles are herbivores that feed on the vegetation they come across and this includes grass, wildflowers, leaves, cactus pears and cacti, and fruits like raspberries and blueberries.
Pet turtles can eat a wide range of foods including veggies, small insects, flowers, and fruits. Many pet stores also sell a wide range of turtle food products from pellets, chunks, and sticks for different types of turtles to provide a balanced diet with the right vitamins and minerals to keep your turtle healthy.
Turtles don’t have teeth but their mouths have beaks that serve as teeth. Depending on the turtle species, their beaks and jaws will be different to adapt to the type of food they eat. Turtles usually don’t bite, but they will in self-defense.
Is a turtle bite poisonous?
Bites from turtles are not poisonous, however, salmonella is found in the feces of turtles so it’s good to wash your hands after handling your turtle to avoid getting a salmonella infection.
Do sea turtles have sharp teeth?
Sea turtles like all other turtles don’t have teeth, instead, they use very sharp beaks and strong jaws to grasp their prey and crush their food.