Food Preferences & Resources
Depending on the species, sea turtles may be carnivorous (meat eating), herbivorous (plant eating), or omnivorous (eating both meat and plants). The jaw structure of many species is adapted for their diet.
Green sea turtles have finely serrated jaws adapted for a vegetarian diet of sea grasses and algae. As adults, these are the only herbivorous sea turtles.
Some species change eating habits as they age. For example, green sea turtles are mainly carnivorous from hatching until juvenile size; they then progressively shift to an herbivorous diet.
A hawksbill has a narrow head with jaws meeting at an acute angle, adapted for getting food from crevices in coral reefs. They eat sponges, tunicates, shrimps, and squids.
Loggerheads' and ridleys' jaws are adapted for crushing and grinding. Their diet consists primarily of crabs, molluscs, shrimps, jellyfish, and vegetation.
Leatherbacks have delicate scissor-like jaws that would be damaged by anything other than their normal diet of jellyfish, tunicates, and other soft-bodied animals. The mouth cavity and throat are lined with papillae (spine-like projections) pointed backward to help them swallow soft foods.
Researchers continue to study the feeding habits of flatbacks. There is evidence that they are opportunistic feeders that eat seaweeds, cuttlefish, and sea cucumbers.
In a zoological environment all sea turtle species can be maintained on a carnivorous diet.