Do Sea Turtles Eat Jellyfish? All You Should Know

Deepthi Reddy
Oct 12, 2022 By Deepthi Reddy
Originally Published on Nov 24, 2021
Edited by Sarah Blake
Fact-checked by Amatullah Gulbargawala
Do sea turtles eat jellyfish? Let's find out.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 6.3 Min

Humans avoid coming into contact with jellyfish because their sting releases a venomous substance in the human body which can lead to various health problems and can also be fatal.

Jellyfish are known for their venomous tentacles and life-threatening stings. Jellyfish have specialized cysts on their tentacles known as nematocysts, which release venom.

According to scientific research, it has been found that 52% of the world's turtle population has consumed plastic waste. Excessive plastic garbage in the nesting areas can be potentially dangerous for hatchlings as they may get entangled in the plastic, which prevents them from reaching the beach and can ultimately lead to them dying.

The ingestion of plastic by turtles can cause various health problems, such as stunted growth and a slow reproduction rate. Ingestion of plastic can be fatal to turtles; sharp plastic can cause rupturing of internal body organs, as well as intestinal damage and blockages.

When this happens, turtles are unable to feed and can die from starvation. The World Wildlife Fund is dedicated to preserving the endangered sea turtle species by reducing plastic pollution and other measures.

Almost 30 million years ago, the ancestors of turtles had teeth. However, turtles no longer have teeth and instead bite their food with the help of complicated ridge-like structures found on their jaws.

If you are interested in this article about whether or not sea turtles eat jellyfish, then you will also enjoy learning whether sea turtles can breathe underwater and discovering if turtles can drown.

Do sea turtles eat moon jellyfish?

Sea turtles have different feeding habits based on their species. In certain species, hatchlings are omnivores but adults are herbivores.

Sea turtles, being reptiles, are naturally protected from the venom of soft-bodied organisms like jellyfish, who are their prey, by two adaptations. Firstly, the entire body of a sea turtle is covered with scales that serve as a protective covering to avoid any stings.

Secondly, the lining of the esophagus has horny papillae-like structures that pierce the jellyfish and kill the prey while ingesting it.

Consequently, sea turtles devour jellyfish, and sometimes they may binge on jellyfish during the summer. Jellyfish have high nutritional content, which is essential for the development of sea turtles.

Some sea turtles confuse waste plastic bags floating in the sea for jellyfish and eat them. The ingestion of plastic leads to many devastating health issues in sea turtles. Sometimes the ingestion of plastic can also lead to the death of sea turtles.

True to their name, moon jellies are named after their moon-like bells, and they have short tentacles. Their scientific name is Aurelia aurita but they are commonly known as a moon jelly, a common jellyfish, or a saucer jelly.

These jellyfish look like aliens, with a unique, 'out of this world' appearance. Moon jellyfish are translucent and can be identified by four horseshoe-shaped gonads on the translucent bell. Leatherback sea turtles feed on moon jellies as they contain vital nutrients.

What type of jellyfish do sea turtles eat?

When sea turtles eat a lot of jellyfish, the jellyfish population decreases, and the sea turtle population increases, which leads to more competition for food. Physiologically, sea turtles are well adapted for ingesting and digesting jellyfish.

Jellyfish tentacles are poisonous, but sea turtles are unaffected by their sting as they are reptiles that have thick skin that is covered with scales. Sea turtles can easily digest entire jellyfish, including their venom. However, the effect of this venom on a turtle can be a little intoxicating.

Depending on the sea turtle species, turtles eat jellyfish populations whenever they are hungry. Their diet consists primarily of jellyfish, which increases significantly during the summer.

Pet turtles prefer jellyfish that they know will not have a lot of venom and all turtles avoid the deadly box jellyfish from Australia. In Canada, leatherback turtles feed on moon jellies and lion's mane jellies, which are giant jellyfish and the largest known species of jellyfish in the ocean.

Sea turtles' diets also include the algae that cover corals. This is favored by green turtles. The green turtle eats the algae deposition from coral reefs, which would otherwise die from excessive algae overgrowth. Turtle species also enjoy sea cucumbers, sea squirts, fish, and other soft-bodied invertebrates.

Some turtles eat plastic bags that resemble jellyfish and this can cause them to die. The leatherback population of turtles has been devastated by the ingestion of plastic waste from the ocean.

Hawksbill turtles crush hard-shelled prey and feed on specific sponges. Sea turtles also eat other sea animals such as horseshoe crabs, plus eggs and larvae.

Food such as seagrass and Thalassia testudinum (turtle grass) is another favorite of green turtles. The World Wildlife Fund focuses on preserving five species of sea turtles in the ocean as they are considered endangered species.

Turtles are covered with scales.

Does jellyfish consumption cause intoxication in sea turtles?

Plastic can cause severe damage to sea turtles, but jellyfish venom cannot hurt them. Jellyfish have venom in their tentacles which is secreted by specialized cells called nematocysts.

When jellyfish sting humans, they release this venom into the body of the human, causing severe health problems or even death. But in the case of reptiles such as turtles, which are covered with very thick skin and horny scales, the venom cannot hurt them.

So does jellyfish consumption cause intoxication in sea turtles? Turtles indeed eat jellyfish, and they love them. The consumption of jellyfish doesn't lead to intoxication of any sort for these turtles as the chemical composition of jellyfish does not possess any chemicals that can cause intoxication in turtles.

Sea turtles have varying natural preferences regarding their diet, based on their species. Olive ridleys are omnivores that eat small fish, jellies, and sea cucumbers.

The flatback species of turtles has a specialized diet and likes to feast on crabs, shrimps, and seaweed. Kemp's ridley turtles are meat lovers and prefer to eat crab meat, whilst the hawksbill turtle is adapted to piercing coral reefs to reach out for sea sponges.

When leatherback turtles ingest jellyfish, the specialized spine-like projections, known as papillae, that line the esophagus pierce and break down the prey for digestion. Green turtle hatchlings are omnivores and eat jellyfish, while full-grown green turtles are herbivores and eat seagrass and sea algae.

Loggerhead hatchlings are also omnivores and eat crabs, conchs, and whelks. However, adult loggerhead turtle species animals are carnivores. Leatherback turtles are gelatinovores, meaning that they eat invertebrates like jellyfish or squirts.

Many turtles are omnivores and they generally eat both plants and animals. Box turtles may feed on worms, crickets, cantaloupe, tomatoes, apples, slugs, and fish.

Do green sea turtles eat box jellyfish?

Plastic has had a devastating impact on aquatic life, especially sea turtles. Sea turtles often confuse plastic for jellyfish and consume it as a free-floating plastic bag in the sea often resembles a jellyfish or sea algae. All species of sea turtles are at significant risk from plastic as they primarily consume algae or jellyfish.

Green sea turtles get their name from the green color fat found beneath their carapace, which is the hard upper shell. The turtles themselves are not green in color; they are either olive or black. Adult green sea turtles are herbivores, while hatchlings are omnivores.

Green sea turtles feed on seagrass and algae found on the coral reef. However, the hatchlings or baby turtles that are omnivores attain their specialized meat diet from the jellyfish. The box jellyfish is very powerful, and turtles prefer to avoid these sea animals.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked this article then you will also be interested in learning about whether turtles eat bread and finding out if turtles eat carrots.

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Written by Deepthi Reddy

Master of Business Administration

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Deepthi ReddyMaster of Business Administration

With an MBA under her belt, Deepthi has discovered her true calling in content writing. Her writing repertoire is diverse, covering travel, movies, pet care, parenting, animals and birds, and more. Her joy of learning and creating has helped her craft well-written and engaging articles. When she isn't writing, Deepthi enjoys exploring new cultures, trying different foods, and spending quality time with her two children aged 7 and 12.

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Fact-checked by Amatullah Gulbargawala

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English, Bachelor of Education specializing in the Language Arts

Amatullah Gulbargawala picture

Amatullah GulbargawalaBachelor of Arts specializing in English, Bachelor of Education specializing in the Language Arts

Amatullah is a passionate student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education from Ashoka College of Education. With a keen interest in literature, she has excelled in elocution competitions and is an accomplished writer. She has completed courses like "History of English Language and Literature", "Introduction to Western Political Thought and Theory", and "Development of Soft Skills and Personality". In her free time, Amatullah enjoys reading books and writing poetry.

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