Surf's Up Magazine

Do Turtles Have Teeth?

  • Date: February 20, 2024
  • Time to read: 4 min.

Do you know that turtles are the only reptiles without teeth? Yup, it’s true. All types of turtles including freshwater, sea, terrapin, and tortoises lack teeth.

However, there is one exception to this. Baby turtles do in fact possess teeth. Read on to learn more about the vagaries of turtle teeth.

do turtles have teeth
Source: Turtle Conversation Society of Malaysia

The Ancient Toothed Turtle

However, upon further research, they discovered fossilized turtle teeth. “Odontochelys,” more commonly known as a “toothed turtle” used to exist approximately 200 million years ago. Their remains revealed that some prehistoric turtles had teeth in both their upper and lower jaws.

Young Turtles with Teeth

The only turtles with teeth are the young hatchlings. When they are born, they have a single tooth known as an egg tooth or caruncle that helps them break out of their shell.

This egg tooth is located at the front of the upper jaw. It eventually falls off a few months after the turtle hatches. The egg tooth is a modified scale and not a real tooth.

How Turtles Eat without Teeth

Turtles are unique creatures in that they have beaks instead of teeth, which allows them to eat a variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and insects.

Not only do turtles use their razor-sharp beaks for defense against predators, but these beaks actually grow sharper with age.

Depending on the species, turtles have different shaped mouths that help them eat. For example, some turtles have powerful beaks which enable them to crunch their food.

hawksbill turtle
Hawksbill Turtle

Type of Turtle Beak

The type of turtle beak an individual has is directly related to its diet. For example, carnivorous turtles will have sharp beaks while herbivorous turtles will have flatbeaks. The same is true for omnivorous and sea turtles.

While most turtles are herbivorous, consuming a diet of plants, fruits, and vegetables exclusively. There is a subset of turtle whose diets predominantly consists of meat. These carnivorous turtles have sharp beaks that can pierce through shells to kill their prey. An example of one such species is the musk turtle.

Their beaks are tough and short with tiny serrations along the edge that act like teeth, allowing them to eat their food more easily. Omnivorous turtles, such as cooters, painted turtles and map turtles, have beaks that are a combination of carnivorous and herbivorous beaks to help them eat both meat and plants.

Sea turtles hunt their prey by using their tongues as lures. For carnivorous sea turtles, this technique is most effective for small fish and insects that they can drag underwater to consume whole.

Sea turtles’ diet consists of seafood, such as crab, sea urchins and clams. Some species of sea turtles, like leatherback and green turtles have spikes in their mouth that enable them to eat jellyfish without getting hurt.

Some turtles, like softshell turtles, have lips that are softer than average. This way, they’re able to suck their prey into their mouths and then swallow it whole.

Their Bites Can Still be Hazardous Without Teeth

The power and danger of a turtle’s bite depend on several factors, including diet and size. Some turtles are herbivores while others are carnivores, and this affects the strength of their bites. Turtles also come in different sizes. Obviously, a larger turtle is going to have a stronger bite than a smaller one.

The Diet

To determine how powerful a turtle’s bite will be, you first need to know if it is carnivorous. As we’ve discovered, turtles that consume meat have sharper beaks which can pose more of a threat than those with duller ones.

The Size of the Turtle

This is a very important factor to consider. As turtles grow in size, their muscles bulk up too. This makes for a powerful jaw and a dangerous bite.

Do Snapping Turtles Have Teeth?

Snapping turtles, as a species of turtle, do not have teeth. They are, however more infamously known for their bites. These are a type freshwater turtles whose diet consists of both plant and animal matter.

The common snapping turtle has a powerful bite that allows it to eat various types of prey and other food items. However, its eggs are vulnerable to being scavenged by birds and other animals. In many cases, the adult snapping turtle is at the top of its food chain.

snapping turtle
Snapping Turtle

They have typically conquered their environment and therefore feel no threat from humans. Turtles, especially snapping turtles, are often feared because of their mouths. People generally wonder if they bite humans. However, most turtles do not attack unprovoked.

Videos of turtles attacking humans often circulate online, but what people don’t realize is that these animals will only attack when provoked or feeling threatened. More often than not, if a human wanders too close to a turtle’s territory, the creature will try to evade them instead.

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