If you’ve ever owned a turtle as a pet, you know they are cute and fun to watch. But in the wild, not all things are cute and fun to watch. In fact, there are some animals that love eating turtles. But what eats turtles?
The predators of turtles vary depending on the species of turtle and where it lives. Predators of land turtles include mammals such as foxes, raccoons, coyotes, weasels, reptiles such as snakes, crocodiles, alligators, and birds such as vultures, gulls. Sea turtles have many natural predators including tiger sharks, killer whales, fish, crabs, and seabirds.
Although the shell of the turtles provides them with natural protection from several animals, it doesn’t make them invulnerable in the animal kingdom. Fully-grown sea turtles have very few predators in the marine world, but their eggs and hatchlings become the food of fish, seabirds, and other marine creatures. Aquatic and semi-aquatic turtles have many predators to be afraid of.
This article will list down all the animals (mammals, birds, reptiles, fish) that prey on the turtles, in the sea, sky, and on land.
Predators of Sea Turtles
Sea turtles are eaten by a number of predators, including fishes and sharks (particularly tiger sharks), birds such as terns, gulls and cormorants, crocodilians, and sea snakes, and mammals such as boars, coyotes, raccoons, dogs, feral pigs, and opossums.
The Sea Turtles, also known as “Marine Turtles,” are turtles found in the world’s seas and oceans. Sea turtles are endangered by extinction.
There are only 7 extant sea turtle species, namely:
- Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
- Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
- Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta)
- Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
- Flatback Sea Turtle (Natator depressus)
- Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii)
- Olive Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea)
In adulthood, all sea turtles grow substantially large (ranging between 2-9 feet in length) with a tough carapace that is impossible to break for most sea creatures. This is why adult sea turtles have very few natural predators, particularly whales and sharks.
Let’s look at these predators and learn how they prey on these turtles:
Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier)
Being the only member of their genus, the Tiger Sharks are a migratory shark species that usually occurs in the temperate and tropical waters around the central Pacific islands.
These sharks have been named after the dark, vertical stripes running down their body length, although the stripes start to fade as they grow older.
Being apex predators, the Tiger Sharks are at the top of the marine food chain and have a reputation for their diverse diet. These sharks are nocturnal hunters and swim inland at night to hunt and feed. Both juvenile and adult sharks have different diets based on their hunting capacity.
The juvenile sharks mostly feed on small fish, jellyfish, and mollusks. On the other hand, the adults feed on many fish species, sea snakes, sea birds, common, bottlenose, and spotted dolphins, sea lions, seals, and sea turtles.
The following 3 turtle species are their prime targets: the leatherback, loggerhead, and green sea turtles.
Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)
Belonging to the Delphinidae family, the Killer Whales are a species of toothed whales with an enormous habitat range and could be found in all seas and oceans of the world.
These cosmopolitan species are not only the largest members of their family but also apex predators. They’re also referred to as the “Orcas.”
The appearance of the killer whales makes them easily recognizable and distinguishable from the other dolphins. They have a black back, white chest, and undersides, along with two distinct white patches on top, one near each eye.
As far as their diet is concerned, these whales have an individual preference and can prey on fish, mammals, sea turtles, seabirds, or cephalopods.
Although sea turtles are not the typical choice for most orcas, the ones that prey on them prefer the leatherback sea turtle the most.
Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias)
The Great White Sharks are also known for their widespread population in all the major oceans (although their population is not as widely distributed as the Killer Whales).
These sharks are a large mackerel shark species that have a remarkable size and longevity (about 70 years), making them one of the longest living cartilaginous fish species.
Although both sexes of these sharks have a similar appearance, they display sexual dimorphism in size, with the females being larger than their male counterparts. They have a dark grey upper body with white undersides.
Other than the Orcas, the Great White Sharks have no other natural predators. Because the juveniles do not have jaws strong enough to eat seals or larger fish, they usually feed on smaller fish.
On the other hand, the adults prey on dolphins, whales, porpoises, other sharks, all kinds of seals, sea otters, seabirds, and sea turtles.
As Eggs and Hatchlings
Did you know that their natural predators kill about 90% of turtle hatchlings at a young age? Unfortunately, these little and unborn turtles do not share the same immunity as their parents.
Following are their major predators, take a look:
There are many fish species, ranging from the sharks to the smaller, carnivore fish species, that would feed on the eggs of the sea turtles. And their hatchlings often become prey to juvenile sharks as well as large fish species.
Ghost Crabs (Ocypodinae)
The Ghost Crabs are semi-terrestrial crabs belonging to the same family as the Fiddler Crabs (Ocypodidae). These crabs have a wide distribution worldwide and can be found on the shores of many tropical and subtropical regions.
When it comes to their diet, these crabs are generalist scavengers that feed on other crabs, debris, carrion, clams, and the eggs and hatchlings of the sea turtles.
All birds that soar over the seas and oceans or are found on the seashores can roughly be categorized as seabirds.
Some of the seabirds that are a common threat to the eggs and hatchlings of the sea turtles are several Gull species (Laridae), Vultures (Accipitridae, Cathartidae), and Frigatebirds (Fregatidae).
Predators of Land Turtles
From hatchling to adulthood, land turtles are preyed upon by a variety of animals. Raptors, snakes, coyotes, weasels, and pigs are natural predators of turtles. Raptors, including hawks and eagles, will attack and kill adult turtles. Snakes consume soft-shelled turtles and eggs. Small mammals, particularly pigs, can eat hatchlings and adults.
Among all the other turtle species, the adult Snapping Turtles (Chelydra) are among the most secure turtle species due to their ferocious nature.
Some of the other predators threaten all turtles except Snapping Turtles, be it mammals, reptiles, or birds of prey. Although these reptiles are not primary to any animal’s diet, many would gladly eat them when given an opportunity.
Below, we will look at some of the major predators of turtles in the wild:
Raccoons (Procyon Lotor)
Being the largest member of the procyonid family, the Racoons are a species of mammals that belong to North America.
These mammals have a mostly white face except a dark eye patch, which lends them a mysterious, masked appearance.
The fur on the rest of their body ranges from faded brown to dark-greyish in the shade, with a dense underfur that protects them against harsh winter climates.
Raccoons are nocturnal creatures and have a well-balanced omnivore diet consists of 33% plant materials, 27% vertebrates, and 40% invertebrates.
Although most people seem to think that large animals and birds are the common targets of the raccoons, they actually prefer hunting smaller prey that are easier to catch.
Smaller turtle species are commonly preyed on by them. Raccoons usually carry the turtles off to a safe place where they can slowly eat them without being interrupted.
Coyotes (Canis Latrans)
Closely related to the wolves (larger in size than them), the coyotes are a North American canine species that have a wide distribution in both North and Central Americas. These versatile canines have well-adapted to inhabit around human settlements and are, thus, thriving alongside us.
Not only are the coyotes’ opportunistic feeders but also scavengers that would feed on the dead and the living. Their primary diet includes rabbits, frogs, rodents, snakes, fish, insects, grass, fruits, and carrion.
While the larger turtle species are difficult for these canines to kill, they can easily feed on the smaller species. Moreover, they can prey on the eggs and hatchlings of turtles as well.
The group of weasels belongs to the same genus as the ferrets, polecats, and minks. Out of all the 17 extant species of the Mustela genus, 10 species are recognized as weasels.
Although most weasels are obligate carnivores, some have an omnivorous diet as well.
Weasels have slender bodies that help them in entering the burrows of their prey. Despite their small size, these mammals are excellent hunters who hunt mice, voles, rats, and rabbits. Frogs, small birds, and their eggs are also occasionally consumed by them.
As far as turtles are concerned, weasels rarely come across these reptiles in the wild. However, when faced with each other, they can inflict substantial damage on these shelled creatures.
While they cannot break their shell, they certainly chew on the parts of their bodies outside the shell, such as their head or limbs. The eggs of turtles are not safe from the weasels either.
Also referred to as “True Crocodiles,” the Crocodiles are the largest and most lethal members of the Crocodilian order.
These large reptiles are semi-aquatic in nature and consist of 16 extant species found in the Americas, Australia, Asia, and Africa. The American Crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) is the only crocodile species found in North America.
Crocodiles acquire a quite high rank in the food chain. They’re ambush predators that lay in the wait for their prey, startling them with their attack all of a sudden.
Because they’re semi-aquatic, both terrestrial and aquatic animals are included in their diet. They feed on mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, crustaceans, mollusks and are even known to cannibalize younger crocodiles.
Although turtles are not a usual part of their diet, crocodiles would have no problems eating them.
The Alligators are another crocodilian reptiles that are usually smaller than the crocodiles and have a shorter, more rounded snout.
There are only 2 living species of alligators remaining, one of which is endemic to North America: the American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis).
The diet of the alligators varies according to their age.
While the younger alligators feed on insects, worms, snails, crustaceans, and small fish species, the adults prey on large fish such as the Gar, other reptiles, birds, and mammals like muskrats and coypus. They also consume turtles.
Nile Monitors (Varanus nilotucus)
Referred to as the “Water Leguaan” in South African English, the Nile Monitors are a large lizard species found in the sub-Saharan region along the River Nile.
Being the longest lizard of Africa, these lizards are carnivorous and commonly feed on crabs, mussels, slugs and snails, frogs and toads, lizards, smaller snake species, turtles, birds, and their eggs.
Bearded Vultures (Gypaetus barbatus)
Also referred to as “Homa Birds” and “Ossifrage,” the Bearded Vultures are a species of birds of prey that have a sparse distribution across a wide range.
Although these birds are traditionally accepted as members of the Old-World Vulture family, they’re different from most vultures since they have feathered necks. In fact, these birds are more closely related to the hawks than the vultures.
Bearded Vultures have a vulture-like diet and mostly feed on dead animals. Reptiles only make 1% of their diet.
These raptors have a unique way of killing turtles; they hold turtles in their claws and repeatedly drop them on a rocky surface until their shell breaks. It is then that they feed on their carcass.
Other than reptiles, they mostly feed on dead mammals and occasionally other birds.
Also referred to as “Seagulls,” the Gulls are a group of seabirds that are closely related to the terns.
Over 50 recognized gull species in the world have varying sizes, with the Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus) being the largest and the Little Gulls (Larus minutus) being the smallest.
Despite their different sizes, all gull species have moderate necks, heavy bodies, and long wings. Most of them have rounded tails as well (except for 3 species).
The gulls are adaptable feeders with a varied diet and can feed on fish, reptiles, amphibians, rodents, earthworms, insects, eggs, and invertebrates (terrestrial, marine, freshwater). Moreover, they have also been seen feeding on plant materials like fruits, seeds, and the remains of human foods.
Gulls can feed on small turtle species, along with their eggs and hatchlings.
Conclusion: Turtle Predators
So, here we are at the end of our article. And what a ride it’s been.
I hope you’ve enjoyed it and picked up some useful knowledge about predators of turtles. But all good things must come to an end. And it’s an end that I’m sure you can cope with knowing that at least there are plenty more turtles where they came from!
If you have any feedback, questions, or suggestions about this article, please send me an email.
Thanks for reading!