Turtles have one of the most unique body anatomies in the entire reptile kingdom. Aside from their unique shell that is an extension of their spine and back bone, there are many other physical features of a turtle that probably have you scratching your head. You also probably have a lot of questions about the make up of a turtle.
Well, if that’s the case, then we are pretty sure that one of the first questions that you will encounter is whether turtles have teeth or not. Hopefully by the end of this article you will have a firm understanding of turtles and their dental situation.
Do turtles have teeth?
To get straight to the point, no, turtles do not have teeth.
Turtles don’t have teeth as they have no need for them. Most turtles are herbivores in nature and depend upon aquatic plants for their nutrition. Therefore, they don’t need very strong chewing and biting forces to breakdown their food.
How do turtles chew food?
Instead, evolution has given these adorable reptiles something even better to facilitate their eating habits. Turtles are equipped with a bird-like beak with sharp edges, which helps them cut and graze the aquatic plant life they thrive upon.
Turtle species that reside in the river environment are even more evolved as their upper jaw has tough, bony plates that help them in grinding the tougher plant life found in river beds. These special adaptions are called secondary plates. These secondary plates also come in handy while eating mollusks and other shelled prey.
Do turtle bites hurt?
Now that you know turtles don’t have teeth, you might think that their bites are harmless. However, let me be the first to warn you that that is not the case.
Even though turtles don’t have any teeth, they still have a deadly jaw force and a sharp beak- a combo that you surely want to avoid at any cost.
A bite from your pet turtle can easily cause a deep wound and can result in considerable blood loss that might even require medical attention. While pet turtles usually don’t bite their owners, there are always exceptions. For example, if your turtle is stressed out due to poor tank conditions, they may be more inclined to bite you.
Turtles that are hungry are also more susceptible to biting their owners.
What about carnivorous turtles?
Most turtle species are Omnivores as they feed both on aquatic plants and animal matter equally. There is also a considerable proportion of turtle species are herbivores and depend solely on aquatic plant life for their nourishment. These turtles have no issue eating their plants and prey without teeth.
However, there are some species of turtles that are carnivorous, which means they only eat other animals. The most common example of a carnivorous turtles is the loggerhead sea turtle.
How strong is a loggerhead sea turtle bite?
The reason loggerhead turtles can eat other animals without teeth is because of their jaw’s strong bite force. Scientists have estimated that the bite force of a loggerhead sea turtle is around 500 pounds. This is more than enough force to bite off a human finger.
This strong bite force allows them to eat a wide range of sea animals including conchs, crabs, jellyfish, shrimp, octupus, and many species of fish.
Which turtle has the strongest bite force?
Most people assume that snapping turtles have the strongest bite force. While snapping turtles can certainly bite off your finger, they are not the turtle with the strongest jaw.
The alligator snapping turtle has the strongest bite force at 1000 pounds of force. This could easily crush any bone in your body. In the wild, alligator snapping turtles primarily eat fish, snakes, snails, and clams.
How do turtles swallow without teeth?
As mentioned earlier, turtles can surely bite and grab on their food, but it’s a completely different story once the food is inside their mouth. Their lack of any actual teeth acts as a disadvantage there as they can’t cut their food in a smaller size in order to make it easier to consume.
In order to compensate for not having teeth, they rely on their salivary glands. These glands produce large amounts of saliva, which in turn makes the food smoother and easier to consume. Turtles tend to swallow their food whole in a gulp.
Turtles also prefer to eat while they are in the water, as this leads to an easier digestion.
If you just got a turtle, I would recommend you check out my article on what to feed turtles.