If you looked down the sea turtle's mouth, you would think you were looking into a jagged hole that leads to hell. Turtles have huge, hard spikes and a tiny tongue at the base of their mouth, and that's utterly terrifying.
Sea turtles are, without a doubt, among the most adorable sea creatures you will ever see, no matter how large they might seem. As you probably know, turtles have a distinctive and unique appearance, thanks to their shell and tough, rubbery skin.
They are also unable to retract their heads like land turtles and are specially adapted for swimming. Nonetheless, they breathe using lungs like us, and so they have to rise above the water surface once in a while to get a gulp of air.
Although their outer appearance can seem intimidating, it is equally intriguing. However, if you had a chance to see inside the mouth of this reptile, you would be absolutely terrified.
If you have never seen what a sea turtle's mouth looks like, today is your lucky day. However, this is not for the faint of heart.
A Close Look At A Sea Turtle's Mouth
The inside of a sea turtle looks like it is lined with precarious stalactites, and that is genuinely terrifying. The sight catches many people off-guard.
Films like Finding Nemo have made many people fall in love with sea creatures, including sea turtles. However, the mouth of this creature is the stuff of nightmares.
People have compared it to the Sarlacc pit from Star Wars.
You have to wonder why a seemingly so calm and cute creature can have such a frightening mouth.
Fortunately, the reason a sea turtle's mouth doesn't reflect its adorable demeanor has nothing to do with these creatures leading a double life as vicious monsters.
Why Does A Sea Turtle's Mouth Look Like This?
As you have noticed, the sea turtle's mouth is full of spikes. These are not teeth but are instead known as papillae.
In case you are wondering if they still have teeth, the answer is no. The papillae also act as teeth.
They look sharp and scary, that's for sure, and they have a very special purpose.
These spikes ensure that food moves from the sea turtle's mouth and through its digestive system. You will also be surprised to learn that the spikes run throughout the turtle's digestive system, even to its rear.
So, it is not just the mouth that has this peculiar appearance. For instance, a leatherback, the biggest turtle species in the world, has eight feet of these terrifying spikes.
Leatherbacks, which also happen to be the largest living reptiles in the world, can grow to over six feet long. They eat about 73 percent of their body weight in jellyfish.
Why Don't Land Turtles Have These Spikes?
Although sea turtles have these spikes, land turtles don't. These land-based counterparts have regular esophageal muscles like us humans.
As you can imagine, there is a vast difference between swallowing in water and swallowing in a dry land. The problem with swallowing underwater is that water rushes into the mouth every time it is opened.
Various sea creatures have different ways of dealing with this problem. For instance, many fish push the excess water out through the gills, while a whale uses baleen to separate the water from the food.
In fact, not all sea turtles have intimidating spikes lining up their mouths and the rest of their digestive systems. Some have flat plates in their mouths, which they use as teeth, and they are adorable to look at.
Their mouths, which are known as beaks, lack the fierce anti-barfing spikes.
The Sea Turtle's Mouth Is Adapted To Feed On Jellyfish, Which Have Powerful Stingers
Turtle species such as the leatherback swallow food and the water together and then expel the water from deep within their digestive systems. If they did not have these spikes, the water would rush back to the mouth along with some of the turtle's food.
The presence of these papillae makes it easier to keep this food inside the turtle's body. The spikes ensure the food can only move in one direction.
The spikes point towards the back of the turtle, which keeps whatever they are eating from flowing back outside. You have to admit, that's kind of cool.
Therefore, the spikes act like a filter that keeps the food inside even as they vomit all the water out through their mouths after their meals.
The spikes have another purpose as well. As it turns out, the sea turtle likes to snack on dangerous prey such as jellyfish, which can sting it. In such cases, the spikes help protect the sea turtle.
Once these creatures as eaten, they never make it out again. Research has confirmed that some turtles prefer lion's mane jellyfish, the largest jellyfish species in existence.
The tentacles of these jellyfish can be as long as 120 feet long, and they also come with many powerful stingers. Obviously, relying on such a diet comes with some challenges, so turtles need the scary papillae to survive this diet.
However, as powerful as the papillae might seem, they are easily damaged when the turtle eats anything else besides jellyfish. So, the spikes are by no means indestructible.
There's Something More Terrifying Than A Sea Turtle's Mouth
Unfortunately, the spikes inside a sea turtle's mouth end up catching other things besides food. During modern turtle dissections, scientists also find plastic fragments, pieces of shopping bags, and even torn balloons trapped in these spikes.
Sadly, the turtles have a problem distinguishing jellyfish from plastic bags, which seems to have contributed to their dwindling numbers.
So, the only thing scarier than the inside of a sea turtle's mouth is humanity's continued assault on the environment. Today, environmental pollution is a considerable risk to sea life in all parts of the world.
Additionally, their numbers have been falling steadily since some people have been collecting their eggs as food in southeast Asia. The turtles also often end up in fishing gear, resulting in their death.
In fact, the leatherback sea turtle is currently endangered, and it's all thanks to us humans. In fact, the poor creature is already facing extinction.
Leatherback turtles are heavyweights in the reptile world, and they can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. Still, the fact that these creatures are being forced into extinction is pretty worrying, even though this sea turtle's mouth can send shivers down your spine.
Fortunately, efforts are being made to ensure that leatherback turtles don't go extinct. So, we have more significant problems to worry about that far outweigh the peculiar appearance of the sea turtle's mouth.