You may know sea turtles love to eat jellyfish. Have you ever wondered how a sea turtle can eat a jelly without being harmed? If you’ve ever been stung by a jellyfish, you know it can be painful. Sea turtles have special adaptations to protect them from sea jelly venom called papillae.
Inside of a sea turtles mouth looks different than a humans, with spiny projections pointing inward towards the animal’s throat. These papillae line the turtle’s esophagus from the opening of their mouth all the way to the stomach. They are made out of the same protein found in our hair and nails, keratin. Not only do they protect the turtle’s throat and mouth from jellyfish stings, they also help break down the food and expel excess salt water.
The largest species of sea turtle, the leatherback, can weigh as much as 2,000 lbs and grow as long as 6 feet. A sea turtle that big needs to eat a lot of jellyfish, since they are mostly made out of water. In fact, because leatherbacks are so much bigger than other sea turtles, their papillae-lined esophagus is six times longer than other sea turtle’s, which allows them to swallow a lot of jellies.
This is also why it is so important to help out our sea turtle populations. We want them to eat the stinging animals so jelly populations don’t bloom at the beach when we swim in the ocean. Sea turtles help keep the jelly populations in check. Because sea turtles confuse jellies for other things floating in the ocean like plastic grocery bags and balloons, it is so important that we do our part. Simple things like taking your own reusable grocery bag to the store with you and remembering not to release any balloons in the air can help out these amazing ocean animals.
For more information on how to help, visit our sea turtle conservation page. This week, Turtle A weighs 495 grams and measures 14.4 cm long; Turtle B weighs 709 grams and measures 16.9 cm long. Refer back to the table in this post to keep up with our weekly updated measurements. For more information on what to do with those numbers, please check out our lesson: Hatchling to Yearling.