How do turtles eat?


By Stacey Venzel

Without teeth, an animal cannot chew its food in the traditional sense. Toothless turtles have other ways of getting food down the hatchet.

Relating to their mouth shape, turtles have specific means of eating food that exclude chewing, such as swallowing whole, crushing, slurping and employing their feet as utensils.


Some species bite off food pieces and swallow them whole, including scavenging and foraging tortoises and grazing green sea turtles. Animals with crushing jaw strength grind shelled organisms in the same way as North American map turtles that consume mussels. Suctioning turtles like the matamata simply slurp a meal through their mouths into their stomachs, squirting water out. Most testudines use their feet or front flippers to hold food in place while they tear off bites, but the keeled box turtle maneuvers its feet like a fork, picking up food to transport to its mouth.


Karen Eckert, David Gulko, Sea Turtles: An Ecological Guide (Honolulu, Mutual Publishing, 2004), 40

Carl J Franklin, Turtles: An Extraordinary Natural History 245 Million Years in the Making (St. Paul, Voyageur Press, 2007), 28-29.

Whit Gibbons, Judy Greene, Turtle: The Animal Answer Guide (Baltimore, The John Hopkins University Press, 2009), 77.