The Inside Of A Sea Turtle's Mouth Looks Like A Nightmare
Leatherback turtles are one of the heavy hitters of the reptile world. They're certainly one of the biggest - they're capable of growing up to 7 feet long and can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds.
What makes them distinct are their shells, a layer of tough, rubbery skin backed by bone plates that perfects their leather-like appearance.
They're also just as intimidating on the inside as they can be on the outside.
These turtles get big and buff from a steady diet consisting of their favorite food: jellyfish. And not just any jellyfish. They tend to feast on the largest species in the world, known as the lion's mane jellyfish. As one can imagine, consuming such large jellyfish poses some challenges.
Their tentacles, which can grow up to 120 feet long, are filled with rather unpleasant stingers. But those aren't any match for the leatherback turtle, because his secret weapon lies within his mouth, which is also undoubtedly a not-so-secret passageway to very fiery depths.
Warning: While there's nothing gory involved, some people might find these images of the inside of a leatherback turtle's mouth disturbing.
Unlike other turtles, who have (far less intimidating) flat plates in their mouths that act as teeth, much like this little guy ...
... leatherbacks actually have terrifying backward-pointing spines that line their mouths and throat, in addition to very sharp jaws. Their nightmare-inducing mouths allow them to not only catch the jellyfish easily, but make certain that, once a jellyfish is caught, he can't escape.
The irony is that eating anything else besides soft animals like jellyfish would actually damage their mouths, which you'd think would be indestructible.
Leatherback turtles on their way to becoming an endangered species. Their numbers have decreased over the past 20 years for reasons ranging from people collecting their eggs for consumption in southeast Asia to the turtles frequently being caught in fishing gear intended for other animals. Another threat stems from pollution. Sometimes, the turtles mistake debris like plastic bags or balloons for jellyfish and consume garbage - which ends up killing them.
Here are some great tips on how to protect sea turtles like the leatherback and help them continue doing what they do best - swimming around while chowing down with their fiendishly designed mouths.
Want to help leatherback turtles continue to thrive? Consider making a donation to The Leatherback Trust here.
Watch this video about a man who helped a sea turtle caught in kelp swim free: