9 animals that eat turtles {and what makes turtles easy targets}  

The predators of turtles depend on its location as well as its specific species. All turtle species can protect themselves in many circumstances, since they hide in their shells when they face danger. However, this is different in the case of turtle eggs and very young turtles that have recently hatched, as they lack the defensive mechanisms and predators are fond of eating them. For instance, sea turtle predators are fond of 90% of hatchlings, which is the reason behind the large numbers of eggs they lay as this increases their survival chances.

Common predators of land turtle species include herons, crows, weasels, ravens, foxes, gulls, raccoons, other turtle species such as snapping turtles, and skunks; while sea turtles are vulnerable targets for sharks and killer whales.

Carnivorous mammals that eat turtles

The most common predators on turtle nests and turtles are omnivorous and carnivorous mammals. In some cases, even herbivorous mammals like white tail deer can attack a nest that is undefended.

These include:

  1. Raccoons

Raccoons are quite clever and bold when looking for food, especially turtle eggs that happen to be among their favorite meals.As long as the turtles are convenient to access, it will go for them, and will usually dig up a nest to access the eggs regardless of the nest’s depth. As the hatchlings begin emerging, their bodies still retain an egg scent, as well as the wet sand’s smell, which raccoons can detect from a distance.

  1. Opossums

While opossums are beneficial in some ways to humans, they can prove a nuisance when it comes to turtle species. Their omnivorous diet allows them to be opportunistic feeders and consume anything in their way, especially turtle eggs and young turtles.

These encounters are few and far between, however. This is because an opossum will not seek out turtle eggs in many cases; their priority is obtaining nutrients from invertebrates, small rodents, and insects. Additionally, they also consume bird seeds, pet food, garbage, fruits, nuts, and berries.

  1. Mustelids such as skunks

Any mammal in the mustelid family, such as badgers, otters, skunks, minks, fishers, wolverines, and weasels are happy to indulge in a feast of turtle eggs. Most of them are carnivorous rather than omnivorous, although a few of them will include berries and fruits in their diets.

It is difficult to deny the power they hold in their jaws, as they can effortlessly crack the shells of hatchling turtles and eat them.

  1. Canine animals

Any member of the canine family can feed on turtle eggs and hatchlings if they have the chance to do so. Occasional feeders include domestic dogs, cats and wolves, while more regular opportunistic feeders include the coyotes and foxes.

In particular, coyotes and foxes have an excellent sense of smell, and they use this to sniff out young hatchlings and eggs. They can also use it to dig up any buried prey and gain access to turtle nests.

  1. Felines

Since movement attracts most predators, felines like bobcats do not care as much for turtles. They may be drawn to turtle eggs as a food source, however. Small house cats, for instance, will see a small turtle hatchling as a toy rather than food.

There are some scientists that have found felines raiding turtle nests, although the instances are occasional and only happen when they have no other food sources available.

Reptiles that eat turtles

Unfortunately, turtle species are not safe from their reptilian class either, as many of these love eating them and their eggs. They include:

  1. Lizards

Many lizard species are of the carnivorous type, and are willing to dine on any type of egg, including turtle eggs. This is most prevalent in monitor lizards and tegus, which happen to specialize in egg-eating and nest-raiding activities.

Even the adult turtles are unsafe from bigger reptiles like alligators and crocodiles, with these large reptiles feasting on them whenever they get the chance. Thanks to their snapping, powerful jaws, they can easily crush even the largest turtles into smaller pieces and devour them.

  1. Snakes

Snakes are opportunistic feeders and will go for anything as long as they are hungry; and that includes both turtle eggs and young hatchlings. Many people have observed this behavior as well, especially in the larger snake species.

For instance, many people know rat snakes for raiding a chicken nest, although they will consume any eggs they find. Some snakes such as the Formosa kukri species are exclusively reptile egg eaters, with sea turtle eggs being among their favorite delicacies.

Larger snakes like cobras will also eat adult turtles, in addition to the young hatchlings, as long as they can swallow the animal and use their unhinging jaws to their advantage.

  1. Other turtles

Turtles can also eat fellow turtles; especially if they have a meat craving. In some cases, they can even resort to eating the hatchlings from their own species.

Snapping turtles tend to exhibit this behavior, since they eat the turtle by snapping off its head first. However, researchers do not know yet whether this is purely predatory or territorial behavior.

Predatory birds

Turtles are an additional target for water and wading birds, especially if they are searching for aquatic plants, amphibians, and fish. When these birds come across turtle hatchlings, they can choose to eat them instead.

Crows and their related species also seem to note any nesting activities with adult turtles. They can choose to watch and wait for the nesting process to end, or come back later to eat the eggs before they hatch.

On the other hand, some birds of prey like eagles and hawks will snatch away small and medium-size turtles into the sky, and then drop them to the ground to break their shells and kill them, then eat the flesh inside.

Specific turtle varieties and their predators

  1. Snapping turtles

Snapping turtles may be among the most impressive turtle species in their defense mechanisms, which include a rugged shell, heavy claws, and powerful hooked jaws. However, these do not make them immune from certain predators, especially when they are very young.

The most notorious predators for this type of turtle are opossums, fire ants, skunks, badgers, rats, mink, coyotes, and crows. Juvenile and hatchling snappers are easy targets of larger fish as well, including spotted bass, northern pike, gar, and muskellunge, as well as semi-aquatic creatures like water serpents and cottonmouths. Additionally, you can count birds such as egrets and herons as threats.

However, the case is different once the snapper turtles reach adulthood, because they are too big and intimidating for potential predators. The only exceptions are very large animals like alligators and black bears, which can still hold the power to kill and eat them, as well as humans who trap them for their meat.

The second variety is the neotropical snapping turtles, which resides in South and Central America. Little is known about them in terms of their predators, although the most common one is the caiman, which is similar in size to the alligator.

The biggest variety of snapping turtles, the alligator snapping turtle, has even less natural predators due to its very large size when it reaches adulthood; with the exception of human beings. They also tend to be gentle compared to other snapping turtles, since their armor and size alone are effective at defending them.

  1. Sea turtles

These are the most vulnerable turtle type in terms of their natural enemies, because they cannot retreat back into their shells or retract their heads as efficiently as the other turtle types. They are most vulnerable when they are in the hatchling and pre-hatchling stages. However, the threat does not limit itself to very young turtles, since even the females can be eaten by killer whales and sharks during the nesting season as they go to the shore.

Their predators are numerous, and include ghost crabs, raccoons, cats, dogs, and boars. These animals can dig up their nesting places, even if they are quite deep in the sand. They have other predator risks like fire ants, feral hogs, coyotes, birds like seagulls, and vultures.

Once they access the ocean, they are not safe either, as they can be potential prey for ocean animals like orcas, sharks, and larger fish like groupers. Humans are an additional threat, as they can trap them for their meat, eggs, skin, oil, and scutes.

  1. Box turtles

Among all the turtle varieties, box turtles spend a large part of their lives on land. That means that they are possible prey for both land and air creatures, including birds, sharks, crabs, a variety of reptiles, and fire ants.

Certain bird species, particularly vultures, ravens, and herons notice their activities from the sky. Since birds have superior long-range vision, they can spot the colorful shells of these turtles. Their method of eating involves snatching the turtle and flying with it, the dropping it over a rocky surface to break its shell. They do this repeatedly, usually two or three times, until the turtle dies, the shell breaks, and the bird can eat it.

Additionally, smaller sized box turtles are prey for crows, which can also feed on their newest hatchlings. Seagulls also feed on young box turtles as they move to the safety of the sea.

Carnivorous mammals are another enemy of these turtles, including cats, dogs, raccoons, coyotes, and foxes. The small size of box turtles also gives reptiles plenty of opportunities to eat them, since an adult box turtle has a shell measuring between 4.5 and 6 inches. Some examples of reptiles that eat them include alligators, crocodiles, red-footed tortoises, and Aldabra giant tortoises.

Weak hatchlings and eggs are targets of crabs and fire ants, and sharks will target box turtles that go to the sea.

  1. Painted turtles

These freshwater turtles are common in slow-moving rivers and streams, as well as ponds and lakes. They rarely leave their aquatic environments except for a few times per year, and this results in them having few predators. The only animals that seek them out as food during their pre-hatchling stage are foxes, raccoons, and skunks, while otters can eat them occasionally especially when they are young hatchlings.

Other predators are frogs, predatory fish, alligators, crocodiles, wading birds, and snakes, which eat both hatchlings and eggs.

Why are eggs and young turtle hatchlings easy targets?

Most turtles, whether they are land or sea species, are targets for predators during their pre-hatching and hatching stage. Thanks to their slow swimming speed and small size, they are vulnerable to attacks and killings from various domestic and wild animals and birds, as well as carnivorous fish.

When the young hatchlings burrow themselves out of their nests, they must reach the water. At this point, their presence attracts birds such as night herons and seagulls, which become an additional threat and swoop down to eat most of the young turtles.

As they develop into adults and grow old, their shells also develop in hardness and serve as a buffer from potential predators. That does not put them out of danger yet, however, as killer whales and sharks still see them as a target.

Additionally, some species of turtles such as olive ridley turtles nest in very large groups. These groupings can attract certain predators such as raccoons, jaguars, vultures, coyotes, and coatis, and these animals eat both the eggs and nesting adults.

The threat of human beings as turtle predators

While human beings may not be under the natural predators of turtles, they do pose a significant threat particularly due to fishing activities and competition for the spaces that turtles operate in. Through using various fishing gear like trawls and dredges, they kill numerous turtles, both young and adult-size ones. In certain regions of the world, turtles are a major food source, including turtle meat and eggs.

Sea turtles are prone to drowning accidents when they are trapped in trawling nets, or they are crushed by propellers or fishing equipment. Trawlers experience this problem even when trying to catch other marine life, as trawling nets are indiscriminate in the animals they catch. In methods such as dredging that aim to catch creatures that live on ocean floors, the dredge can entrap additional animals that are resting on the seafloor including turtles.

Another fishing method that accidentally kills turtles is longlining, especially for leatherback turtles. Since they reside at the bottom of the ocean, these bait lines catch and drag them. This results in very serious injuries that kill the turtle, and it is harvested for eating. Pound nets are additional fishing devices that trap turtles and other aquatic life, and unlike the trawling nets, the turtles cannot escape from the net. Instead, it strangles their heads and fins, which leads to drowning and serious injuries.

The killing from fishing activities is also accidental in some cases, as the highly mechanized fisheries operating in oceans capture many immature and mature turtles. The estimates are staggering as well, as turtles die from capture in longlines, shrimp trawls, and gill nets, among other fishing equipment.

Certain species of sea turtles are also hunted for their shells, as these create beautiful interior décor and jewelry, among other luxury items. The high killing rates has led to them becoming classified as critically endangered animals, and the lack of information leads many people to unknowingly support the industries behind the killing of these animals.

Artificial lighting is another major issue that threatens turtles and their lifespan. Since turtles depend on dark and quiet beaches to ensure successful reproduction. However, they now compete with people and man-made developments, forcing them to choose less-than-optimal spots to create nests. Additionally, the installation of near-shore lighting can make young hatchlings disoriented when they hatch.

Different turtle varieties and their predators

Turtle type
Habitat
Predators for young turtles
Snapping turtles
Land
·         Opossums

·         Fire ants

·         Skunks

·         Badgers

·         Rats

·         Mink

·         Coyotes

·         Crows

·         Spotted bass

·         Northern pike

·         Gar

·         Muskellunge

·         Water serpents

·         Cottonmouths

·         Egrets

·         Herons

Sea turtles
Land and marine environments
·         Ghost crabs

·         Raccoons

·         Cats

·         Dogs

·         Boars

·         Fire ants

·         Feral hogs

·         Coyotes

·         Seagulls

·         Vultures

·         Humans

Box turtles
Land
·         Vultures

·         Ravens

·         Herons

·         Crows

·         Seagulls

·         Cats

·         Dogs

·         Raccoons

·         Coyotes

·         Foxes

·         Crabs

·         Fire ants

Painted turtles
Freshwater
·         Foxes

·         Raccoons

·         Skunks

·         Otters

·         Frogs

·         Predatory fish

·         Alligators

·         Crocodiles

·         Wading birds

·         Snakes

Conclusion

Different species of turtles live in different habitats, which makes their threats and predators slightly different. The most vulnerable turtles are in the hatchling and egg stages, as their defenseless bodies and instincts lead them to become easy prey for a wide range of animals; whether it is birds, reptiles, fellow turtles, mammals, or humans.

FAQs

Can cats eat turtles?

Yes, they can, although the turtle needs to be small enough for the cat to kill and eat it. While they cannot break the shell, they can eat the meat itself.

Which animals can easily break turtle shells?

Crocodiles and alligators can do that in a single try. This is due to their very sharp and strong jaws, and their long mouth allows them to crush the shell instantly.