Well, to answer this question quite bluntly, no, turtles do not have teeth. Neither do dolphins, tortoises, or terrapins. Turtles have a beak that they use to bite and chew the food they ingest. When they are babies, they are born with something called an egg tooth. These are different from what humans have, and it falls off soon, within days of being delivered.
Turtles typically use the sharp ridge-like formation inside their teeth to break or tear their food. The turtles use these serrated ridges in a manner that simulates teeth. Not only are they used to pull food, but it is powerful enough to scrape algae off hard surfaces in the ocean.
As you may have assumed, not all turtles have the same type of beak. Some have rows of spikes, others have pointy beaks, while some may have saw-shaped beaks.
Omnivorous species like the logger back turtle have a powerful jaw. They use this to crush the shells of their prey. Other omnivorous species like the Leatherback Turtle have a long and pointy beak. It is essential in helping them catch and hold on to the fish that they prey on.
Also, contrary to everything we have read so far, earlier (over 200 million years ago), there used to be turtles with teeth. You can see this in the fossils found by geologists. Researchers then intensively studied the fossils. The toothed turtle whose fossils were found is termed as the “Odontochelys”.
You could read more about turtles and how to care for them by visiting the following link for an article: How to Take Care of a Turtle
Do Baby Turtles Have Teeth?
The only turtles that have teeth are baby turtles. Baby turtles are born with a single tooth, commonly referred to as an egg tooth or a caruncle. This tooth of sorts is what enables them to break out of the shell of the egg. It is a small and sharp protrusion located at the front of the beak. That is the only real purpose of this tooth – to assist in breaking through the shell of the egg. A few days after this event, the tooth usually will fall off.
Turtles generally do not have teeth. They do have strong jaws along with tough beaks. These beaks have serrated ridges as well. They are enough to do what is required. They also help in biting through food based on the requirements of different turtles. We will discuss the different types of mouths and jaws of various turtles further in this article.
Do modern turtles have teeth?
As we have discussed earlier in this article, no modern turtles have teeth. Instead, all turtles we know of today rely on their beaks to chew their food or tear things. When studied, there have been fossils that show that over 200 million years ago, there were turtles that had teeth. These creatures are “Odontochelys.”
In the present day, turtles do not have any teeth. They rely upon their beaks and jaws to get the job done. Turtles have one of the unique anatomies in the entire reptile kingdom. As time has passed, most turtles are herbivorous or omnivorous. There aren’t too many species of turtle that remain carnivorous. So they do not need the large, intense chewing and biting forces to break down their food.
They are now equipped with powerful beaks that facilitate their eating habits. These beaks have sharp edges. When coupled with strong jaws, they can mow down whatever food comes their way without any trouble.
Species of turtle that live in rivers have an upper jaw that is more evolved and developed. Their upper jaw has rigid and bony plates. They assist in grinding and chewing the more demanding plant life they depend on for sustenance. These particular adaptations are secondary plates. They help even the carnivorous kind as they provide the strength to crush mollusk shells and other prey with shells.
Types of Turtle Mouths
As time has passed, the turtles have evolved as a species. They are one of the best adapters in the history of the earth, and it shows. They have managed to adjust their diet based on just the shape of their beaks. Let us now look at the different types of mouths that turtles have.
Carnivorous turtles have a diet that is primarily based on protein and has a lot of meat. This means they need a beak that can pierce tough skin and tear through tough chunks of meat as well. To ease this, carnivorous turtles have evolved their beaks to become sharp and pointy.
As the classification states, herbivorous turtles have a vegetarian diet. It is mainly based on plant matter like fruits, vegetables, vegetation, and many leaves. It reduces the need for a sharp beak, like the ones that carnivorous turtles have. Instead, they have a strong beak that allows them to cut through plants and chew on them with ease. Their beaks have ridges that help cut through the vegetation in a manner that requires less effort.
Omnivorous turtles are the ones that eat both meat and plants. This means that their beak is supposed to facilitate the requirement of both meat and plant matter. Therefore, their beaks have evolved into a combination of both the carnivorous and herbivorous types of mouths. They have a sharp beak with a strong jaw that has ridges.
Another type of mouth that we must note is the mouth of a sea turtle. There are multiple types of sea turtles, and their mouths look pretty intimidating. They have numerous rows of spike-like structures that help facilitate their diet. They usually consume fish, and leatherback turtles are one of the largest consumers of jellyfish in the world. Jellyfish are a deadly species, and they can sting. To overcome this, the sea turtles have rows of spikes that protect them from this.
How Do Turtles Chew Food Without Teeth?
In place of teeth, these reptiles have evolved. They now use their bird-like beak with sharp edges to cut and graze the aquatic life they thrive upon. They are also equipped with well-developed jaws. These make the chewing procedure much more straightforward. The ridges in their beaks also help significantly in the chewing process.
If Turtles Don’t Have Teeth, Are Their Bites Dangerous?
Do not let the fact that turtles do not have teeth make you think that their bites are harmless. They have powerful jaws that have immense grip. This jaw strength, when combined with their sharp beaks, makes for a deadly bite. It is not harmless and will would you.
A bite from your pet turtle can quickly draw blood and leave a deep wound. Turtles are usually mellow creatures and do not bite their owners. There are always exceptions. They are most likely to occur when your pet is stressed out due to poor tank conditions or poor health. Another factor that may push them to bite is if they are hungry.
We hope this article clarifies that turtles do not have teeth but have beaks that serve their purpose. Different species of turtles have other food requirements. Some have beaks and jaws that have evolved to accommodate their needs. Herbivores have strong beaks to ease their diet of veggies. Carnivores have a sharp beak to cut through the meat. Omnivores have a beak that is a combination of both herbivores and carnivores.
Also, turtles do not usually bite for any other purpose than self-defense, but there are exceptions. But do not be fooled by the fact that turtles do not have teeth. Their bites still do hurt.
For more reading, you can follow these links to know more about turtles, their requirements, and behavior: