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This Animal Has One of the Most Grotesque Mouths Ever

leatherback mouth
Image: Loggerhead Marina/FB

Who knew one of the most grotesque mouths in the animal kingdom would belong to such a gentle giant?

Surprisingly, this mouth belongs to the world’s largest sea turtle, the docile leatherback.

leatherback
Nesting leatherback. Image: US Fish & Wildlife Service

What’s going on inside that mouth?


Leatherbacks have a series of sharp, backward-pointed spines called “papillae.” The papillae help the turtles hold on to their wiggling gelatinous prey (mainly jellyfish and tunicates), and ensures that the food keeps moving towards the stomach.

leatherback 2

Not so scary now, right?

Leatherbacks are fascinating in other ways, too! These massive reptiles weigh an average of 800-1000 pounds, can swim up to 20 miles per hour, and can dive to depths of over 3,000 feet. They are also the only species of sea turtle that lacks a hard, bony shell; Instead, its thick skin is stretched over 7 bony ridges.

Even more interesting, the leatherback can be found virtually everywhere on the planet due to its ability to regulate its own body temperature, and can travel as far north as Alaska! This is unheard of with other reptiles.

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Unfortunately, this species is facing many threats, including plastic ingestion and entanglement in fishing line and nets. You can protect them by limiting your use of plastic bags: Leatherbacks often mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish and end up dying with a belly full of plastic.


Video of Leatherback turtle feeding:

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Written by Samantha Hartery

Sammy is a wildlife-loving Environmental Scientist and Conservationist, traveler, photographer, and adventure seeker. She's been all over the US and across the world to study and work with wildlife. She wants to save the world.

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