When we think about turtles, our natural thoughts go straight to a beautiful turtle swimming majestically amongst a coral reef, causing no harm or attracting no harm either. While this can be correct, we barely hear about the darker side of the animal world. Although turtles have a rock hard shell for protection, they are in fact a meal for many predators. So you may be thinking, what are turtles predators?
Through this article we will dive into all the unknowns about turtle predators. We’ll take a look into subjects such as, What are turtle predators, what time of day do they hunt, How to keep predators out of your pond, and other turtle threats. We’re going to cover both sea turtles and pond turtles so you can get a good understanding of both wild and domestic predators. So let’s get stuck in.
Table of Contents
Sea Turtles Hatchlings
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that new born hatchling turtles are at most risk. This is the same throughout the animal world, and human life for that matter. Young animals are always most vulnerable and at risk to the elements of the world. Whilst some have the protection of their mothers and families, others simply do not. Some are left to fend for themselves from the moment they are born or hatched. Unfortunately for sea turtles, they fall into this category.
From the moment the mother lays the eggs, they will return to the water and never visit the nest again. They will most likely never see their young. Newly hatched turtles have the most overwhelming and daunting tasks ahead of them from the moment they surface from their nests. Upon scrambling up and breaking out onto the beach surface they have to first locate the water. This is a hatchling first form of protection. They are at their most vulnerable at this stage, not knowing what the world has to offer makes them easy targets for land predators. Crabs, Racoons, Birds and Coyotes are all amongst a baby sea turtles first encounter with its predators.
The Ghost crab is the main culprit in this situation, occupying beaches along the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Ghost crabs will prey on both turtle eats and hatchlings. Crabs have the first upper hand, as they can dig underneath the sand to get to the eggs first, before the hatchlings have chance to break free. However, when the turtle eggs start to hatch, ghost crabs will line the shore and will attack the hatchlings trying to make it to the water.
Racoons are native to most of the United Sates, which proves to be a problem for the hatchlings along the South coast beaches. They are opportune eaters and will scavenge food from pretty much anywhere, in both urban and rural areas. They will commonly roam onto the beaches of Texas and North Carolina in search for an easy meal amongst the nesting grounds of sea turtles.
There are a wide range of birds that will in fact prey on hatchling turtles. A few of the main culprits include Crows, Seagulls, Vultures and Pelicans all use turtle nesting beaches as a feeding ground. Through the heights of the hatching season, the beaches become a feeding frenzy for bird species as they have the upper hand, simply picking off the young hatchling turtles as they struggle to find the waters edge.
Just like the racoon, coyotes are found across most of the United States and now even Mexico. Commonly habitable to deserts and open lands, coyotes will hunting on beaches for prey. This includes turtles amongst birds, mice, snaked and many other animals.
Thankfully for the hatchlings, most turtle nesting grounds across the world are now monitored and protected by wildlife organisations, to ensure a large percentage of hatchlings make it into the open ocean. Previously without these wildlife organisations, it was recorded that up to 90% of hatchlings would be eaten by predators before they even made it to the ocean.
Once in the ocean, they’re 50% less likely to be eaten by predators, mainly before there are less predators in the sea than there are on the beaches.
Adult Sea Turtles
Sea turtles mature between 5 and 8 years. So it’s at this age in which they will most likely be fully grown, however they may not reach sexual maturity until anywhere between 15-50 years old. The first 5-8 years of a sea turtles life will no doubt be the most difficult, having to self teach themselves how to hunt, feed and survive the elements of the open ocean. However, although their predatory threats are minimised, they’re not completely eradicated. Sea turtles will have predators such as Sharks and Killer whales in the sea waters, and commonly bigger sized Boars and Coyotes when they come ashore to find nesting grounds.
Sharks are probably a sea turtles main predatory threat, with Tiger sharks being top of the list. Tiger sharks are found in the seas of the coasts of South American States, California as well as the Gulf of Mexico. Tiger sharks have a bite so powerful, they can crush a sea turtles shell within its jaws. They will no eat the shell of a turtle, just the meat of the body. Turtles are a top choice for tiger sharks as they are hold high levels of protein.
Just like the Tiger shark, a Killer whale can bite through a turtle shell. Although Killer whales aren’t usually in a sea turtles natural habitat they will something stray from the colder waters into warmer waters to find prey. Killer whales are naturally found in the colder oceans around Antarctica, Norway and Alaska, but are mostly studied in the North Pacific Ocean, and are commonly seen in the subtropical waters of California.
Pond Turtles have the same predatory threats throughout their whole lifespan. From the moment they hatch they have to fend off predators from Birds, Frogs and Racoons to Leeches. Domestic turtles are usually well protected from the natural threats and elements as they are bred in secure habitats, however this isn’t the case for wild pond turtles. They have to fend for themselves from the very beginning of their life journey.
There are many birds that like to prey on pond turtles. Pond turtles are considered easy targets as their habitat doesn’t span too far. Ponds are usually small in size and habit a healthy number of animals, including turtles. Crows, Herons and Ravens are the main arial predators for pond turtles. Birds have the upper hand when hunting due to the arial attacks. They’ll swoop down and pick at the turtles, and the small ones will most likely be taken away to a safer feeding ground.
Bull frogs are are pond turtles top predators. Native to North America These invasive frogs are pretty much everywhere, and being carnivorous means they will eat anything they can get their hands on. There’s really not that many predatory threats for bull frogs which puts them right near the top of the food chain. For this reason they are heavily over populated and found in most pond areas and find their way into urban ponds too.
Racoons are native to most of the United Sates, which again proves to be a problem for pond turtle also. They are opportune eaters and will scavenge food from pretty much anywhere, in both urban and rural areas which includes home ponds. They will commonly roam woodland and wetland amongst urban areas, however have been known to prey on turtles in home ponds.
Although leeches don’t actually eat turtles, it’s worth mentioning that they do suck on their skin for blood. Commonly leeches will attach themselves to a turtles shell as a means on transport, but will occasionally attach itself to the skin to suck their blood. In some small cases this can cause death if young, or not treated. Usually it will be more of an annoyance, but could lead to bacterial infections and illness, which could all lead to other health related issues.
How To Keep Predators Out Of Your Pond?
Now we’ve had a look at turtles main predators, we should really look into how we can keep them safe in our ponds. After all, sea turtles are being protected by wildlife organisations, so pond turtles could probably use a little help too.
There are a few tips and tricks you can try out at home to help fend off any predatory threat from your pond, and even public ponds too. These tips and tricks will give your turtle the best chance or survival in your pond. Given you can’t spend every hour of the day looking after them, it’s best you take advantage of these useful tips, which incorporates Hiding places, Netting, Wire, Water, Plants, and Decoys Bird Ornaments.
Having hiding places and secure nests is a great way to protect your pond turtle. Pond turtles will come onto dry land to bask when they are cold, and this is where they are most vulnerable. Monitoring their movements will give you a great idea on where their favoured basking spots are. What you can do is create a hiding spot, which protects them from predatory threats, but still allows them to bask. One way to do this is to create a metal cage which covers the basking spot, allowing plenty of sunlight and heat through, but keeping all the predatory threats from getting to them. Another is to create hiding nests which can’t be accessed by predators. These can be little hand made wooden huts, which your turtle will love.
Netting isn’t the most recommended, however it can still be used. It can be used to cover the pond and the surrounding basking areas of the pond. You should make sure the netting is high enough so your turtles have no chance of getting caught or tangled in the netting. This does also pose a threat for harming other animals such as birds which may you caught in the netting too. Personally I would avoid using netting as focus on one of the other options, however it is a cheaper option so it really depends on what your limit is.
Wire can be used to thatch across your pond to protect your turtle from predatory threats. You’ll need a durable wire that can withstand biting and tugging by animals, without creating an opening. Mesh is thought to be best as it has tiny holes which no predatory threat will be able to squeeze through. Wire mesh is a little bit more expensive, but it will stand to test of time. As long as it’s secure in place, then it should need redoing for a very long time.
Having water plants is another great addition for your pond to keep your turtles safe. Water plants will provide the cover your turtles need to go unnoticed from aerial predators. Turtles will be able to swim round relatively care free from predatory threats, however they don’t provide definite protection. Water plants will make your pond look more natural than the other options, which is perfect for a garden pond.
Decoys Bird Ornaments
Many people like the choice of decoy bird ornaments, which has been a successful methods used for many years. The bird ornaments are usually a little bit bigger than real life size. This makes the larger birds more cautious of attempting to steal a meal from under its nose. The turtles may however become a little stressed to start off with, as they will see the ornament as a threat. But this will change over time when they realise the ornament doesn’t move. This will likely take a few weeks, and is best to have the ornament in the garden, slowly moving it towards the pond, every other day to get your turtles used to the new decoy ornament.
Other Threats To Sea Turtles
Sea turtles are amazing species which have other factors which assist to their decreasing numbers. Unfortunately, most of these factors are in some way directly or indirectly problems caused by the human race. Our carelessness and naivety play a huge part in the decreasing numbers in most endangered animals across the globe. The factors we’ll take a look at include Fisheries Bycatch, Coastal Developments, Pollution, Climate Change and Illegal Trade Market.
Until some of these issues are addressed and effectively assessed, there will be more casualties in the wild. Unfortunately these issues are still a massive part of todays problems for wild animals, and need to be minimised to save these wonderful turtles.
The fisheries bycatch is one of the highest turtle killers and there’s more factors than you may realise. Fisheries have long been a huge problem with ocean wildlife as their methods for catching huge amounts of fish are believed by many to be unethical.
Trawls are large fishing nets which are dragged through the water, or along the seabed, catching pretty much everything in its path that isn’t fast enough to swim away, or slip through the nets mesh. This type of fishing is commonly used for catching shrimp, so you can imagine the nets holes aren’t going to be that big at all. It’s not just turtles that get caught in these types on nets, sharks, dolphins and whales are just a few other species that are unethically caught also.
Dredges are similar to trawlers in the fact they are dragged along the ocean floor, however dredges use heavily weighted chains and nets which digs into the ocean floor, ripping up everything in its tracks. Used for fishing scallops and clams mainly, commonly the nets will come up with all kinds of fish and wildlife include coral reefs which the dregs have destroyed. Turtles are commonly caught in these nets which means they cannot come up for air when they need to. By the time the dregs are pulled from the water, the turtles have sadly used drowned.
Longlines are used by commercial fisheries to catch the like of Swordfish, Tuna and Mackerel is mass numbers. Huge amount of line is released into the water with hundreds of hooks with bait attached to them. Sometimes, when the lines are full of fish they break. Most of the fish are able to free themselves if the hook isn’t too deep, however these lines will soon become intertwined which plays havoc for turtles. Turtles will be very inquisitive, thinking that possible this line is a jelly fish, when it gets too close, they commonly become entangled and die from drowning.
Another threat to sea turtles are coastal developments. In recent years costal developments have had a huge impact on the beaches which turtles previously laid their eggs. Luxury hotel developments which usually have no thought or care for anything other than profit, have been a the primary issue for destroying turtle breeding grounds.
Nowadays, its varying from public parking areas to beach housing along the coast, which means turtles have to find other less optimal nesting habitats to lay their eggs. Hatchling turtles use the the natural light from the moon to navigate their way to the ocean. So when the mother is forced to lay her eggs in suboptimal locations, she may be too close to artificial lighting which could be misinterpreted as the moon by the hatchlings. This causes some hatchlings to cross busy pathways and roads in the opposite direction to the sea, usually ending in death by getting stepped on or ran over.
Pollution is getting worse and worse, with no sign of dramatic change. Chemical and pollutant waste from human activities make their way into our oceans. These pollutants commonly cause injuries, illnesses, diseases and even death in the worst of cases to sea turtles. Factors that you probably haven’t even considered such as waste products from cruise liners, released into the oceans. Or farm fertilisers that get washed away by rain water, entering our rivers which ultimately all lead to the sea. This can even be caused by farms which aren’t even close to the costal areas. Eventually the hazardous products they use will find their way into the surround oceans.
The effects of climate change results in huge disruption across the globe, and this doesn’t just affect humankind. In fact it has just as much, if not more, of an effect on the animal world. Climate stance can lead to storms, warmer seas, hotter sands and rising sea levels to name just a few. All of these effects have serious consequences for the reproduction of sea turtles.
Tropical storms play a big part in the decreasing nesting success rate for sea turtles. When heavy storms hit the coastal areas where turtles usually nest, it can destroy huge amounts of land and leave nothing but destruction in its wake. Storms may lead to flooding, which will undoubtably decrease hatching rates. It may also cause a big clean up from authorities afterwards, in which beaches may become ruined nesting grounds.
Having sea that are warming can alter the oceans natural currents as we know them. These currents, also known as belts, are used by the turtles to migrate across the oceans to find their best favoured nesting ground. If the warmer seas alter the currents direction, then turtles may become disorientated and won’t be able to find the correct beaches to lay their eggs.
Climate change in closely relative to rising temperatures. It has been known in recent times for the destruction through forest fires as temperatures sore above average. Did you know the sex of a turtle is dependant on the temperature of the sand in which it nests. When the sand heats up too much, there is a huge rise in female turtle hatchlings. If the adult mothers don’t adapt to this change and dig their nests a little deeper, then there will be more female hatchlings than males in the future, which will lead to less hatchlings altogether.
Rising Sea Levels
The biggest risk from climate change is rising sea levels. This poses a threat to every living species on earth, including humans. When sea levels rise, they will eventually wipe out all the best nesting beaches for sea turtles. Turtles are very particular about where they lay their eggs and will always come back to the same spot where they hatched to lay their own eggs. Being unable to do this means they are less likely to lay any eggs at all, decreasing the hatching success rate.
Illegal Trade Market
Hatchling turtles sometimes become part of the illegal trade market. Poachers using illegal turtles traps catch young turtles to sell illegally across the world. Many turtles that should be repopulating our oceans are taken to be sold, and if not sold the left to die. If the poachers can’t create a profit fro them, then they become useless to them.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article on “what are turtles predators”. There was a lot to take in, but do you remember what are turtles predators? Turtles main predators in the sea or sharks, whilst hatchlings are vulnerable to attacks from birds.
Pond turtles predators are mainly birds, but can have other such as bull frogs and racoons. Please take some serious thought into way to protect your turtle from its predators when housing in a garden pond.