Here’s one species of turtle you don’t want to kiss. Believe me, the Leatherback Sea Turtle might look adorable and harmless, but lurking behind its cute face is a set of killer teeth, making its mouth one of the scariest in the world. Hundreds of these jagged stalactite-like teeth called ‘papillae’ line the turtle’s mouth and esophagus, all the way down to the gut. You just have to see it to believe it.
The Leatherback is the third largest living reptile in the world, and also the largest turtle. It’s actually a pretty docile creature, with a diet mainly consisting of jellyfish. In fact, the only reason it gets so huge is because it eats an astonishingly large number of the slow-moving jellies. Sometimes, the leatherback can consume about 73 percent of its own body weight in a single day, which is about 16,000 calories and three to seven times more than it needs to survive.
So why does this jelly-eating machine need a set of killer teeth, you ask? Well, the teeth give it an evolutionary advantage. The sharp, pointy, backward-facing papillae actually prevent the slippery jelly from escaping by floating back out of the mouth. This means that the leatherback is able to eat all kinds of jellies – right from the smallest swarms to the most massive ones like the Lion’s Mane Jelly. This turtle species also has an unusually long esophagus that extends way past its stomach and all the way to the rear.
When a baby leatherback first makes an appearance in the world, it is just a tiny hatchling about 3-inches long. But thanks to all the water-rich jellies it consumes in its lifetime, it can grow to an average of four to six ft. long. Now, if you’re thinking that the humungous turtle does nothing but eat and laze around all day, you’re wrong. The leatherback turtle is a migratory species, travelling over 10,000 miles a year. It needs all the energy it can get to cover such large distances. And since jellyfish aren’t exactly energy-boosting foods, the leatherback’s best bet is to stuff its face with as many jellies as it can manage in one go.