Turtles, including saltwater sea turtles, terrestrial tortoises, and coastal brackish terrapins, have existed on this planet for a very long time. They even hung out with the dinosaurs!
These curious animals can attribute their long-term survival, in part, to one of the best defense mechanisms in nature: hard, boney, protective shells.
While their defensive anatomy may protect them from most predators, you might be surprised to hear that turtles often still fall prey to a variety of determined predators.
While adult turtles have few predators, turtle eggs and hatchlings are incredibly vulnerable.
That’s why these species lay so many eggs – many nests contain over one hundred developing young!
Let’s make like a nesting mother turtle and dig deeper to find out which animals consume eggs, hatchlings, and even fully-grown chelonians.
Arguably, the most common predations on turtles and turtle nests are carried out by carnivorous and omnivorous mammals.
Even herbivorous white-tailed deer have been observed raiding defenseless turtle nests.
Raccoons, in particular, relish the opportunity to raid a turtle nest or snack on fresh hatchling turtles.
They’ll actively sniff out and dig up detectable nest sites.
In fact, raccoons are the number one cause of sea turtle mortality in the state of Florida.
Opossums are another prevalent opportunistic omnivore that frequently consumes young turtles and turtle eggs.
These encounters are typically chance-based since opossums obtain the majority of their protein from insects and invertebrates.
Skunks and Other Mustelids
Skunks, weasels, fishers, otters, mink, badgers, and all other mammals in the Mustelid family are capable of and happy to divulge in a meal of turtle eggs.
There’s also no doubt that they possess the jaw power needed to crack into a hatchling turtle’s shell!
Foxes and Other Canines
Members of the canine family, especially foxes and coyotes, but occasionally wolves and domestic dogs, will opportunistically feed on turtle hatchlings and eggs.
Foxes are adapted and well-known for sniffing out and digging up buried prey, including turtle nests.
Bobcats and Other Felines
As predators that are attracted to movement, felines aren’t particularly driven to hunt turtles or turtle eggs.
Especially in small house cats, they may see a little, active turtle as more of a toy than a food source.
Felines aren’t typically known for raiding nests and eating eggs, but scientists have recorded bobcats consuming sea turtle eggs.
Our poor turtle friends aren’t even safe from their own taxonomic class (Reptiles) or even order (Testudines)!
Most carnivorous lizards will enthusiastically dine on turtle eggs, or any eggs, as a matter of fact.
Tegus and monitor lizards, especially, are specialist nest-raiders and egg-eaters.
Crocodilians are some of the few predators that can, and often do, consume even fully-grown turtles.
Their powerful, snapping jaws are perfectly capable of crushing the largest of aquatic turtles into bite-size pieces.
Believe it or not, folks have observed snakes consuming turtle eggs and young, small turtles!
Rat snakes are well-known for raiding chicken nests, but they’ll consume eggs from any animal, including turtles.
The Formosa kukri snake has evolved to eat almost exclusively reptile eggs, and their favorite delicacies are sea turtle eggs.
As far as adults and hatchling turtles, snakes will eat anything that they can swallow.
With their unhinging jaws, smaller turtles certainly aren’t off the menu, especially for large snake species like the anaconda.
Yes, turtle cannibalism can and does happen!
Adult turtles with a craving for meat may even eat the hatchlings of their own species.
Snapping turtles eat other turtles, typically by snapping off the head first. It’s unknown if this behavior is territorial or strictly predatory.
Predatory wading birds and water birds often eat hatchling turtles while foraging for fish, amphibians, and aquatic plants.
Crows and related species take note of any adult turtles that seem to be nesting. They’ll either watch and wait, or come back later, to eat the fresh eggs.
Birds of prey, like hawks and eagles, will carry small- to medium-sized turtles high up in the sky, then drop them to the ground where the hard shell will crack, exposing the flesh inside.
Believe it or not, turtles even fall prey to fish sometimes.
In freshwater bodies, gar, catfish, largemouth bass, and other large, carnivorous fish species frequently eat hatchling turtles.
Even adult sea turtles fall victim to some of the largest fish on the planet – sharks! Sharks and dolphins are the only natural predators for adult sea turtles.