Because of the hard shell, you would logically think tortoises are invincible. No animals should be able to prey on them. But some animals do eat tortoises.
So, what eats tortoises? Well, tortoises face varied predators like coyotes, sharks, jaguars, and humans. Specialized tortoise eaters include Gila monsters, monitor lizards, and giant otters that use adaptations like strong jaws, sharp teeth, and claws to prey on them.
Now, you must want to know how it is possible to eat a tortoise through its hard shell, right? In this article, we will explore it all. Stay till the end!
What Eats Tortoises? (Predators For Each Types Of Tortoise)
A range of predators eat tortoises, such as mammals, reptiles, birds, big fish, humans, and many more. It’s because the tortoise’s shell is not invincible. Some predators have evolved ways to crack it open or bypass it altogether.
You can check out this video to get a much clearer idea about it.
According to the United States Geological Survey, 20% of all tortoise species are critically endangered. It’s mainly because tortoises face different kinds of predators, such as:
A. Predators of Desert Tortoises:
As reported by the 2021 study by the United States Geological Survey, desert tortoises are native to North America. Specifically, they’re found most in Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California. Based on this geological characteristic, some of their predators from these geographical areas are:
- Eagles, and
These animals may hunt desert tortoises by digging them out of their burrows and breaking their shells with their teeth or claws. Humans eat tortoises by dropping them from a height to crack them open or hammering them with a rock.
B. Predators of Sea Turtles:
Sea turtles are marine reptiles that live in oceans and coastal areas. They are among the largest and longest-lived reptiles in the world.
Some of their predators include:
- Killer whales
- Large fish
- Octopuses, and
These animals hunt sea turtles by biting them with their powerful jaws and tearing them apart.
C. Predators of Land Tortoises:
Land tortoises live in various habitats such as forests, grasslands, savannas, deserts, and islands. Some of their predators include
- Lizards, and
These animals usually hunt land tortoises by stalking them, pouncing on them, flipping them over, or biting their exposed parts. Humans, on the other hand, use sharp and hard tools to pry open the tortoises’ shells and then eat them.
How Do Predators Consume Tortoises?
Predators have different strategies to consume tortoises depending on their size, strength, and anatomy.
A. With Or Without Breaking the Shell:
Some predators can eat a tortoise without breaking its shell open. For example, coyotes can swallow a small tortoise whole or crush it with their molars.
B. Pry Open the Shell:
Some predators need to pry open the shell to access the meat inside.
For example, badgers can use their strong claws to pry open the plastron or carapace of a tortoise. The shell of a tortoise consists of two parts: the upper part, called the carapace, and the lower part, called the plastron.
C. Using Tools to Crack Open:
Some predators can also use tools to crack open a tortoise shell. For example, ravens can use rocks or branches to hammer a tortoise until it breaks.
D. Eating Only the Limbs:
Some predators may not eat the whole tortoise but only certain parts of it. For instance, hawks may only eat the head and neck of a tortoise while leaving the rest behind.
Other predators may also share a tortoise with other members of their group or species. For example, lions may kill a large tortoise and let other scavengers, such as hyenas or vultures, feed on the remains.
What Animals Only Target Tortoises? (And Why?)
Most predators of tortoises are opportunistic and will eat other animals or plants if they are available. However, some animals may only target tortoises as their primary or exclusive food source.
These animals usually specialize in hunting, killing, or consuming tortoises by having adaptations such as strong jaws, sharp teeth, long claws, or keen senses.
Some examples of these animals are:
- Gila Monsters: Gila monsters are venomous lizards that live in the deserts of North America. They can use their powerful jaws and venomous saliva to crack open the shells of tortoise eggs and swallow them whole.
- Monitor Lizards: Monitor lizards feed on a variety of animals and plants. But, some species, such as the Komodo dragon and the Nile monitor, have a preference for tortoises.
They can use their long claws and teeth to rip open the shells of tortoises and devour their flesh.
- Giant Otters: Giant otters feed mainly on fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. But they also prey on freshwater turtles and tortoises. They can use their agile bodies and sharp teeth to catch and crush the shells of their prey.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s check out some common queries that you may have in mind.
Yes, as reported by the non-profit Nature Conservancy, tortoises rely on their protective shell, burrowing behavior, urination, and camouflage to defend against predators.
Their shell withstands damage and pressure while allowing the head, limbs, and sensory organs to retract inside. Burrowing provides shelter and community protection. Urinating deters predators with foul smell and taste. Camouflage allows tortoises to blend into their habitats unseen.
Baby tortoises are vulnerable to predators due to their soft shells and small size.
Ravens can crack shells open with tools. Skunks raid nests with teeth and claws. Snakes swallow hatchlings whole or constrict them. Crabs use pincers to break shells and tear flesh. Other predators like rats, coyotes, hogs, and raccoons also feed on defenseless hatchlings and juveniles.
Yes, humans eating tortoises presents an existential threat. It’s because unsustainable hunting for food, medicine, culture, or religion has caused overexploitation, population declines, and even extinctions of vulnerable tortoise species.
For example, the Aldabra giant tortoise was nearly wiped out by sailors and pirates who ate them as a source of fresh meat on long voyages.
In essence, it’s clear that tortoises face predation threats from other reptiles, mammals, large fishes, birds, and humans. Tortoises have indeed developed some defenses against predation, such as their shells, burrowing, or peeing. But these are not always effective. As such, they fall prey quite often.
Not only that, some predators also pose an existential threat to tortoise species. It’s mainly caused by extinctions due to overexploitation or habitat destruction. So, are you baffled to have known that even the tortoises’ ultimate defense can fall? Don’t be. The animal kingdom is full of surprises!