How Do Turtles Chew Their Food When They Have No Teeth?

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More than 280 species of turtles exist throughout the world, eating food as varied as clams, crayfish, fruit, leaves and insects -- without the aid teeth. While a human would have a difficult time cracking open a large clam using his mouth alone, whether or not he had teeth, turtles are specially adapted for biting without them.

Beaks

Most species of turtle have sharp edges along both upper and lower jaws or beaks. The muscles in the head exert hundreds of pounds of pressure, enabling a turtle to bite off chunks of vegetation or snip amphibians or carrion into bite-size pieces. The tongue moves the chunks of food to the rear of the mouth for swallowing. Snapping turtles are some of the strongest, capable of biting through a broomstick or amputating a human finger.

Lipped Turtles

Some turtle species, such as soft-shelled turtles, have soft lips instead of sharp beaks. These turtles swallow their food whole, sucking it into their mouths and swallowing using the muscles of their tongues. Some aquatic species use their tongues as bait, luring small fish or other creatures into their mouths and then closing their jaws around them before swallowing them.

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Author

A former world-class swimmer, J.T. O'Connell shares her love of adventure travel, extreme sports and pets through thousands of published articles. O'Connell studied journalism at Grand Canyon University, and brings professional experience as a tour guide and travel consultant. She authors the blog, Traveling With Large Dogs.