Imagine for a moment that you’re a jellyfish. You’re just swimming along, being mostly water, minding your own business when a sea turtle decides to make you its next meal. That might sound bad enough, but the journey you’re about to take is much, much worse.
The good news is that, if you’re reading this, you’re probably not a jellyfish and can thus enjoy the nightmarescape that is a sea turtle’s esophagus without becoming its food. Right after the turtle’s beak snaps off a sweet sampling of jellyfish, the morsels begin to travel down the animal’s throat, a digestive passageway lined with spines called papillae that help to break down the food and keep it from being regurgitated when the turtle expels swallowed sea water.
Take a look at the papillae of a loggerhead sea turtle’s esophagus in GIF form below:
This horrifying GIF comes courtesy of Laura Castanon, who recently performed a necropsy on a loggerhead sea turtle along with her colleagues at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. It’s definitely worth mentioning that this animal was not killed for the sake of dissection, rather it was found dead after it stranded during a cold snap in Cape Cod. This behavior, seen in sea turtle populations in recent years, is exactly what the WHOI researchers are attempting to sort out.
A similar necropsy of a leatherback sea turtle, the largest of all living turtles and the fourth-heaviest modern reptile after the crocodilians, reveals the insanity of the animal’s innards. It may be hard to believe, but the leatherbacks gain their 500-1,500lb bulk on a diet of jellyfish alone, consuming almost 75% of their bodyweight–or about 16,000 calories–in a single day. The diet ranges from the world’s largest jellyfish–the Lion’s mane–to the smallest.
Leatherbacks favor quantity over quality when it comes to food; their papillae-lined esophagus is six times longer than any other turtle’s, allowing the animals to really pack the jellyfish in before they even reach the stomach. And since the turtles swallow a lot of sea water along with their foodstuff, the sharp, downstream-pointing spines keep the food in place while the muscles of the esophagus expel the excess water. It’s pretty much the same thing that happened to Boba Fett when he fell into the Sarlacc pit.
You can watch the full story and necropsy of the massive leatherback in the video from Channel 4’s “Inside Nature’s Giants” below. (Fair warning: It’s a dissection, so if your stomach isn’t as strong as the leatherback’s, you might want to avoid watching. If you want to get right to the guts, so to speak, jump to the 20:40 mark.) Consider this your daily dose of “Gross Anatomy” from the animal kingdom.
Featured Image: Karumbé, NOAA