Jaws

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Turtle Tales

Would you be alarmed if I told you that a 300-pound monster, quite capable of biting off an arm or leg of anyone out for a midnight stroll, may crawl ponderously out of the sea and onto our beach?  Would you be even more alarmed if I told you that the beast comes upon our beach almost every night during the summer?  Well that’s true, and the name of the terrible beast is Loggerhead Turtle!  Some say that the loggerhead acquired its name, because sailors would mistake its large brown head for a log that had washed from some distant shore and now was bobbing on the waves far out at sea.  That head truly is huge, for it contains heavy jaws powered by massive muscles.

We are told that turtles feed upon jellyfish when in the ocean, but they wouldn't  need anything more powerful for that fare than the wimpy jaws of a nurse shark.  However, the loggerhead spends much of its time in shallow water on the continental shelf.  There, it feeds upon creatures that dwell on the bottom.  These include crabs and mollusks such as the marine snails called whelks.  If you are unfamiliar with whelks, the next time you are on our beach pick up the largest and heaviest cone-shaped shell that you can find.  Quite likely you will be holding the shell of a whelk.  

Now imagine trying to crush that shell with your jaws in order to eat the soft-bodied snail enclosed within the armor.  Please don't also imagine that I offered to help pay your dental bills!  However, the turtle grinds up whelks regularly, and with no apparent damage to its jaws.  We know this because pieces of the shell are frequently found in the stomachs of turtles upon necropsy.  And if you continue your beach-combing, you will find numerous fragments of whelk shell that have washed ashore.  To my knowledge, the only animals in the ocean capable of this destruction are the huge turtles.

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