At first, an encounter between a jaguar (Panthera onca) and a green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) seems improbable, even ridiculous, but the two species do come into fatal contact when a female turtle, every two to four years, crawls up a jungle beach to lay her eggs.A hungry jaguar will attack the nesting turtle, killing it with a bite to the neck, and dragging the massive animal—sometime all the way into the jungle—to eat the muscles around the neck and flippers. Despite the surprising nature of such encounters, this behavior, and its impact on populations, has been little studied. Now, a new study in Costa Rica’s Tortuguero National Park has documented five years of jaguar attacks on marine turtles—and finds these encounters are not only more common than expected, but on the rise.
“Although there are records of marine turtles predation by jaguars in other countries nowhere else the numbers of predated turtles are nearly as high. I think that the interaction in itself is very likely to be a normal predator-prey interaction,” lead author Diogo Veríssimo told mongabay.com. “But the quick increase in predation observed in Tortuguero that could be a symptom of an unbalance in the ecosystem.”
Over five years Veríssimo and his team recorded a total of 676 marine turtles killed by jaguars. The vast majority (over 99 percent) of those killed were green sea turtles, but jaguars also preyed on three hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and one leatherback marine turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the world’s largest. Over the five years, more and more sea turtles were killed by jaguars, rising from an average of less than 2 found per survey to over 5.