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Do People Eat Turtles?

So do people eat turtles? Can people eat turtles? Well, the answer to this is simply yes. The meat of most turtles is edible and people do, in some cultures, eat turtles.

Keep in mind that several turtle species are threatened and that there are legislative laws against the hunting and eating of turtles. Doing so is illegal and bad for the wild population of the species.

You may need a permit to hunt different turtle species depending on your locality. It may be illegal to hunt and eat turtles or their eggs where you live.

While we do not condone the consumption of turtle meat due to toxicity, salmonella, legality, and just plain cruelty of it, we are here purely to inform those curious about the topic of humans consuming turtle meat. Reader discretion is advised to those who might not be able to stomach it. (No pun intended.)

Table of Contents

  1. Turtle Meat
  2. Turtle Eggs
  3. Toxicity of Turtle Meat
  4. Legality of Eating Turtle Meat
  5. FAQ

Turtle Meat

A small bowl of turtle soup
A small bowl of turtle soup taken by Choo Yut Shing. – Source

Turtle meat is a popular delicacy around the world with different cultures preparing turtles using different techniques. As someone who has not personally tasted turtle meat, the information provided here is solely based on research.

The culinary skills and knowledge of preparation for cooking the meat will determine how the taste turns out. In places such as New Orleans, turtle soup is still served in restaurants today.

Freshwater turtle species that are usually eaten in North America include snapping turtles, cooters, and pond sliders.

In other places around the world, all the marine turtles are eaten although the meat can be toxic to humans.

Turtle Eggs

Green Sea Turtle laying eggs
Green Sea Turtle laying eggs taken by Francesco Veronesi. – Source

Turtle eggs are collected in large numbers and eaten all over the world, especially in places where sea turtles nest. Due to the threatened nature of all the marine turtles, the collection and consumption of the eggs are considered illegal.

Many turtles carry salmonella, making it unsafe to eat the eggs raw or slightly cooked. If you must or find yourself in the situation, the best way to consume turtle eggs is when they are properly cooked. 

The consumption of turtle eggs has a huge negative effect on marine turtle populations. As such, many governments around the world, as well as international organizations, are working to reduce the consumption and trade of turtle eggs.

Toxicity of Turtle Meat

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) in coral in Maui County, Hawaii, USA
Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) in coral in Maui County, Hawaii, USA. – Source

Apart from the fact that turtles carry salmonella, turtle meat is usually not considered toxic. While most turtle meats aren’t poisonous, the following species produce meat that has been known to be poisonous and has led to the permanent paralysis and death of consumers:

  • Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
  • Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
  • Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta gigas)
  • New Guinea Giant Softshell Turtle (Pelochelys bibroni)

The meat of these species should be avoided, if possible since they have a track record of causing toxicity in humans after consumption. Some turtles eat substances that are toxic to humans which can, in turn, make that particular meat toxic.

There have been reports of deaths caused by the consumption of green sea turtle meat because the turtle feeds on large amounts of jellyfish and other substances which are highly toxic to humans. Substances such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, mercury, and cadmium.

Food poisoning caused by eating turtles is called chelonitoxication or chelonitoxin. Symptoms of chelonitoxication include dysphagia, tongue ulceration, itching in the throat and mouth, pains in the throat and mouth, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.

Symptoms usually start a few hours to a few days of consumption. Turtle meat poisoning can lead to permanent paralysis and even death.

Children are most susceptible to toxins. The toxins can be transferred from a nursing mother to the baby even if the mother shows no symptoms.

The Legality of Eating Turtle Meat

All marine turtles are considered illegal to consume due to the endangered nature of the species. Since 1978, all the marine turtle species have been placed on the endangered list.

The species are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Many countries around the world have legislation that prohibits the collection, hunt, and consumption of marine turtle meat and eggs.

The marine turtle species include flatback sea turtle, green sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, leatherback sea turtle, loggerhead sea turtle, and olive ridley sea turtle.

For the rest of the other turtle species, the legality of the consumption differs from one locality to another. In many places in the United States, all you need is a permit to hunt snapping turtles. Consumption is also not prohibited in many states in the United States.

It is essential that you know the laws of your state. For instance, in Indiana, you need a valid hunting or fishing license to collect turtles as long as the species is not endangered. However, in Indiana, regardless of the status of the species, the collection of turtle eggs is prohibited.

The legislation on the collection and consumption of turtle meat differs from one state to another. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to eat turtle meat?

When cooked properly, turtle meat can be safe to eat. However, many sea turtle species and some freshwater species meat contain substances and toxins harmful to humans. 

The turtles whose meat can be toxic to humans include:

  • Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas)
  • Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
  • Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta gigas)
  • New Guinea Giant Softshell Turtle (Pelochelys bibroni)

The meat of these species should be avoided, if possible.

Food poisoning caused by consuming turtle meat is called chelonitoxication and symptoms include tongue ulceration, itching in the throat and mouth, pains in the throat and mouth, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. 

Chelonitoxication can lead to permanent disabilities and even death.

The legality of the consumption of turtle meat and eggs changes from one place to another. Universally, it is generally illegal to consume the meat and eggs of marine turtles.

In most states in the United States, you need a fishing or hunting license to hunt and collect nonendangered turtles. The conservation status of these turtles changes from one state to another.

In many states, the snapping turtle is not considered endangered and as such can be collected and eaten. In Louisiana for instance, with a proper license, you can take one Alligator snapping turtle per person, per day, and per vehicle.

This turtle can be used to prepare food. However, the commercial harvest of the species is prohibited and considered illegal.

Be sure to consult the laws and regulations of your locality if you are ever thinking about consuming turtle meat and/or eggs.

What types of turtles are eaten?

Turtle species usually consumed as food include sliders, cooters, terrapins, and snapping turtles. Around the world, marine turtles such as loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill, and green sea turtle are commonly consumed.

What does turtle taste like?

Turtle meat is said to taste like beef or even fish but with the texture of chicken. Turtle meat is a lot fattier than fish in consistency.

Conclusion

While most turtle species are edible and the meat and eggs of these animals are used to prepare delicacies all around the world, there is a lot to consider before you eat a turtle. Many turtle species are threatened and the hunt and consumption of the species may be prohibited.

The hunt, collection, and human consumption of all marine turtles are strictly prohibited and for good reason as these species are endangered.

Turtles also carry salmonella and consumption of eggs and meat can lead to salmonella infection if not properly prepared.

Do people eat turtles? Yes, they do but the consumption of turtles is not as popular as it used to be. Regardless, in many places around the world such as southeast Asia in places such as Singapore and China, turtle soup is a delicacy.

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