It seems that diving head first into a sarlacc pit is a little bit like being eaten by a sea turtle. This blossoming, spike-coated tunnel of slime is the oesophagus of a loggerhead (Caretta caretta)

Image: La_Castanon/Instagram

The hypnotic video was uploaded by Instagram user Laura Castanon, who, along with her colleagues at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), performed a necropsy on one of these animals after it stranded recently.

Over the past few years, cold snaps have continued to take their toll on sea turtles, and the WHOI team hopes a series of necropsies will help us better understand how low temperatures affect the endangered reptiles' organs. This will help prepare wildlife officials tasked with triaging any survivors. 

(It's important to note that no turtles were killed for this study. The animals were found dead, or died after being cold-stunned, in Cape Cod over the last several months).

Like all turtles, loggerheads do not have teeth. Sharp cusps (pointed parts) on the upper and lower jaws help them grab onto prey, but when it comes to chewing, the sea-faring turtles are out of luck. That's why the entire oesophageal tract is lined with the sharp spines you see in Castanon's video: these oesophageal teeth (or papillae) help break apart food en route to the stomach.

And loggerheads aren't the only sea turtles with booby-trapped throats – just check out the oesophageal teeth of the leatherback, the largest sea turtle in the world. While loggerheads feed mostly on sea snails, leatherback sea turtles are jellyfish-eating machines. They've been known to consume about 73 percent of their own body weight in a single day (about 16,000 calories), feasting on everything from the giant lion's mane to the tiniest jellyfish in the sea. Those additional spines in the mouth help ensure that slippery prey doesn't make a quick escape before being swallowed. Exhibit A:

The papillae extend all the way down the oesophagus, and in the case of the leatherback, that means a tube that's six times longer than any other turtle's. Exhibit B:

(Note: We've cued up the video for your viewing pleasure, so this is not the same clip as the one above.)

The chomp-swallow-impale strategy is impressively effective, and has kept sea turtles like the leatherback around for some 245 million years. Their glorious gullets are just one more reason to appreciate these incredible animals, many of which are in desperate need of conservation attention. 

Need more leatherback in your life? Watch the skilled hunters take down jellies in Nova Scotia's green waters:


Top header image: djblock99/Flickr