Why Do Barnacles Attach To Turtles? Can You Remove Barnacles?

Image of a turtle with barnacles

You may have seen or read about barnacles getting attached to turtles. Barnacles cannot live in the water on their own. They need a hard surface to thrive. A turtle’s shell is one such hard surface. So, why do barnacles attach to turtles?

Barnacles attach to a turtle’s shell due to its hardness. Barnacles need a hard surface to bind with so that they can thrive. A single barnacle does not harm a turtle. However, excessive barnacles can make a turtle inactive, impact its vision, make eating difficult, and sometimes lead to infection.

So, barnacles are not life-threatening to turtles unless the entire or most of the shell gets covered with them. Let’s now understand when and how barnacles can be disastrous to turtles.

What Are Barnacles And Why Do They Attach To Turtles?

Barnacles are small sticky crustaceans that are related to crabs and shrimps. They are grayish-white in color and live on hard surfaces such as rocks, boat hulls, or pilings. Barnacles are sensitive to very cold or dry weather.

Adult barnacles are filter feeders. They feed on plankton and debris in the water. Barnacles use their legs to pull food from the water. So they thrive well in marine and moving waters.

As larvae, barnacles attach themselves to rigid substrates. They secrete an adhesive substance that enables them to stick to any hard surface around them. Once the barnacles get affixed to any hard substance, they remain stationary for the rest of their lives.

Barnacles attach themselves to hard surfaces when they are in the larvae stage of their life. Barnacles need constant water movement, so they settle on any moving substrate. That is why if a turtle comes close to the barnacles, they get attached to the turtle’s hard shell.

Alright! Now you know what barnacles are and why they attach to turtles. Let’s now understand if barnacles are dangerous to turtles.

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Are Barnacles Harmful To Turtles?

Most of the barnacles are not harmful and do not hurt the turtles. However, if there is an infestation of barnacles on the turtle’s shell, it is not a healthy sign.

Excessive barnacles on a turtle’s shell is a sign of bad health. A healthy turtle can control the number of barnacles. So, if a turtle is overloaded with barnacles on its shell, it can prove fatal to its well-being.

Excessive barnacles are an indicator of a slow and inactive turtle. The overloading of barnacles will prevent the turtle from moving swiftly. Excessive barnacles will also cause discomfort to the turtle.

As the turtle will become slower than usual, it will find it difficult to search for food. The turtle will not be able to catch its prey due to its sluggishness. In such instances, the turtle can fall sick due to the lack of food intake and starvation.

Another impact of barnacles on the turtle will be on its swimming ability. The increased weight on the turtle’s shell can hinder its swimming. The turtle will have to drag itself, thus making the swimming more strenuous. It will have to expend more energy while swimming, which will exhaust the turtle.

Also, if the barnacles are attached near the turtle’s eyes, its vision will get impacted. Barnacles attached near the mouth of the turtle are also harmful. The turtle will not be able to eat properly due to excessive barnacles.

The worst impact of barnacles will be if they get drilled into the carapace of the shell. This can cause severe infection and can prove hazardous for the turtle.

Barnacles get attached to turtles easily. They mostly get attached to sea turtles as barnacles thrive in saline water. So, is there any way sea turtles can get rid of the barnacles attached to their shells?

Do Sea Turtles Have A Way To Remove Barnacles By Themselves?

Barnacles thrive in the sea and attach to any hard surface. Since a turtle’s shell is hard, they get attached to it easily. As such, sea turtles do not have any specific mechanism to get rid of the attached barnacles.

However, they can remove some of the barnacles with the help of their flippers. At the same time, some of the barnacles can fall off by themselves if the turtle’s shell gets scratched.

The barnacles attached to a female sea turtle’s shell fall off when they have sex with their male counterparts. This is because while having sex, female turtles rub their bodies against male turtles. Due to this, some of the barnacles fall off by themselves.

On the other hand, male sea turtles find it challenging to get rid of the barnacles. Barnacles fall off either by themselves or if the turtle’s shell gets scuffled on the rocks. Other than this, sea turtles can get rid of the barnacles after proper treatment.

Now that you know excessive barnacles are harmful to turtles, you must be wondering how you can help the poor turtles.

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Can You Remove Barnacles From Turtle Shells?

Barnacles are tough creatures. They don’t let go easily. So it is not advisable to remove the barnacles from a turtle’s shell. It is best to consult a marine wildlife rehabilitation center where the turtles can receive specialized care.

Forcibly removing the barnacles can be very painful to the turtle. The turtle’s plastron and carapace are soft. So, removing the barnacles with force can damage the turtle’s shell. When several barnacles are attached to the turtle’s shell, it becomes all the more important to remove them carefully.

The barnacles sometimes get etched into the turtle’s shell. Trying to remove such barnacles with force can lead to the shell getting injured severely. Besides, once the barnacles are removed from the surface, they leave an open wound. If this wound is not treated with proper medication, it can get infected. This is more dangerous than the barnacles themselves.

In the United States, the removal of barnacles needs a proper permit. In the absence of a permit, barnacle removal is considered a violation of the Endangered Species Act and is a severe offense. It is considered harassment to the listed species.

In a wildlife center, some specialized people are well aware of the barnacle removal procedure from a turtle’s shell. The Center places the turtles in the freshwater. This procedure ensures no further growth of any barnacles, and any existing algae fall off in the next 2 to 3 days. Also, keeping the turtles in freshwater makes it easier to remove the barnacles.

Besides, the Center staff also carries out a blood test to check for any other ill-effects. With proper care and medication, most of the turtles recover within a couple of weeks and are then sent back to the sea.

Do Barnacles Kill Turtles?

Barnacles usually do not kill turtles. They are not life-threatening to turtles. A single barnacle attached to a turtle’s shell does not harm the turtle in any way.

However, if there is an infestation of barnacles on the turtle’s shell, it is a matter of concern. In such cases, turtles find it difficult to swim and move around due to the overload of barnacles.

Also, if there are many barnacles attached near the turtle’s mouth, eating becomes difficult. Sometimes barnacles even erode the turtle’s shell. In such extreme cases, barnacles can be catastrophic to the turtles.

Turtles may fall sick due to starvation or may be susceptible to infection due to excessive barnacles.

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Final Thoughts

It is common for barnacles to get attached to turtles. As sea turtles spend their entire life in the sea, barnacles get attached to the turtle’s shell.

Barnacles need a hard surface to thrive, and so they look out for anything that comes close to them. Since a turtle’s shell is hard, they get attached to it easily.

In less quantity, barnacles are not at all harmful to turtles as they get attached only to their shell. However, excessive barnacles are bad for turtles and make their lives difficult.

If you come across a sea turtle loaded with barnacles, do not try to help the little creature by removing the barnacles. Your incompetence may hurt the turtle. It is always better to consult a rehabilitation center that has the expertise to heal the sick turtle.