Do Barnacles Hurt Turtles?

Do barnacles hurt turtles? If you’re into turtles, barnacles might be already familiar to you since it’s commonly associated with them. But did you know barnacles can not live underwater alone? They always need a rock-like surface that they can stick themselves with to stay alive and thrive. 

With turtles’ hard shells, barnacles surely find enough comfort on their backs. And, these species do not necessarily hurt the turtles. Turtles can control the number of barnacles they allow to hop on their hard shells. 

However, it’s not always the case. There are instances when barnacles can hurt and might signify turtles’ bad health. And this article will discuss all those things and more about the barnacles-turtles relationship. 

Here is a summary of what you’ll see in this Turtle article:

  1. What are Barnacles?
  2. Why do Barnacles attach to Turtles?
  3. Do Barnacles Hurt Turtles?
  4. Can Turtles remove the Barnacles on their own?
  5. Can the Barnacles be Removed at all?
  6. Should people remove barnacles from Turtles?
  7. Can barnacles attach to humans?
  8. Do Barnacles Hurt Turtles Summary
do barnacles hurt turtles

What are Barnacles?

Barnacles are an example of highly specialized and sticky crustaceans that are somehow related to crabs and shrimps. Their habitat is mostly on different substrates such as ships, whales, rocks, and sea turtles. Common barnacles that can only be found on sea turtles are called Chelonibia. It is coined after the term Chelonia, an order of reptiles where turtles are from.

Additionally, adult barnacles reproduce by producing larvae, which have started to attach themselves to their substrates at this early stage. Specifically, they settle when they have become “a seventh non-feeding larva develops the cyprid.” As cyprid larvae, barnacles have unique attachments that let them hold onto the turtles’ shells. 

If these larvae gradually adapt to their substrate, they will start to grow and evolve into adults. And, once adulthood is reached, barnacles will have various ways to attach themselves to the hosts, like gripping and cementing. 

Why do Barnacles attach to Turtles?

As mentioned previously, barnacles’ havens are hard surfaces they could use to grow and survive. So, they will surely thrive with turtles’ stone-feel and hard shells. Another thing, though turtles can be perceived as slow when on land, they are pretty free-flowing in the sea. And with adult barnacles being filter feeders, it is beneficial for them when there is a constant water flow.

Meanwhile, you must know that turtles are not the only ones where barnacles attach themselves. Any possible, solid substrates underwater can be their habitat.

Do Barnacles Hurt Turtles?

Barnacles do not necessarily hurt the turtles. In fact, most barnacles do not affect the turtles as they are only attached to the shells. However, the excessive presence of barnacles and barnacle-digging skin could be a different story. 

First, if barnacles are overcrowded in the turtle’s shell, it could signify poor health of the turtles. Remember that turtles have the capabilities to control healthy numbers of barnacles. So, if you see a turtle with many barnacles on its back, it might be fatal and need assistance from experts. 

The excessive amount of barnacles could prevent turtles from freely moving underwater. So, they will be inactive and slower than usual. Their food intake is also affected since they will have difficulty preying on food. Even normal swimming could exhaust the turtles if they have much barnacles baggage. 

These micro effects will cause turtles unfortunate discomfort that may decrease their health. 

Meanwhile, other than overcrowding, barnacles placement could also be a factor in why they could hurt turtles. Barnacles near the eyes affect vision, and those near the mouth could affect turtles’ eating habits. The worst placement will be if barnacles start drilling on the skin, which might cause severe infections.

Can Turtles remove the Barnacles on their own?

Barnacles have a sturdy, sticky mechanism that makes it hard to brush them off easily. And turtles do not have special abilities to do such a thing. But there are a few ways that turtles can get rid of them. 

Turtles can use their flippers to scratch the barnacles off in the area they can reach. Sometimes, this technique works, but if they have short flippers, it will be a great challenge. Meanwhile, a natural way for barnacles to fall off is when turtles accidentally scratch their shells on the surface. 

Fun fact, female turtles have more chances to scratch off the barnacles on their shells than male turtles. This is because when turtles have sex, the female turtles rub themselves into the male ones. 

Besides these ways, an expert can also remove barnacles through proper treatment. 

Can the Barnacles be Removed at all?

Yes. In the United States, you must be permitted to remove barnacles off of turtles’ backs. This complies with the endangered species law that is in effect in the country. So, if you’re not permitted or an expert, it’s better to consult with one. 

Meanwhile, if you’re curious about how experienced people remove barnacles, the details below will give you some idea. 

The wildlife center personnel trained for removing the barnacles will place the turtles in freshwater. This practice will limit the barnacles and other algae from developing further.

It might sound easy, but the aftercare for this treatment is why professionals must perform it. They may conduct blood tests and give proper medications to ensure that the turtles don’t develop infections or diseases.

Should people remove barnacles from Turtles?

Unless you’re an expert in removing barnacles, you shouldn’t take off barnacles on your own. You might be asking why, and it is because barnacles are strong. So, forcefully removing them will cause immense pain to the turtles. 

What you can do is consult and bring the situation to a marine wildlife center so they can assist you. The people at the center are more knowledgeable and specialized in this matter. So you are guaranteed that they can provide the best care for the turtles. Additionally, removing barnacles without a permit violates the endangered species act if you’re in the United States. 

Can barnacles attach to humans?

Though it’s unlikely, barnacles can grow in human flesh. The short documentary from Animal Planet follows the story of Chris, who happens to have grown a barnacle in his hand. It looked like a tiny swollen bump in his hand, and he described it as excruciatingly painful. 

The doctor who examined Chris admitted it was his first time seeing such a swelling. So he performed some tests and found that it was indeed a barnacle growing in the patient’s hand. The patient then took antibiotics for months to kill the microbial elements that could be roaming around in his body. 

Do Barnacles Hurt Turtles Summary

Generally, barnacles do not hurt the turtles. It is common for them to get attached to a hard-like surface like turtles’ shells. They need the turtles to survive and thrive underwater, which makes their attachments understandable. 

So in lesser numbers, barnacles will not cause turtles any harm. But still, it’s always the “too much” that can lead to deteriorating turtles’ health. And one last thing, when you see turtles have barnacles on their backs, don’t try to remove them. Seek help.

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