Can A Turtle Live Without A Shell?

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Can A Turtle Live Without A Shell

Turtles have these shells that they can hide in and pull their head in if they want to, even their legs and tail in some species, but can a turtle come out of its shell?

Turtles have these shells that they can hide in and pull their head in if they want to, even their legs and tail in some species, but can a turtle come out of its shell?

When someone asks us to envision a turtle crawling out of its shell and leaving it behind just like a hermit crab does when it gets out of its shell, will it come out of it?

If we look closely at a turtle, we will see that the skin is glued to the inside of the shell, with no space between the skin and the inside of the shell, making it quite evident that a turtle cannot live without its shell the way a hermit crab can live outside of its shell.

The best way to determine this is to look at the inside of a turtle’s shell and for that, we need to see a turtle’s bones.

RELATED READ: Can A Turtle Shell Repair Itself?

Reasons To Why Turtles Need A Shell

Reasons To Why Turtles Need A Shell
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There are a few good reasons why a shell is important to a turtle.

1. The Turtle Shell Is Part Of The Turtle

To debunk the common myth regarding the turtles leaving their shell for another, we need to understand how turtles are structured.

The turtle’s shell is made of bone, and it forms a portion of the turtle’s spine. This indicates that a turtle’s shell is just as essential to its physicality as our skeleton is to ours.

The shell is made up of two sections: the carapace (top) and the plastron (bottom), which are joined together by a bridge on each side.

The carapace is encased in an outer layer of individual scoots made out of keratin, just like your hair and nails are made of.

The plastron can also be considered the belly of the turtle.

Both of these sections defend the turtle from predators as well as the environment. A turtle’s shell is its greatest protection, but it can be a deadly vulnerability if broken.

Because the shell is made up of living bone, any puncture may cause bacterial, viral, or fungal infections throughout the body.

Nerves and blood vessels link the shell to the turtle’s body, and that’s why a turtle can feel when you touch them on the shell. The bones that are fused to the shell are already a part of their bodies. There is no barrier between the turtle’s bones and its internal organs.

Vertebrates can’t live without their spinal cord, which is why it’s so important. The spinal cord is the link between the brain and the nerve endings in animals. No vertebrate would be able to move muscles if it didn’t have a spine.

Have you ever heard of a turtle neck shirt? In many ways, the shirt collar and the neck of a turtle are similar. The neck skin wrinkles when the head is partly tucked in. When the head is completely pushed in, the neck bends into an S or U form to one side or straight back.

RELATED READ: Why Do Turtles Hide In Their Shells?

2. The Turtle Shell Is A Defense Mechanism

The Turtle Shell Is A Defense Mechanism

Turtles have developed shells over millions of years to serve a variety of purposes, according to researchers.

The primary purpose of the shell is to protect the turtle from predators. Turtle shells are made up of hardened bones covered with a thin layer of keratin.

When the turtle withdraws its head and legs inside, it provides complete protection against predators and natural threats, such as fast-moving fires.

Turtles can withstand a tremendous amount of pressure, but this does not imply that all predators are unsuccessful; many can penetrate the shells or pursue ways of harming the limbs.

Turtles, on the other hand, may defend themselves successfully against most attempted assaults thanks to their shells.

RELATED READ: How Strong Is A Turtle Shell?

3. Different Uses Of Turtle Shells

Different Uses Of Turtle Shells

While aquatic turtles have developed a more hydrofoil-shaped carapace for swimming faster in the water, land tortoises have shells that are domed and flattened to assist them in digging to create burrows and create underground tunnels.

Turtles benefit greatly from shells, whether they live on land or in the sea. Turtles that live in the water have streamlined and smooth shells which allow them to cut through the water at amazing speeds.

Some turtles like an alligator snapping turtle even grew running keels on their back to protect themselves from predators. Softshell turtles, on the other hand, have evolved a method of losing their shell ossification and hardening to swim fast.

With the use of their shells, turtles can hide and blend in with their surroundings to avoid potential predators by assuming diverse forms.

The markings of turtle and tortoise species are beautiful, but its role it’s mainly to blend in with the environment in which it lives.

That’s why we see painted turtles having such beautiful colors, so they can easily blend with the environment and detour predators to even acknowledge them.

The yellow, red, and orange hues of the foliage, with their bright color palette, blend into the forest floor. Various stripes on the shell merge the picture of the shell with its surroundings.

These colors may be more apparent in hatchling turtles because they are frequently prey to many more predators than adult turtles.

So Turtles Can’t Leave Their Shells?

So Turtles Can't Leave Their Shells

So as we just presented, the shell of a turtle can serve many functions and be used in many different ways, but does this mean that the turtle cannot live without its shell?

A turtles shell is not only a defense mechanism but is also used for many other things such as thermoregulation and storing fat.

A turtle’s shell is attached to its skeleton and is not something that the turtle can just shed like an arm or a leg. The shell is fused to the turtle’s ribcage and is an important part of the turtle’s anatomy.

So even if a turtle were to lose its shell and hypothetically it would be able to survive like that, it would not be able to live for very long because it would not be able to protect itself from predators.

However, a turtle’s shell can fracture or break on rare occasions, which can be a devastating but typical problem for pet turtles.

What Happens If A Turtle’s Shell Gets Damaged?

If a wild turtle’s shell is damaged, it can usually find a safe place to hide and heal.

But if the crack is big enough, it can’t be repaired, and the turtle will likely die from infection or predation.

A study done in 2015 found that about 5% of turtles that were brought into rehabilitation centers had broken shells.

The most common cause of a broken shell is being hit by a car.

Other causes include:

  • Falling
  • Bites from predators
  • Attacks by other turtles
  • Being stepped on

If a turtle’s shell is cracked, the best thing to do is to take it to a rehabilitative center so that it can be cared for and healed.

If you are a pet turtle owner and your turtle’s shell is cracked, you should take it to a veterinarian so that it can be fixed.

RELATED READ: How To Clean A Turtle Shell


A turtle cannot live without its shell. Turtles need their shells to protect them from predators, other turtles, and the sun.

The protective outer layer of a turtle’s shell also helps regulate its body temperature. Without a shell, a turtle would not be able to survive for very long in the wild.