Why Do Turtles Shake Their Shells?

TheCritterCove is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. See more here.

Why Do Turtles Shake Their Shells

People have long pondered some of the behaviors of a turtle, and one of them is shacking of its shell.

Some people have noticed that turtles have this thing where they shake their shells, especially when their shell gets in contact with something.

Others have called this turtle behavior the hootchy-kootchy dance.

There are some reasons for this behavior and it’s important to know so you can understand your turtle better to know what he likes and doesn’t like.

Here some reasons for this behavior:

  • The main reason why turtles shake their shells is that just like any other animal they can get an itch while being touched, especially when they get touched on their back.
  • Another reason for this behavior would be a denial of mating. Turtle females will usually do this to let the male know that’s she’s not interested in getting humped.
  • Finally, the last reason would be if the turtle is getting ready to shed, which will make the turtle feel the itchiness sensation and will try to get rid of the shedding scutes.

Other reasons for this behavior could probably be some specific health issues or lack of moisture and dryness.

RELATED READ: How To Clean A Turtle Shell

Do Turtles Feel When You Rub Their Shell?

The shell of a turtle is part of its bone structure, and it contains nerve endings that can they can sense when something touches it. The keratin-coated bone structure would probably feel similar to your fingernail.

Through their shell, they will feel vibrations, temperatures changes, and pressure.

That’s why is important to handle them gently and with proper care, especially if you’re a first-time turtle owner. Remember that even though they have a hard shell on the outside, they’re still delicate creatures on the inside.

RELATED READ: How Strong Is A Turtle Shell?

Do Turtles Like Their Shell Scratch?

Some turtles can be scratched, while others cannot, and a few will enjoy it. If they’re withdrawing their heads or limbs you should probably stop since they aren’t in the mood to be stroked if they do so.

The same rules apply when they hiss or nip at you. Sometimes tortoises and box turtles, which are generally more receptive to rubbing than most aquatic turtle species, have off days just like humans do.

Gently scratch the turtle by using your hand on the top of their shell to determine what they like. They will never genuinely enjoy it, but if you are careful not to harm them, they will not mind.

RELATED READ: Why Do Turtles Hide In Their Shells?

Why Do Turtles Shake Their Butts In The Water?

They don’t just do it with water, though; anything that puts pressure on their butts will suffice.

The wiggle move is intended to assist them when they get stuck – if the turtle gets stuck while exploring the habitat and he will try to free himself by wiggling his butt; thus, it also encourages this behavior when you pet their bottoms or when it gets in contact with something.

Why Do Turtles Dance Under Running Water?

Some turtles enjoy swimming under running water and they will do a little dance while they’re at it. It’s still unknown why some turtles enjoy this behavior, but it might be because they find the sensation of the water running over their shells pleasurable.

It’s also possible that this is a way for them to clean their shells since running water can help remove any dirt or debris that’s stuck on their shell.

Why Do Turtles Dance

turtle mating

While getting an itch-scratch may look like a dance for us it’s the way turtles relieve themselves from an irritating sensation. It’s a reflex that they have and it’s one of the ways they communicate with others.

But turtles actually will start “dancing” when they will try to mate. The males will start dancing in front of the females, and if she’s not interested she will sometimes start shaking her shell.

Shell shaking can also be a sign of aggression, as mentioned before, and it can also be a way for the turtle to warn you that it’s about to snap.

When a turtle is dancing, it’s important to be careful and stop petting it if it’s not enjoying it. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on the turtle’s behavior to see if it’s trying to tell you something.

RELATED READ: Can A Turtle Live Without A Shell?

Why Do Turtles Rub Their Shells?

There are a few reasons why turtles might rub their shells. The first reason would be if the turtle is getting ready to shed, which will make the turtle feel the itchiness sensation and will try to get rid of the shedding scutes.

Turtles shed because the scutes on their shell become too big and they will start to grow a new layer underneath. If you see a turtle that is constantly scratching its shell, it’s a good idea to take a closer look to see if any scutes are ready to come off.

In the wild, they will usually start rubbing their shells against rocks to help the process, but in captivity, you can help them by gently rubbing their shells with a cloth or toothbrush.

The second reason why turtles might rub their shells is to try to get rid of the parasites, or attached barnacles from their shell. If you see a turtle rubbing its shell against something, take a closer look and see if there is anything attached to its shell.

Why Does My Turtle Keep Scratching?

If you do see your turtle scratching outside its shedding periods and the scratching happens also on the skin you might want to take your turtle to the vet. Your turtle could have a mite infestation or other skin problems that need to be treated.

A respiratory infection can also cause a turtle to scratch itself, and if your turtle is having trouble swimming or eating, those could be signs of a serious infection that needs to be treated as soon.

RELATED READ: Can A Turtle Shell Repair Itself?


Turtles shake their shells because it is part of a reflex that they can’t control. The shaking usually happens when the turtle is getting an itch, but can also be a way for them to communicate or a way to clean their shells.

If you see your turtle shaking its shell, be sure to stop petting it if it’s not enjoying it and keep an eye on its behavior to see if it’s trying to tell you something.