Do Turtles Shed Their Shell? A Guide To Turtle Shell And Skin Peeling

Why is your turtle shell peeling?

To start with, it’s most likely something you do not need to worry about. As with other types of reptiles, this is a normal and natural thing that will happen to turtles.

However, let’s cover everything you need to know about it and find out whether or not you need to be concerned about your turtle’s peeling shell.

Turtle Shell Peeling

Do Turtles Shed
Source: Wikimedia Commons

While a turtle’s head, body, and tail are covered by tough, leathery skin, the shell is made up of mostly bone.

Both the skin of a turtle, and the shell, will shed, and both are usually normal.

A turtle shell is actually made up of many bones, and these bones are covered by small plates called scutes. When you see a turtle shell peeling or shedding, it is the older top layer of the scute that is coming away.

There are 3 main reasons a turtle will shed its scutes.

  1. To accommodate a growing shell
  2. To clean the shell in order to stay healthy
  3. Heal damaged scutes

A turtle will not shed its shell and go and find a new one. The shell is part of its body.

It is not similar to a hermit crab changing shells in this regard. Rather it is only the scutes that are shed.

Turtles Scutes

Turtle scutes are mostly made of keratin, which is similar to our fingernails.

However, while our nails keep growing without needing to be shed (thankfully), a turtle’s new scutes grow up underneath the old.

Turtle scutes shed in the same shape and size as the bone they are on. Box turtles are one example of a turtle breed that will not shed in this manner, other than to repair a damaged or injured scute.

Indications that your turtle is going to shed scutes:

  • air bubbles under scutes
  • spending more time than usual under the lights
  • rubbing up against decorations

Turtles will shed more frequently while they are younger and their shells are growing, but you can still expect an adult to shed once or twice a year.

As they get older, they may not do full sheds at once, but rather certain sections will go one at a time. A shed will often occur before and/or after a period of dormancy.

Peeling Shell For Growth

A turtle shell grows along with the animal.

The scutes are replaced intermittently to accommodate the growing shell, rather than simply growing along with the shell.

There are certain times in a turtle’s life when it will be growing more rapidly, and it is more likely to shed to a greater scale during this period.

The shell shed serves a dual purpose in that the scutes are cleaned at the same time.

Shell Shed To Fight Disease

Aquatic turtles will get various growths of algae on their shells or can become unclean from dirty water.

They will shed their scutes in order to keep their shell clean.

They absorb heat from the sun (or heat lamps), and their ability to do this efficiently can be hampered by a dirty shell.

Turtles also absorb sunlight to raise their internal body temperature, and to keep from getting shell rot and other turtle diseases. A good basking platform is needed for pet turtles to accomplish this.

The more growth they have on their shells, the harder it can be for them to swim as well. Therefore the ability to shed a layer in order to clean up is really important!

Turtle Shell Damaged

A turtle will undergo a shell peel if a scute is injured or damaged.

This damage might be because it is being kept in a tank too small for it, and it is banging up against the sides all the time.

It will shed that particular scute or scutes, and then new ones will regenerate and come through underneath.

Ideally, you won’t need to do anything to help your turtle shed.

It’s a natural and normal thing that they can do on their own.

You don’t need to pick the pieces off, as they will come off on their own.

It’s a good idea to pick any scutes out of your tank asap so that they don’t get stuck in your filter and disrupt the flow. Some of the larger chunks of ‘turtle shell’ can really make a difference.

You can even save them as some people actually like using turtle scutes for guitar picks!

There are some really good tips for how to help your turtle shed in the video above from the Turtle Girl.

Summary of how you can help your turtle with a peeling shell:

  1. Replace up to 30% of the turtle’s normal diet with Hikari Wheat Germ Pellets which are high in Vit E & A and promote healthy turtle shell
  2. Take the turtle outside the if the temperature is over 75F for some real sunlight
  3. Use a soft-bristle toothbrush to gently clean and loosen the scutes

And there was an important reminder to not pull away the shedding scutes as you may also pull away new healthy shell. This can give an entrance to infection.

Turtle Shell Problems

how often do turtles shed scutes

Not all turtle shell shedding is good – it can be a sign of problems.

The condition Dysecdysis is bad or abnormal skin shedding in turtles.

This can result in some pretty serious consequences for your pet. It can leave them open to infections and other issues.

A normal skin shed may also turn bad, and your turtle might have trouble completing a shed due to a range of possible factors.

This includes:

  • Not enough, or too much, heat and light
  • Water that is too cold
  • A diet deficient in vitamin A
  • Injuries that require further treatment
  • Fungal or bacterial infections in contaminated water

Dirty water can also be a big issue if it is not being filtered adequately.

A turtle needs the water, temperature, and space parameters within the normal bounds for it to thrive and shed successfully.

Ensure you have a good turtle tank heater and a decent filter suitable for turtles.

Do Turtles Shed?

So yes, healthy happy turtles will shed both the skin on their arms, neck, head and shell.

However, they won’t shed and come entirely out of their shell – though that’s totally a legit question for someone just becoming familiar with turtles.

Next up, check out these great turtle toy ideas!

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