Can a Turtle Live Without Shell? Are There Turtles Without Shells?

Can a Turtle Live Without Shell?

Since I was a child, I always thought turtles can crawl inside and outside of their shells with relative ease.

That belief was supported by the good old cartoons like Cecil the Turtle. But as it turns out, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Can a turtle live without a shell?

That’s an easy no – it will greatly diminish a turtle’s life expectancy.

Simply because the shell isn’t just a protective housing as many people believe. Rather, it’s fused with the turtle’s spine and rib cage.

Turtles Without Shells

The internal anatomy of a turtle’s shell is probably the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen.

Like I said earlier, the shell isn’t just a hard, hollow room in which the turtle’s body fits.

turtles without shells

The shell consists of two parts. Superiorly, the part with the stunning patterns is called the ‘carapace.’

The turtle’s spine and ribs are permanently fused to that part. In other words, there are blood vessels, nerves, and all sorts of living cells inside that fierce structure.

When you flip the turtle, you should see the second part of the shell, the plastron.

This part is as important as the first because if it bears any damage, the overall structure of the shell will be subjected to more stress than usual.

What Would Happen If a Shell Broke?

Suffice to say, if a turtle’s shell broke, it cannot be glued back together with bits and pieces found around the office.

For all you The Office fans out there, this is what Kevin Malone attempted to achieve.

the office kevin turtle

Even in this episode of The Office, the turtle did not survive.

Here are the dangers that turtles might face when left with broken shells.

1. Source Of Infection And Pain

If a turtle faced an accident great enough to break its shell, its internal blood vessels will be in direct contact with dirt, bacteria, and other pollutants.

Luckily, it won’t likely bleed to death. But the underlying possibility of infections can be fatal if left untreated.

Needless to say, a break in the shell would expose the turtle to excruciating pain, regardless of the size.

Imagine painful a spinal injury is for humans and you’ll have a pretty close estimate!

It’s enough to make a turtle scream.

2. Higher Possibility Of Dehydration Or Hibernation

Turtles are cold-blooded animals.

In simpler words, they don’t maintain the temperature of their bodies at a fixed rate like humans. Instead, they primarily depend on the heat of the surrounding environment.

That said, turtles may bask under lights or the sun for 2 to 8 hours each day.

The shell plays a crucial part in regulating this process. Its dark color facilitates the absorption of heat while protecting the internal organs against dehydration.

It is normal for a turtle’s shell to shed.

If we assumed that the shell was compromised and the turtle magically fought infection, it probably won’t survive the intense heat. To make matters worse, the turtle might start evading the sun to avoid that painful experience.

That will increase the likelihood of improperly induced hibernation, which can lead to the turtle’s unfortunate demise.

3. Diminished Ability Of UV Absorption

Unfortunately, many turtle owners paint over the shells to make them look cooler.

They believe it’s fine since it’s a hard surface; just like human nail polish.

It can appear harmless at first, but it actually sets a countdown for the turtle’s life!

To understand why you have to know that the outer layer of the shell is composed of hardened skin cells.

Above the ribs and spine, there’s a thin layer of living epithelium that regularly proliferates into new cells. Whenever the cell reaches the surface, it hardens into a ‘scute.’

As you might already know, our skin absorbs UV light to induce the production of vitamin D. This vitamin is the main regulator of the calcium levels in our bodies.

Turtles share the same mechanism.

If they manage to live with a broken—or painted—shell, their vitamin D levels will drastically drop. In turn, the calcium in their bones and shell will be slowly depleted.

This is, in fact, a pretty common disease known as a metabolic bone disease (MBD)

Can Turtles Heal Their Own Shells?


Thankfully, turtles are capable of healing their shells, much like how our broken bones regenerate back to their original shape.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that you should just leave your pet turtle to deal with its traumatized body. This would leave it at the risk of all the aforementioned problems.

Vets aid the healing process through different approaches.

First, they use antibiotics to fight any bacteria that might’ve found their way into the body. Then, they seal the cracks with a special bonding material to shield the body from further bacterial attacks.

If the shell is severely damaged, it can be replaced by a 3D-printed prosthetic. But surely, this won’t function properly in terms of heat and UV absorption.

Turtle Without Shell FAQs

inside a tortoise shell

Can a turtle survive without a shell?

No, turtles and tortoises cannot live without their shells.

The shell is part of the turtle and is connected to the rest of their body. It needs to be cared for because they do not get another one.

It is normal, however, for their scutes to shed.

What is a turtle without a shell called?

There are no modern-day turtle breeds without a shell.

There have been fossils unearthed that suggest there was once a turtle that lived without a shell.

It is called ‘Eorhynchochelys Sinensis‘ and was discovered in southwest China.

Can a turtle leave its shell?

A turtle cannot leave its shell as depicted in some cartoons.

Some people imagine turtles are a bit like hermit crabs – that they grow out of their shells and then find another one – however, this is not the case.

A turtle’s shell will grow with them and is fused to the rest of the skeletal system.

Why do turtles lose their shell?

Turtles do not lose their shells, but rather they lose their scutes in a similar fashion to a snake shedding its skin.

What is inside a turtle’s shell?

Watch this video produced by Science Insider (also embedded above) to find out what the inside of a turtle shell looks like.

To sum up, it contains the turtles organs and the rest of their body!

Inside Of A Turtle

To sum up, turtles without shells won’t make it.

If the exposed area didn’t cause a major infection, it’ll inevitably expose the internal organs to the risk of dehydration, or worse, hibernation.

Even if the turtle managed to survive those, the quality of its bones will slowly deteriorate, which will leave it dangerously exposed to predators.

Sleeping would become more difficult and basking may also be painful, leading to a turtle’s ultimate end.


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