Turtles Without Shells

One of the first things that comes to mind when you think about turtles is their shell. But what exactly is the purpose of this shell and do turtles without shells exist.

There are many different types of turtles out there and they come in a wide range of different shapes, sizes and colors. 

However, one common feature amongst all of these animals is the presence of a shell. 

In this article, we are going to explore everything about a turtle’s shell and why these animals have them.

Turtles Without Shells
Kevin Timothy, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr

Can a turtle survive without a shell?

A turtle cannot survive without its shell. The shell is part of the turtle and they cannot survive without it. 

However, a turtle may be able to survive without a small part of its shell if part of the shell gets damaged.

However, this will depend on the extent of the initial injury. Even if the turtle survived the initial wound, it would have to heal without infection for the turtle to survive long term.

Depending on the extent of the damage, a turtle may not survive long term with a damaged shell for multiple reasons.

The shell offers the turtle protection from predators. If the shell is damaged, they will have less protection.

Depending on the extent of the damage, it may be difficult for the turtle to move around, which will make it more exposed to predators.

The shell of a turtle also plays an important role in helping to regulate the animals body temperature. 

On very warm days, the shell helps to keep the turtles body protected and helps prevent overheating. It also offers protection against sunburn.

What is a Turtle Shell?

Now that we know that a turtle without shell cannot survive, we will take a closer look at what a turtle shell actually is.

The shell of a turtle is made up of two major parts, the upper side of the shell and the bottom or underneath side.

The upper side of the shell is called a Carapace and the bottom side of the shell is called a Plastron.

The carapace is typically hard and is made up of bony plates. Many turtles have ridges on their upper shell which are known as scutes. 

The carapace is also made up of bony plates but it is not as thick or strong as the carapace.

The upper and lower shell of the turtle is connected together by flexible ligaments called sutures.

Vital parts of the turtle run through the shell including bones, muscles, blood vessels, cartilage, nerves and skin.

With all these important components attached to the shell, it becomes much clearer to understand why turtles without shells can’t survive.

Are Turtles Born with a Shell?

All turtles are born with their shell. However, the shell of a newly hatched turtle is typically much softer and takes time to harden and strengthen.

During this time, the small baby turtles are much more vulnerable to predators who can easily puncture through the soft shell.

Can a Turtle Leave its Shell?

The shell is part of the turtle so they can’t simply crawl out of it and walk away. The shell is part of the turtle’s body and not an external element that the turtle sits in.

As mentioned previously, bones, muscles, blood vessels, cartilage, nerves and skin are all connected to the shell making it impossible for the turtle to leave it.

So, Turtles without Shells don’t exist?

As mentioned throughout the article, turtles without shells don’t exist and even if they did, they couldn’t survive for very long.

However, that doesnt necessarily mean that turtles without shells never existed.

Very little is known about how turtles developed their shells in the first place but one theory is that they evolved from turtles that didn’t have any shells.

While this theory hasn’t been proven yet, if true it would mean that in the past, turtles without shells would have been normal.

Are all Turtle Shells the Same?

No, all turtle shells are not the same. Every species of turtle has their own unique shell and they can vary greatly from species to species.

The shell of a turtle can also vary greatly within a single species with different sub-species or locals showing variations in the appearance of their shell.

So what are these variations? Different species of turtles and tortoises have differences in their shells ranging from size, color, appearance, strength and even the structure itself.

At a very basic level, shells can be broken down into two distinct types, these are hard-shell and soft-shell turtles.

The shell of a hard-shelled turtle is made up of keratin and can be very strong and durable.

The soft-shelled turtle has a leather-like composition. However, this is still very tough, with bones underneath that offer further protection and strength.