Are Turtles Born With Shells? (Interesting Facts About Turtle Shells)

Image of a turtle born with shell

Turtles are wonderful creatures. And the thing that stands out for them is their shell. Those tough shells can protect turtles from all kinds of predators. But, are turtles born with shells?

Yes, turtles are born with shells. During the early stages of turtles’ life, their shells are soft. As turtles grow, the shells harden and develop fully. Even if turtles are born with a shell, they cannot slide out of it. You also cannot pull out the turtles from their shell without hurting them.

Now, you may also want to know why these animals need shells in the first place. The turtle’s shell is an important part of its body, and you will find out why in the sections below.

Do New Born Turtles Have Shells?

Turtles have hard shells that look like a suit of armor to protect them from predators.

They have their limbs, heads, and tails sticking out of their shell. So, it is common to wonder if they are born with it.

Sea turtles (Cheloniidae family) have a streamlined body shape with long feet used as flippers.

These features make them adapt to aquatic habitats. These turtles mostly stay underwater.

They only leave the ocean when the females want to lay their eggs.

But some species, like the green sea turtle, come out on beaches and reefs to bask.

Every turtle is born with a shell. However, during the early stages after their birth, the shells are very soft.

Even though hatchlings still get enough protection from their soft shell, their shell hardens as they grow into adults.

Unlike a few other animals, turtles are not capable of molting and growing new shells as they grow and mature.

The turtle’s shell is part of its exoskeleton, and thus it grows with it as the turtle matures.

The shell grows proportionally with the whole skeletal system.

Land turtles’ shells are rounded, thick, and are covered in special plates.

On the other hand, sea turtles’ shell is a bit softer with a leathery covering.

The plates covering the shell of land turtles are known as scutes.

Over time, these scutes grow, overlap, and may even shed off. However, only turtle scutes shed and not the shell itself.

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How Did Turtles Get Their Shells?

We do not know for sure why, how, or when turtles evolved to have shells, but thanks to some discoveries, there are a few answers.

In recent times, scientists have found fossils in Eunotosaurus Africanus.

These fossils are the missing link between previous fossils of turtles without shells and modern turtles.

This “in-between” shell helped biologists to find out how the turtle shells evolved.

Nonetheless, we can say for sure that turtles mainly use their shells to protect themselves from predators.

Tough shells are very difficult for predators to bite or get their claws through.

Though sea turtles have softer shells, it is still strong enough to protect them from predators’ bites or scratches.

Do Turtles Die If Their Shells Are Damaged?

Even though a broken shell may be life-threatening for turtles, it is not a death sentence.

Turtles can survive a crack or break in their shell. It only means that their body has been opened up.

It is quite similar to cracking your fingernail or scratching your skin.

However, if such injuries are left untreated, they could result in major infections.

Sometimes, turtles have broken or cracked shells because of an injury or unsanitary tank conditions and poor diet.

This can cause ulcers (i.e. “shell rot”) on the turtle’s shell, which can be life-threatening.

If turtles do not get enough sunlight, it could lead to many diseases and shell abnormalities.

Lack of calcium is another culprit for shell ulcers in turtles.

Shell rot may also indicate health conditions like kidney damage, thyroid issues, and liver disease in turtles.

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What Happens If You Try To Remove Turtles Out Of Their Shell?

Turtles cannot come out of their shells, and you should not try to force them out.

You cannot bring a turtle out of its shell safely because the shell is part of its exoskeleton.

If you try to do so, you would inflict great pain on the turtle and eventually kill it.

Removing a turtles shell is just like peeling off the skin on your back or removing your spine and ribs.

It is a very painful thing to do to a turtle.

Turtles cannot come out of their shells, but they can pull their heads and limbs inside.

And some turtles can even close their shells so tight that nothing can come in.

Also, don’t try to pry a turtle shell open as the muscles holding the shell are very strong.

You will only end up hurting the turtle if you do this.

What To Do If A Turtle’s Shell Is Damaged?

Since turtle shells consist of living, natural materials, they can heal by themselves.

Just the way your broken arm will slowly heal, a turtle’s shell will also heal by itself.

However, it would be best not to ignore the turtle’s cracked shell.

If you own a turtle, you should know that a small fracture may expose your pet to harmful bacteria that can kill it.

If your turtle’s shell is broken, take it to a Veterinarian.

The Veterinarian may administer some medicines to heal the wound faster and seal the crack with special bonding materials.

If the fracture is small, it will be easier to fix than a bigger one.

Related Further Reading:

How Do Turtles Grow Their Shells?

Turtles need calcium for healthy shell growth and maintenance.

Turtles have either scales or scutes, made of keratin to protect their shells or a leathery cover for their cartilage shells.

Apart from calcium, they also need many minerals and vitamins in their diets to maintain shell growth at the same pace as their body.

Can Turtles Change Their Shells?

Every turtle is born with one shell and cannot change it.

Though a few turtles can shed their old scutes when new ones form, they still cannot shed their shell.

Since a turtle never leaves its shell, it cannot change to a new one.

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Final Thoughts

Turtles are reptiles with a shell that looks like armor, which they use for protection against predators.

However, they do not just grow this shell at some point; they are born with it.

The hatchlings’ shell is softer than that of an adult turtle.

In all, if you own a turtle, always remember that they need their shell to survive. So don’t try to remove a turtle from its shell.

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