Do Turtles Have Scales? (Why And Where Do They Have Scales?)

Image of a turtle with scales

Scales are an integral part of fish that act as a suit of armor. But, what about turtles? Do turtles have scales?

Yes, turtles do have scales called scutes covering their entire shell. Most turtle body parts are covered with scales apart from their head. The turtle scales are made up of keratin. They protect the turtles from abrasions, safeguard the shell from bacteria, and prevent water loss from their bodies.

Unlike fish scales, turtle scales are difficult to spot at first sight. So, let’s understand more about turtle scales.

Why Do Turtles Have Scales?

Every body part of a turtle has a specific role, so do scales.

The primary role of scales is to make the shell and skin of the turtles more rigid and resistant to attacks.

Turtles’ scales are different from the dermal scales of fish.

While you can scrape off fish scales, the same can’t be done with the scales of reptiles, like turtles.

The scales also protect the turtles from abrasions as they roam on land or dive in the water.

For land turtles, scales also help prevent water loss, thus keeping them healthy.

Another role of scales is to protect the turtle’s shell from harmful bacteria.

Since aquatic turtles spend a lot of time in the water, they are exposed to several bacteria.

The scutes protect them from such bacteria.

Also, as time passes, the scutes wear off and fall. Then the new scutes grow, ensuring that the turtles are safe from any bacteria.

Scales also help the sea turtles survive. Sea turtles are known for eating jellyfish.

A giant jellyfish has the power to paralyze a person with its sting.

However, due to the scales on the heads of sea turtles, they are immune to such stings.

Therefore, scales help sea turtles survive jellyfish attacks while consuming them.

Recommended Further Reading:

Where Do Turtles Have Scales?

Turtles fall under the Reptilia class. So, they have scales just like other reptiles.

Turtles have scales predominantly on their shell and other body parts.

1. Scales on a turtle’s body.

The shell mainly covers a turtle’s body. The only parts that are not covered by the shell are the head, neck, tail, and legs.

Turtles are born with scales on most of their body parts. The head is the only part that’s not covered with scales.

The exception to this is sea turtles. Sea turtles have scales even on their head.

Turtles have smaller scales in the early stages of their life.

As they grow old, their scales become bigger, tougher, and more pronounced.

2. Scales on a turtle’s shell.

The scales on the turtle shells are called scutes. Scutes are basically scales that grow on shells to provide extra protection.

Although the shells of all turtles have scales, their shape and color may vary by the turtle species.

One thing to note is that turtles can shed their scales. The scutes peel off and are replaced by the new ones.

Turtles shed their scutes so that their shell can expand with the rest of the body.

Shedding of scutes is normal in aquatic turtles.

It helps them avoid shell rot and other parasitic infections that they can get due to too much time in the water.

What Are Scales Made Up Of?

Turtle scales are predominantly made up of keratin. It’s the same substance with which the human nails are made up of.

Apart from keratin, turtle scales also consist of other substances in small quantities.

Not all turtles have the same scale structure.

Some turtle species have more resistant scales than others. It depends on the species and genetic predisposition.

Two forms of keratin are produced in reptiles, namely α-keratin and β-keratin. α-keratin is flexible, whereas β-keratin provides hardness and strength.

In turtles, the hinge region contains α-keratin, and the outer scale surface consists of β-keratin.

Coming to the skin, some turtles have smooth skin where scales are hardly visible.

In contrast, other turtles have thick and crusty skin where scales are visible. It all depends on the turtle’s adaptation and way of life.

Interesting Further Reading:

Do Sea Turtles Have Scales?

Sea turtles are one of the ancient species, having existed since the time of the dinosaurs.

Sea turtle shells are made of hard keratin scales called scutes.

Green sea turtles can be easily distinguished from other sea turtle species as they have a single pair of prefrontal scales in front of their eyes.

Other sea turtle species have two pairs of prefrontal scales.

Besides, their carapace is bony without ridges.

It has large and overlapping epidermal scutes (scales), with only four lateral scutes.


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