Can Tortoises Go Inside Their Shells?

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Recently, a video of two cheetahs examining a tortoise hiding in a shell went viral. Well, more videos of this kind are available where the turtles or tortoises save themselves by hiding in their shell. So, does this mean tortoises can go inside their shells? Even so, how do they manage to retract inside that shell?

Tortoises can withdraw their heads and limbs inside their shells. These creatures have soft skin, flexible muscles, and perfect body proportions that make this task possible.

How do tortoises retract to their shells? Or why? Find out the answers below.

Can Tortoises Go Inside Their Shells? How?

Tortoises can withdraw their limbs and heads totally inside the shells. These creatures go in their shells to protect themselves from any outside threats.

I know from the outside it looks like the shells are totally solid. So, how do the tortoises even manage to go inside? Well, here is how,

1. Tortoises Have Flexible Muscles

Tortoises can not bend their back muscles due to the rigid spine. But fortunately, they have strong and flexible neck muscles. As a result, these creatures can withdraw their head effortlessly inside their shell.

Again, tortoises can not bend their limbs like us. Hence, they need little space to retract and rest their legs inside the shells.

2. Soft Skin Is An Advantage

While the tortoise shells are rough and solid, the skin is the total opposite. The pliable texture of the limb and neck muscles has made the retraction possible.

3. Shells Are Not That Stiff

Do you know the carapace and plastron of the tortoises are two separate pieces? Yes. The upper and lower shells of these creatures are connected with a bridge lining.

Tortoises have no trouble withdrawing their limbs and necks inside because the shell is not an entire piece.

4. Perfect Body Ratio

Have you noticed that the limbs and necks of the tortoises are smaller than their body? Yes. The tortoises can be 32 inches and yet have smaller legs.

Well, this smaller size ratio makes the retraction easier and smooth.

Why Do Tortoises Go Inside Their Shells?

Of course, tortoises go inside their shells for safety and security. It is their way of cutting off the outside world. I can pick up 4 reasons why tortoises hide in their shells,

1. The Tortoises Is Scared

Tortoises are generally of taming nature, so they take any environmental abnormalities as a threat. So, in self-defense, these creatures withdraw their bodies into the shell.

Surprisingly, tortoises can smell predators from about 26 feet away. As a result, they hide inside the shell, even when the animal is out of sight.

However, the predators are not the only thing that scares tortoises. Any loud noise, continuous petting, and unfamiliar faces can make these pets nervous.

2. Harsh Weather Outside

A shelter inside the shell can also protect the tortoises from the scorching heat or shivering cold. As tortoises are cold-blooded species, such acts do not harm them. But, again, hiding inside the shell is temporary, and the pets will come out eventually.

3. Just A Hunting Trick

Hiding inside a shell can be a hunting trick for the tortoises. When preying, these creatures often withdraw their limbs and necks inside the shell to camouflage themselves. They ambush the insects and bugs as they come close enough.

However, all tortoises are not omnivorous. So, herbivorous tortoises do not need this technique to prey.

4. The Environment Is Stressing

Yes, a messed up environment can stress out the tortoises. For example, the pets will become anxious if you play noisy music around them or touch them constantly. Therefore, they will hide inside the shell for protection.

You can notice this behavior in the just-bought tortoises. The new environment stresses out the pets, and they tend to stay inside the shell for a few days. However, the tortoises will behave normally once they get used to the changes.


A tortoise can go inside their shells. However, many people think tortoises can slip off their shells, which is definitely not true. The carapace and plastron are fused with bones and connected with a bridge. Therefore, there is no option for escaping.

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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