Do Tortoise Shells Have Nerves?

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

People have several misconceptions regarding tortoise shells. The biggest one is that these shells are inert and contain no nerve. Is it true? Does it mean tortoises feel nothing on their shells at all?

Apparently, live tissues with nerve endings are present underneath the boney shells. When you touch the scutes, it triggers a vibration in the nerves and is transmitted to the main nervous system. As a result, the tortoise’s brain gets signals of pain or comfort.

Get more details on the tortoise shell anatomy below.

Do Tortoises Have Any Nerve On Their Shells?

I despise keepers who paint or drill on tortoise shells just for aestheticism. They have a misbelief that tortoises have no nerves on the scutes. Hence, exploiting the carapace or plastron seems okay.

But let me make it clear. Tortoises have nerves throughout the shells.

I know the shell is rock-hard. But blood vessels and live tissues are present right under the outcrop of the shells. Those tissues include nerve endings running directly to the central nervous system.

So, when you stroke or touch the tortoise shell, it produces a vibration in the scutes. Later, the frequency is transmitted to the nerves, which signals a feeling of pain or comfort in the pet’s brain.

In short, tortoise shells are sensitive. The sensation may not be as subtle as on the skin. But you must acknowledge the pain and discomfort the tortoise experiences.

Do Tortoises Feel Pain On Their Shells?

Why don’t you try touching your nails or hair? Do you feel anything? Yes? Well, tortoises do too.

Tortoise shells are made of bones but layered with keratin. It is the same element you find on our hair and nails. The layer is thin enough to transmit any touch or pinch to the nerve endings underneath the shells.

So, if you wonder whether tortoises can feel pain in their shell, the answer is yes. Drilling the scutes or any impact-induced injury puts the pets in intolerable suffering.

The sensation may be dull at first. But the pain intensifies with the severity of the wounds. Cracks, scratches, holes, punctures, etc., are the common reasons tortoises feel the shell throbbing.

Do Tortoises Feel When You Pat Their Backs?

I have made it pretty clear that tortoise shells contain nerve endings. It means that the creatures can feel anything on the shell. Therefore, your tortoise does acknowledge your pat on its back.

While a little back scratching is fun and adorable for the tortoises, do not overdo it. Frequent petting may irritate the pets.

A Brief Insight Into Tortoise Shell

I can understand why people doubt the sensitivity of tortoise shells. The bone structure gives away a rough, rock-like vibe. So, let’s know how the tortoise shell is actually made.

Well, the tortoise shell is made of both skeleton and dermal bones.

Skeleton bone and dermal bone are quite similar but share differences in formation. For example, the later one grows under the dermal skin of the tortoises. Also, the dermal bones miss the cartilage like the skeleton bones.

The whole shell of the tortoise can be divided into 2 sections, carapace (the upper shell) and plastron (the lower shell). Though these two portions are formed separately, they are joined naturally via a bridging bone.

The plate-like things on the outer carapace are called scutes. These scutes are made of a keratin layer, which acts as an additional layer of shell protection. You will find the rib cages and bones fused with the shells right underneath.

The whole skeleton protects the inside organs of the tortoises. Any blow to the shell impacts the pet’s bones and internal organs.

Some people believe tortoises can slip in and out of their shells. But no. Tortoises can not live without shells.

The bones and shells are fused. Such a robust joint allows the tortoise to withstand a weight of almost 200x of its own.

Before You Go…

Turtle shells are no different than the tortoises. It means these reptiles can feel any pinch, pain, or touch on the scutes. The below article offers insight into how turtle shells work.

Do Turtle Shells Have Nerves?

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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