Do Turtles Breathe Through Their Shell?

Turtle Shell Rot Vs Shedding

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

Sharing is caring!

Have you ever thought of the turtle’s respiratory system? How does the reptile breathe? Do the shells help them inhale or exhale?

Turtles do not breathe through shells. Instead, they have developed separate ways to exchange gas on land and water. On land, they use their nose and lungs to inhale and exhale. But when underwater, they switch to butt respiration, using their butt membranes to absorb oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

Still confused? Hope this article helps.

Key Takeaways

  • Shells stand to cushion and protect internal organs.
  • On land, turtles use their nostrils to inhale and replenish their lungs.
  • Turtles breathe through the cloaca when underwater.

Shells Are Not Breathing Organs

Why in the world would turtles breathe through shells? These boxy armors are made of bones and skeletons. They are not permeable enough to exchange oxygen or carbon dioxide.

Besides, the shells cushion the heart, pancreas, lungs, esophagus, trachea, etc., protecting them from external harm. They are not connected to these respiratory organs in any way.

So, how do turtles breathe?

Honestly, a turtle’s respiratory system is a bit complicated. The creature can live on both land and water. While on land, it uses its nostrils to inhale oxygen and replenish the lungs. The turtle will exhale carbon dioxide via the nostril, too.

Of course, such conventional breathing does not work underwater. To adapt to such an environment, turtles have evolved to butt breathing or cloacal respiration.

See also  Are Turtles Born With Shells?

As a part of this system, turtles grow two sac-like extensions on each cloacal side. These sacs are lined with tiny finger-like villi containing blood vessels. As a result, the villain can efficiently exchange gas. Through this organ, turtles can absorb oxygen from water and release carbon dioxide into the surroundings.

Before You Go

Shells do not come in use for breathing. Sure. But this body part is crucial for turtles. In fact, turtles will die without the shell. Why? Read the article to find out.

Can Turtles & Tortoises Survive Without Their Shells?

Sharing is caring!

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.


This site is owned and operated by Muntaseer Rahman. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This site also participates in other affiliate programs and is compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies.