Do Turtles Shed Skin? Meaning Explained

Turtle Shell Rot Vs Shedding

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

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If you are a new turtle owner, you are probably worried about your precious turtle shedding or peeling skin. You might have seen strips of skins sticking out from your turtle’s body. Even the shells peel off. So, is it normal? Do turtles shed skin?

Like many reptiles, turtles, especially aquatic turtles, shed their skin and scutes to stay healthy. However, Turtle skin and shells can peel off for various health problems related to bacteria and fungus. Environmental factors can also cause shedding. 

In this article, I will talk about the reasons turtles shed their skins and scutes. You will also learn the difference between natural shedding and abnormal shedding. For that, you should know if it is normal for all turtle species to shed skin. 

Do All Turtles Shed Skin? 

All turtles and tortoises shed their skin as they grow. So, it is not unusual for your pet turtle to shed skins on their necks or legs. Turtles shed their scutes annually to prevent their shells from getting too heavy. Most turtles shed their scutes when they reach a certain age.

Aquatic turtles shed their skin more often than other species of turtles. On the other hand, land turtles, like the box turtles, do not shed their skin regularly like aquatic turtles. However, their scutes naturally peel off at least once a year. So, it is natural for turtles to shed skins and shells to grow properly and stay healthy. 

Why Is My Turtles Skin Peeling?

Now, is your turtle shedding its skin or peeling off its scutes? Before panicking, you should understand that shedding skin is natural for turtles. But you need to know when the shedding is normal and when it is not.  

Natural Skin Shedding of Turtles

 You might suddenly find white peeled-off skin attached to your turtle’s body. The scutes of the shell also peel off. Natural shedding mostly happens during the growth stage of a turtle. Turtles also shed injured scutes to regrow healthy scutes. 

The skins of turtles are rubbery, and the shells are hard. Like snakes, turtles shed their old skins to grow and develop new skins and scutes. Hence, skin shedding continues for a long time as turtles grow slowly. 

As I have mentioned above, aquatic turtles shed their skin and scutes more than other species of turtles. Since they live in water and mud, they can get affected by waterborne diseases, algae, fungus, and parasites. Therefore, they voluntarily peel off their skin from their body. This way, they keep themselves free of disease. 

Abnormal and Excessive Shedding

The bad news is turtles can shed their skin for other reasons. You might have noticed your turtle shedding more than usual. In the case of natural skin shedding, you may see long strands of skin peeling off from the neck and legs. Most of the time, owners may not even notice their turtles shedding skin. 

But if your turtle sheds too soon compared to the last shedding and the shedding seems excessive, then you should be concerned. 

There are many reasons why your turtle can shed excessively. The turtle might be severely sick, or the tank environment is unsuitable for it. Here are some reasons your turtle is shredding too much:

High Level of Ammonia In The Water

An increased amount of ammonia in the turtle tank can be one of the reasons for abnormal shedding. Turtles are messy eaters, and they even produce a lot of waste. Hence, ammonia can accumulate fast in the water. 

If the number of friendly bacteria is low in the water, they cannot fight against high ammonia. Besides, the water filter of your turtle tank should work properly. Otherwise, the water would remain dirty and harm your turtle. If your turtle remains in water with high ammonia, its skin and shell will unnaturally peel off. 

Overfeeding Pet Turtles

Your turtle can shed skin and shell untimely if they overeat food. Turtle should grow at a natural phase. Feeding them too much food causes them to grow fast. Thus, overfed turtles shed skins to make new skins for their grown body. 

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As their shells will also get bigger, it will put some strain on the scutes. It can be painful for the turtle if it has already shed skin recently. 

Lack of Vitamin D And Vitamin A

Turtles need a good amount of calcium to stay healthy. Calcium or Vitamin D is essential for their timely growth and keeping the shells strong. A lack of calcium can harm your turtle. For example, its shell will not develop properly. Moreover, the shell becomes soft and fragile, which can cause the scutes to flake. 

To activate the calcium to work in their body, turtles need sunlight or UVB and UVA light. Without UV light, turtles cannot use the calcium to keep their bones and shells healthy. So, the scutes get fragile.  

Another reason your turtle might shed excessively is the lack of vitamin A in its body. Your turtle is probably not getting a sufficient amount of vitamin A. So, add more red and yellow fruits and vegetables to prevent abnormal skin shedding. 

Insufficient UVB Light

You may provide your turtle with nutritious food containing calcium. But the turtles cannot absorb Vitamin D or calcium if they do not get UVB light. As the turtles cannot absorb the calcium, their shell will become weak. Hence, shells can easily peel off when it bumps or stretches on sharp objects. 

High Temperature 

Turtles can shed abnormally when they live at a high temperature in the enclosure. The temperature can be too high in the basking area, which can overheat the shell and skin of the turtles. High temperatures can prompt shedding. A high water temperature can also cause excessive shedding among aquatic turtles. 

Fungus And Other Diseases 

Fungus and bacteria are common reasons for abnormal shedding or Dysecdysis. Bacterial shell rot can deform the shell of turtles permanently. The scutes can peel off frequently, which is painful for the turtles. Besides, skin and shell shedding can happen because of various diseases, such as kidney, liver, thyroid, or metabolic bone disease. 


Your turtle can get stretched by sharp or hard decorations in the enclosure. The turtle shell might look heard, but it is not completely solid. Hence, shells can peel off because of injury from sharp objects. 

turtle Shedding

Turtle Not Shedding Scutes?

Excessive shedding is not the only problem with skin or shell shedding. The opposite can also happen to your turtle. Yes, you might notice your turtle is not shedding its outer scutes as much as it should. 

Not shedding timely is dangerous for a turtle’s health. The shell will get too thick and deformed. As a result, it can affect the growth of the turtles. Moreover, your turtle will get infected by fungus, bacteria, and parasites. 

Here are some common reasons your turtle is not shedding scutes: 

Lack of Vitamin D

Vitamin D or calcium is one of the most crucial nutrients for turtles. They need calcium to develop their bones and shell. If your turtle does not get enough vitamin D, it cannot grow properly. Thus, it will not shed scutes as it should. 

Lack of UV Rays

Again, turtles need UV rays to absorb calcium in their body. It is necessary for bone growth and shell shedding. Your turtle that lives indoors may not get proper exposure to UV lights. As a result, the turtle cannot absorb calcium to grow properly. Then the turtle will not grow properly, and the shell size will remain almost the same. Hence, it will not shed the old scutes. 

Temperature Problem 

Turtles may not shed their skin or scutes when the temperature in the basking area and water area is lower than their ideal temperature. Different species of turtles require different temperatures to stay healthily. You must research the species of your turtle well before setting a temperature for the basking area and water. 

How to Prevent Abnormal Shedding? 

If your turtle is suffering from excessive shedding, you better take it to the vet as soon as possible. You should take measures to avoid abnormal skin and shell shedding. It is possible to prevent turtle skin from shedding by following simple steps. Here is what you should do:

Feed Your Turtles Nutritious Food

You must feed nutritious food to your turtle. Make sure the diet plan of your turtle contains a good amount of food containing calcium. Insects, small fish, vegetables, and many green plants are good sources of calcium. 

Moreover, Turtles need yellow fruits and vegetables for vitamin A to prevent excessive shedding. You can also feed your turtles food supplements to fulfil the need for nutrients, especially vitamin D and vitamin A in their body.

I recommend Rep-Cal’s Herptivite Multivitamin and Mineral Powder. It is a food supplement containing high-quality animal proteins and apple fibre. You can meet your turtle’s daily need for essential calcium, minerals and vitamins by adding this supplement to their diet plan. 

Do Not Overfeed Your Turtle

Overheating can cause your turtle to grow suddenly, which results in untimely skin and shell shedding. Be careful about the amount of food you are giving to your turtle. You should provide food which your turtle can finish in 10 to 15 minutes. Baby turtles need to be fed twice a day. But as turtles grow, they do not need to be fed every day. Meanwhile, adult turtles should be fed 4 or 5 times a week.  

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Proper Setup of UV Lights

Your turtle needs UVB light to absorb the calcium consumed from the food. So, you must set up a proper lighting system for your turtle. Make sure the lights are at a safe distance, but the UVB rays should reach your turtles.

Maintain Ideal Temperature

To prevent abnormal shedding, you must maintain the temperature of the turtle tank. The tank temperature should not be too hot or too low. Find out the ideal basking temperature and water temperature for your turtle. 

The basking temperature should be between 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The water temperature should be at least 75 degrees Fahrenheit and must not exceed 85 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Keep the Ammonia Level In Check

Water quality is a crucial factor for your turtle’s health. Turtles require clean water. So, you must check the ammonia level regularly. Use a high-quality water filter powerful enough to filter the water. Change the water when the water is not filterable anymore. 

 Avoid Sharp Objects

 You must not put any sharp objects like accessories, decorations, or substrate in the turtle tank. Sharp rocks can be dangerous for turtles. Turtles can bump into them and accidentally peel off their skin or shell. Even the substrates should be soft and harmless. 

Baby Red Eared Sliders basking

How Often Do Turtles Shed?

Turtles shed skin and scutes at least once a year. A healthy turtle can shed several times a year. It is natural for young turtles to shed skin and scutes more frequently compared to adult turtles. This is because young turtles grow fast during the initial years of their life. It usually takes one or two months for an adult turtle to shed its skin and scutes. 

Some aquatic turtles may even shed every two months to protect themselves from fungus, waterborne diseases and parasites. On the other hand, some turtles, like the map turtles and diamondback terrapins, are not frequent in skin or shell shedding. Their skin sheds once or twice every year or two. 

Most turtles shed their skin and scutes before or after hibernation. If you have a turtle that hibernates, you probably have seen it shedding skin and scutes before it goes on hiatus. Then again, some turtles shed after hibernation. Turtles bask a lot after getting out of hibernation. Thus, they absorb lots of calcium that stimulates shedding scutes.

Depending on the species, turtles shed their skins within the first one to four years. Painted turtles and sliders start shedding when they are 1 to 3 years old. 

What Does Turtle Skin Shedding Look Like?

When turtles shed naturally, you will see white flakes stripping from their body. It mostly happens on their neck and legs. Turtles often shed during their growth period. So, do not feel scared seeing your young turtle shedding. As they get older, they shed less skin.  

During natural skin shedding, you will find a thin layer of skin coming off from the limbs like the neck and legs. But the skin is shed inside the skin too. The skin under the peeled-off skin looks normal. There should not be any signs of injury. 

What Does Turtle Scute Shedding Look Like?

Similar to skin shedding, scute shedding is also normal for turtles. Healthy turtles shed their scutes to keep the shell clean of fungus and other bacteria.  

Typically, the scutes will peel off from the shell as a whole. Scutes do not peel off at once. They take time to gradually shed. The old scutes are translucent. While the scutes are peeling, you can see the new scutes under them.

The turtles often eat the peeled-off scutes. It is perfectly normal. But you can clean out the peeled-off scutes from the tank if you fear your turtle might get hurt while eating them. Remember, you must not peel off the scutes from your turtle’s shell. 

Abnormal shedding is not like normal shedding. The scutes do not come as a whole. You may also find the shell deformed after scute shedding. Instead of getting peeled off gradually, you might find scutes chipped off in places. 

Do Turtles Shed Skin On Their Neck?

Have you seen your pet turtle shedding skin on its neck? Should you be concerned? Well, it depends on a few factors. 

Turtles shed skin at least once a year. The frequency of shedding skin is high in aquatic turtles. So, it is alright if your turtle shed white skin on its neck. But if your aquatic turtle sheds skin within less than a month of the previous shedding, then you should be concerned. Frequent skin shedding of land turtles is also abnormal. 

Turtle Shedding Skin On Legs

Similar to shedding skin on the neck. Turtles also shed the skin on their legs. Turtles shed skin all over their body when they grow. You can see white skin flaking on its legs and new skin under it. But if you find excessive fuzzy white fibrey stuff on your turtle’s legs or body, it is not a good sign. It indicates your turtle might be affected by fungus. 

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Do Turtles Shed Skin On Their Eyes

No, turtles do not shed skin on their eyes. But they shed on their head and around the neck area. The peeled-off skin can spread on close to the turtle’s eyes. It might appear the turtle is shedding on its eyes. 

Do not peel off the skin around the eyes of the turtle to help them. The skin should naturally peel off on its own. If the eyes look shut or swollen, you should take the turtle to a vet. Your turtle can be infected. 

Is It Bad If My Turtle Shell Is Peeling?

Natural shedding is not bad for your turtle. In fact, it is a healthy process for turtles to grow up and protect themselves. You do not have to worry about your turtle feeling pain or stress. 

However, abnormal and untimely shedding of skins and shells is not a sign of a healthy turtle. Since the skin or scutes come off prematurely because of fungal or bacterial infection, the skin or scutes under them do not get the time to develop. 

So, the turtle becomes vulnerable to the surroundings if the shell peels off abnormally. It can get severely injured if it hits or bumps into hard objects, rocks, and logs. 

Turtle Shell Rot or Shedding

So, how do you know your turtle’s shell is shedding naturally or has shell rot? While shell shedding is a natural process, shell rot is not natural. 

Shell rot is a disease scientifically known as Septicemic Cutaneous Ulcerative Disease (SCUD). It is caused by fungus or bacteria that get inside the keratin layer of the shell and infect it. Eventually, shell rot can spread to the bone underneath the shell. The main cause of fungal and bacterial infection is unfiltered dirty water in the tank. 

Sometimes shell rot spreads unnoticed by the owners, as it often occurs on the plastron more than on the carapace of the shell. The plastron is not always easy to dry like the carapace. So, the turtle cannot get rid of the fungus or bacteria from the shell as they cannot dry it properly. 

So, you should learn to differentiate between natural shell shedding and shell rot to save your turtle. 

Below, I have summarized the difference between natural shell shedding and shell rot: 

Shell SheddingShell Rot
Shell shedding is a result of growth or injury.Shell rot is a result of fungal and bacterial infection.
White thin layer of fluid can be seen under scutes before shedding.White or reddish fluid under the scutes.
The scutes peel off as a whole. New scutes will be under the old scutes.The scutes may cheap of or peel off in pieces. Excessive peeling may expose the bones under the scutes.
No foul smell during or after shedding. Bad smell comes off from the rotten shell.
Natural shedding should not be interfered with.Shell rot needs to be treated as soon as possible.

What Causes Shell Rot In Turtles?

Shell rot does not just appear in turtles overnight. It happens when a turtle lives in an unhealthy environment. Shell rot can occur in a turtle for various reasons. Here is what you need to know:

  • When the turtle lives in dirty water, it can get infected with bacteria and fungus. A pet turtle can also get infected if it is touched with dirty hands. The filter of the tank should work and be able to filter the water to keep the tank clean. 
  • The shell of a turtle gets weak for the lack of calcium. As a result, it can easily get injured. Injured scutes often get infected, causing shell rot. 
  • Shell rot can happen if the turtles do not dry their shells properly. It can happen when it does not spend much time under the basking light. So, make sure to provide the basking light at the right temperature. A turtle needs to receive a good amount of UVB light to produce Vitamin D in its body. 

Can I Help My Turtle Shed?

Many first-time owners panic seeing their pet turtles shedding. The scutes can take a while to peel off. So, you may wonder if you can help your turtle shed its skin or shell scutes. The answer is no. You should not interfere when your turtle is shedding naturally. 

You must understand by now that shedding is normal for turtles. They know how to shed and do not require any help. Therefore, there is no need to get panicked when you see your turtle is shedding some skin and scutes. Moreover, you may end up injuring your turtle while trying to help it. 

The skin and scutes peel off from the turtle on its own when new skin and scutes are formed. So, you may peel off the scutes before the new scutes are fully formed. 

However, if the shedding is abnormal, you must intervene. Fungal infection and shell rot can be painful for turtles. Hence, you have to help them to fix the infected area. You should consult with a vet as soon as possible about treating abnormal shedding. 

The vets are experienced in treating shell rots. They clean the infected area and remove some dead cells. Then they use antiseptics to treat the shell. 


So, do turtles shed skin? Yes, turtles shed skin and scutes as it is necessary for them to grow and stay healthy. Some turtles shed more frequently than others. Also, as you have learned from this article, turtles can shed skin and shell due to fungal and bacterial infections.

Therefore, you should know about abnormal shedding in turtles to prevent it as soon as possible. 

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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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