How Can You Tell If A Turtle Shell Is Real?

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

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You will find souvenirs made of turtle shells in many gift shops. But how do you know those items are made of genuine turtle shells, not plastic? Well, this article will tell you all the secret tricks to identify a real turtle shell.

PropertyReal Turtle ShellImitation Turtle Shell
TransparentYesNo
FlexibleYesNo
Black Light ContactGlowDull
PatternsNon-homogenousHomogeneous
Boundary TransitionRoughSmooth
BurnHair burning smellBad smell
MaterialHawksbill sea turtle shellPlastic, cow horn, sea shell, and coconut shell

Keep reading for details.

Key Takeaways

  1. Natural turtle shells also go by the name of tortoiseshell or hawksbill sea turtle shell.
  2. These real shells are transparent under visible light and show incredible flexibility.
  3. On burning, the real turtle shells will spread a hair-burning smell,
  4. Authentic turtle shell products are made of endangered hawksbill sea turtle shells. So, avoid buying these souvenirs.
a collage of box turtle shells
Owner: April Kelley McGallion

Can You Spot A Real Turtle Shell?

In most cases, the artisans use the hawksbill sea turtle’s shell for producing souvenirs or art pieces. So, do not get confused if the shopkeepers say the product is made of tortoiseshell. They interchange the terms turtle shell and tortoiseshell too often.

There are multiple ways to differentiate a real turtle shell from an imitation. Some methods are based totally on observation. Again, few techniques require proper lab setups. Let’s go through them one by one.

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Test MethodReal Turtle ShellTurtle Shell Imitation
Color Transition  In a real turtle shell, the colors blend into each other. The blending edges at the transition point are rough and non-uniform.You will notice color blending in the plastic turtle shells too. But the border transition is too smooth. Each color appears like a nice droplet.
Transparency TestThe real turtle shell is made of natural thermoplastic. Anything made with this material looks transparent when held against light.On the contrary, the souvenirs made of synthetic plastic include thousands of microcracks. Hence, they look hazy.
An Obvious PatternWe have discussed turtle shell growth in previous articles. The scutes grow in three dimensions simultaneously. Therefore, the turtle shell has no regular color pattern or layer.The artificial turtle shell products carry an obvious color pattern. Generally, these layers are brown on top and beige underneath. These patterns come from the manufacturing stage.   During the production, the artisans pour one layer and allow it to cool at first. When the layer hardens, they go for a second layer. This is why you see the regular patterns on the manufactured turtle shells.
Black Light ReflectionWhen you strike the authentic turtle shell with a black light, it will glow. You will witness a bright green or a fluorescent glow depending on the torch’s wavelength. The phosphorus in the turtle shell mainly emits such color after absorbing the UV rays of the torch.The imitation turtle shells include no phosphorus. Therefore, you will see a dull color when you place them under a black light.
Flame TestThe pin-burn method is quite reliable in distinguishing a real turtle shell from an artificial one. Heat a pin on a high flame. Then, hold the tip against the turtle shell product.   The hot pin will leave a black dot on the turtle shells. Also, it will spread a hair-burning smell.On the other hand, the heated pin penetrates through the plastic turtle shells like smooth butter. Besides, you will immediately witness the smell of burning plastic in the room.
Flexible Or Rigid?Natural turtle shells are generally thin and flexible. They have a high fracture toughness and flexural strength. So, you can bend the shells to a great extent without breaking them.The man-made turtle shells lack this flexibility. They are fragile and rupture under stress.
Under MicroscopeWhen magnified, you will notice tiny black spots in the real turtle shells. Each brown pact is concentrated around the dot.The imitation turtle shells have a homogenous pattern. They lack the tiny spots.
IR Spectra Testing  What happens if you do advanced lab testing between the real and fake turtle shells? Well, during the IR characterization, the natural shells show a wavelength absorption profile similar to keratin protein.A fake turtle shell made of plastic will show IR absorption in their respective polymer functional groups.

How To Identify Similar-Looking Turtle Shell Fake Products

The turtle shell imitation art pieces are generally made of plastic, coconut, cow horn, and seashell. You can easily distinguish one from another if you know their basic characteristics. For example,

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1. Coconut Shell

Unlike turtle shells, These items are dark brown. Besides, the coconut shell products are not transparent under light or flexible. Moreover, there are yellow visible spots all over the surface.

2. Cow Horn

Any products integrated from cow horns share the same transparency and patterns as the turtle shells. But the main difference is in the color and grains.

Generally, cow horn souvenirs are mostly available in black, white, and cream color. The surface includes visible grain patterns like our fingernails. No turtle shell includes such straight grains.

3. Seashells

These shells can be of different colors. They include beautiful patterns on them. But unlike the turtle shells, the sea shells are not transparent or flexible.

4. Plastic

Usually, products made with thermoplastic materials come the closest to the turtle shells. The artisans can manipulate the color and design, replicating a turtle shell. However, the plastic turtle shells are not transparent under visible light and will fail the burn test.

Should You Buy Real Turtle Shell?

The turtle shell or tortoiseshell products are made of hawksbill sea turtle shells. While most souvenir shops trade fake and imitation tortoiseshells, some businessmen still source real turtle shells. This is indeed a sad, inhumane, and irresponsible act.

If you are a turtle lover, you know that marine turtles are already on the verge of extinction. Killing these majestic creatures for extra profit is always discouraged.

Considering the rarity of sea turtles, world organizations have declared trading any turtle shell products illegal. However, the artisans from the tropical areas do not care about this law. They still sell turtle shells as these products are in high demand.

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If you find a real turtle shell souvenir in a shop, check the country and state laws regarding tortoiseshell trading. Then, report to the wildlife department or the tourist police about the irregularity.

Before You Go…

I discourage buying real turtle shell products. The sea turtles are endangered, and their extinction will adversely affect the climate. Read the article below to learn more about marine turtles and their conservation laws,

Which Sea Turtles Are Engandered? [7 Comprehensive List]

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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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