How To Preserve A Turtle’s Shell?

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

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Saying farewell to a beloved pet is a difficult experience. However, turtles stand out because it is possible to save their shells as souvenirs. In addition to their practical use, shells can be used as lovely decorative accents. Whichever your motivation, preserving the shell is a straightforward procedure that will keep the artifact in pristine condition for generations to come.

An old turtle shell can be preserved by burying it until it decomposes, then washing it with borax and seawater or boiling it to kill any bacteria. Lastly to prevent flaking of the shell scutes vinegar solution and polyurethane has to be applied.

This practice has been used by humans for a variety of reasons for hundreds of years. In China, they are kept as relics due to their medicinal properties, while in the ancient world, turtle shells were used to create ornaments, bow components, and even musical equipment.

Now, in the twenty-first century, designers are looking for intact turtle shells to use as home decor. However, those of us who care for turtles often keep the turtle’s shell as a memento of our pet’s passing. Thus, without further ado, let’s get started with the basics of keeping a turtle’s shell in good condition.

What Materials Will You Need?

Preserving the shell is an easy task. However, you won’t be able to get started without these essentials:

However, you won’t be able to get started without these essentials:

  • Gloves for cleaning
  • your toothbrush
  • Rub alcohol or vinegar
  • Borax
  • Salt
  • Glue (either school glue or super glue) is required only if the scutes need to be glued back on.
  • Varnish or polyurethane
  • Insertable Felt Pads

The Process Of Decomposition

Preserving a turtle shell is not a quick or easy task that can be completed in a day or a week. Months will pass. If your turtle just passed away, you should let him disintegrate by burying him.

Cover the turtle in plastic and cut a few openings for worms and flies before burial. The scutes shouldn’t fall off, therefore we wrap it in plastic.

Please be patient as degradation is a slow process. 3 months to one year is about how it requires a turtle shell to decompose entirely.

But if you want to save the shell, you shouldn’t let it sit about and wither for too long. Weather and soil composition are also important factors.

Once a week or every two weeks, you can examine for signs that the tissue has dissolved. You may learn this by looking at the turtle’s legs. Presumably, the interiors have rotted if skeletons are visible. The degradation of a turtle’s shell occurs in four distinct phases.

  1. Fresh Dead Phase
  2. Bloat Dead Phase
  3. Active Dead Phase
  4. Advanced Dead Phase

1. Fresh Phase

When this happens, the turtle’s heart stops functioning. At this stage, you will notice that the limbs are stiff and that there is a slight odor of something unpleasant.

2. Bloat Phase

At this point, the corpse of the deceased turtle begins to bloat and puts out an odor that is both intense and unpleasant.

3. Active Decay Phase

At this point, the skin starts to flake off, and you can see the skeleton underneath. Further, maggots and other creatures may be seen feasting on the flesh.

The high multiplication of the catalysts discussed earlier causes this process to proceed more quickly throughout the summer.

4. Advanced Decay Phase

When the catalysts have finished devouring the corpse, the stench will be gone, and the skeleton will be exposed.

Only the shell, some scutes, and the skeleton are left. The time has come to act on the haul of the shells away from the grave.

How To Preserve Turtle Shell?

Following the removal of the flesh and any remaining meat, the shell may be cleaned and disinfected.

Varnishing the casing is the final step. Felt feet may be be attached to the bottom of the shell for added stability.

The intricacies are the most important, so let’s dive in.

1. Get Rid Of All The Organic Debris That Is Stuck To The Shell

First, be certain that the carapace has been completely cleaned of any remains. If you find the shell outdoors, there are possibilities pests or bugs may ate the decayed corpse.

Otherwise, the decomposition procedure described above must be followed. Allowing ants access to the interior of the shell is a substitute to traditional burying for degradation.

You may leave the shell outside in the open among ant hills if there are ants in your lawn or a neighboring place.

The interiors of a deceased turtle’s carapace are quickly emptied by ants. However, if you live close, you might have to endure a horrible stink for weeks while the body is placed on the soil.

it is suggested to use a toothbrush and water to carefully scrape the sides and interior of the carapace to clear any lingering biological matter before disposing of the carcass by burial it or placing it in an ant nest.

Dry the shell for a minimum of a day. All water will be driven out of the shell in this way. If you are short on time, you may use a knife to scrape any flesh away from the interior of the casing, and then use a brush and some water to clean the shell.

After you’ve washed it, let it air dry for a full day. The removal of all biological substances not just assists with the odor, but also slows down the shell’s decay.

Unfortunately, you still need to breakdown the inner organs completely. Therefore, burying is advised for decomposing.

2. Shell Cleaning

Removal of biological matter is just the beginning of your work. Keeping the shell in good condition requires a thorough cleaning.

The most important component of maintaining a turtle’s shell is its cleanliness. Ensure a thorough job by cleaning everything from the inside out.

Keeping these things in mind is crucial while trying to clean a shell.

  • Remove any dust or debris by brushing them off first. You may be able to find some skeletons.
  • Scrub the inside of the shell down to the nooks and crevices with a toothbrush. Verify that each item has been eradicated of the shell. Eliminate any pests, fats, or food.
  • Avoid using harsh chemicals like bleach if something is stubborn. A mixture of water, borax, and salt is ideal for cleaning the shell. Just combine the ingredients in a basin and let the shell soak for about an hour.
  • Putting the shell into a pot of boiling water is the next step. This will eliminate any lingering germs and dispose of any remains. However, a somewhat unpleasant stench will be released throughout this process stage. Do it where there is enough of fresh air to circulate about you.
  • Boil the shell for two to four hours.
  • Water bleach is not recommended. The remaining pigments and shell components will be obliterated.
  • You may clean the shell with a solution of water and vinegar. A basin containing equal parts water and vinegar is the best method.
  • The shell should be left in the solution for an hour. After soaking for an hour in the vinegar and water solution, rinse the shell well and dry it off with a towel.
  • Next, make sure the shell is totally dry. The time has come to go on to the next phase with your shell.

3. Disinfection

You may proceed with this step if you are still concerned that potentially hazardous bacteria are present within or on the shell.

The concern is legitimate, and I won’t deny that. Turtles have various dangerous microbes on them. Additionally, the degradation enhances the effect.

It is recommended that an alcohol-based sanitizer be used to wipe the outside. Nonetheless, select a product that is indicated for reptiles and amphibians.

One of the greatest antiseptics you may use is the F10SC Veterinary Disinfectant from F10 SC.

Structural features and hues remain safe with using this. It is sold and shipped through Amazon, and may be conveniently ordered online and received at your home.

4. Stick It Together

Scutes or scales may get dislodged as a consequence of the procedures described earlier. Because of the process of molting, it is common for turtles to seem to be shedding a layer or two of scutes.

Identify any scutes first on the carapace that are loose and secure them with super glue. In order for the sealant to be fully set, the shells need to rest for around 15 minutes after assembly.

5. Put On Some Varnish, Lacquer, Or Polyurethane

The last process is the use of a preserving reagent.  a protective finish such as lacquer, varnish, or polyurethane is applied to the outside.

If you can, get a transparent varnish. It prevents the shell from being scratched or flaking off. In addition to that, it gives it an attractive and pristine look.

It’s important to have plenty of fresh air if you’re going to be varnishing anything. You should still paint the interior of the shell, even though it will be hidden from view.

This is done to aid in the prevention of deterioration and the accumulation of microorganisms. After applying the finisher, let the shell dry naturally.

6. Felt Base

It is not a good idea to display the turtle’s shell on the wall or set it on a piece of furniture since this might cause it to get damaged.

Putting a felt below may stop this from happening and ensure that the whole shell is protected. Your shell will be more malleable, less likely to slide, and more resistant to harm if you do this.

How Can You Maintain The Health Of A Turtle’s Shell?

The shell of a deceased turtle doesn’t really deteriorate. It’s still as good as the first day you got it.

On the other hand, nutrition is where your attention should be directed if you care about the well-being of the shell of your live turtle.

Feed something rich in calcium. Be careful to supplement the diet with other vital nutrients to achieve optimal health. If you do that, the shell will stay strong and undamaged.

Click here to learn more about how to keep your turtle’s shell healthy.

Should You Apply Acid Treatment By Yourself?

Unless you are a trained expert, you shouldn’t try to preserve a turtle’s shell using acid. Get some aid from the pros if you are worried about breaking the shell or not being able to remove the remnants.

Can You Preserve The Shed Turtle’s Scutes?

Absolutely, it is possible to keep the scutes of the turtle preserved in the same manner as the rest of the shell.

Is It Legal To Preserve A Turtle Shell?

Keeping a turtle shell as a souvenir is not illegal in the United States. However, the legitimacy of doing so differs depending on the circumstances of each individual instance.

Shells are typically prohibited from being brought into the United States for importation purposes.

Furthermore, it may be illegal to trade or sell mementos manufactured from the shells of threatened turtle species.

Depending on where you live and the kind of turtle, it may be against the law to sell a preserved shell. The purpose of these regulations is to prevent the illegal trade in exotic species.


Should you make an effort to keep your turtles shell, or should you not? It’s not always easy to figure this out. But you’ll need a lot of guts to achieve this.

Also, this won’t have any negative consequences for your turtle. It’s a kind gesture to ensure that your dear companion will always be at your side.

Step one is to clean the shell of any remaining meat. And here is when degradation comes in. The next step is to thoroughly clean the outside shell. After cleaning the shell, a protective finish such as varnish or polyurethane is applied.

You are now fully versed in the methods for preserving a turtle’s shell for future usage as a keepsake. Contact specialists for help if you feel overwhelmed by it all. Our how-to on turtle shell preservation, we hope, has been of use.

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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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