Is A Turtle Shell Bulletproof?


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

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You know it is my fault. I always say turtle shells are the hardest, and now my readers think these shields can stand almost anything. But is that true? Can turtle shells hold a bullet?

Turtle shells withstand 1000 pounds of loads. The force gets distributed all over the scutes, and so there is no fracture. However, a bullet generates over 1000 pounds of pressure on a small contact point. A scute can not hold such loads individually. Thus, the bullet will pierce through the shell.

Does that mean turtle shells are not as hard as we expect? Let me clarify the confusion.

Key Takeaways

  • A turtle shell can stand loads 200 times more than its weight.
  • These shells are tougher than aluminum.
  • The shell is an extension of the skeleton.
a collage of box turtle shells
Owner: April Kelley McGallion

No, Turtle Shells Are Not Bulletproof

Turtle shells are hard. There is no question about it. Yet, they can not withstand a bullet. Why is that?

Let’s understand the physics of bullets first.

When a bullet is fired, it hits the turtle shell within a blink of an eye. Due to the pointy tip and speed, the bullet generates a high force on a small scute area. And we all know that if pressure accumulates at one point, it will break.

Okay! Let me put some numbers. Things will make more sense that way.

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A scientific study has shown that an average turtle shell can hold a load of 1000 pounds. On the other hand, a fired bullet generates, on average, a 16000-pound force at the muzzle.

You can only imagine how devastating the wound will be when a bullet fired with such force encounters a shell. Obviously, the load will be more than 1000 on the contact point. As a result, the scutes can not resist the bullet. It will pierce through the shell, injuring the turtle badly.

Yes, turtle shells have no blood vessels or nerves. It means the pets will be safe. Right?


The bullet will crack open a hole in the shell and might go deeper. I will not be surprised if the lead wounds the internal organ, piercing through the bones. In such cases, the shot turtle bleeds and needs emergency surgery.

If the bullet has damaged the lungs, heart, or gut, I am afraid the creature will not survive longer.

Turtle Shells Are Tougher Than Many Metals

It’s true. Turtle shells have toughness and hardness factors higher than many metals.

According to research, the average fracture toughness of a turtle shell is 36.4 MPa m^0.5. In simple terms, you need to put 36.4 MPa force per m^0.5 area to create a crack on the carapace.

Aluminum has a fracture toughness lower than this (22 MPa m^0.5). Even copper sheets are also weaker than turtle shells in this sense.

So, This Makes Turtle Shells So Tough

Do you know how hard turtle shells are?

A report claims the shell layers can bear a tensile stress of about 19MPa to 52 MPa. I know the numbers are not mind-blowing. But considering the size, this is impressive.

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Apparently, turtles can withstand loads 200x of their own weight. Can you imagine? Are you wondering what gives such power to turtle shells?

Obviously, the structure.

Turtle shells are nothing but extended skeletons. The exterior layer is made of keratins just to add scratch-resistant properties.

In the interior layer, you will see a fusion of bones, spines, rib cages, and sternum. It means the shell is made of bones, nothing else.

This explains the high hardness of the shell.

Before You Go

Can you break a shell? Will a turtle shell resist a car crash? I have talked more about hardness in the attached article below.

How Hard Is A Turtle Shell? [More Than You Thought!]

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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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