Why Do Turtles Have Shells?

softshell turtle basking

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

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It is definitely the shell that distinguishes turtles from other creatures. But what’s the deal with this body part? Do turtles really need them?

Shells serve multiple purposes. For example, turtles use this shield for self-defense from predators and any unwanted attacks. Shells help the reptiles to camouflage in the wild. Hence, turtles can hunt easily. Because of the hydrodynamic design of the shells, turtles can move swiftly in water.

These are not all. The shells benefit turtles in more ways. Read the article to find out.

Key Takeaways

  • Millions of years back, turtles had no shells.
  • The primary goal of a shell is to offer protection.
  • Shells can aid in digging a nest or burrow.
Wild painted turtle safely crossing sandy road in Martha’s Vineyard, MA, USA

What’s The Point of Turtle Shells?

In many of my blog posts, I talked about the evolution and growth of turtle shells.

Surprisingly, the ancestors of these reptiles, Odontochelys Semitestacea, had only a hardcover on their bellies. With time, turtles have grown a full-fledged shell on their body.

But why? I have dug around the internet, trying to get an answer. Let me share my findings.

1. The Main Goal Is To Protect

I understand many experts will disagree with me. They think the shells are evolved to serve a greater purpose, not for protection.

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Well, you might be right. But can you give me some details? No? So, for now, why don’t we agree that the primary goal of shells is self-defense? We can switch opinions when discoveries see the light of the day.

Logically speaking, shells have each feature necessary to fool the predators. For example, turtles can get inside that armor and spend the entire day. Let the predator play around with the shell the entire day. The reptile is safe and sound.

Again, shells are hard. Sources claim that these armors can withstand force 200x of their own weight. The educated guess is a turtle shell will absorb around 1000 pounds of pressure without fracturing. So, the shells keep the turtles safe from the hard bitings and blows of the predators.

Unfortunately, some animals, for instance, alligators, have a powerful jaw with a biting force of nearly 4000 pounds. Such pressure is way much more than the shells can handle.

2. Perfect Means For Camouflage

Turtles in the wild live a more busy life. They hunt to arrange their meals and play hide-and-seek to escape predators. It means these reptiles need an excellent presence of mind for survival.

As you know, turtles are smart, but they are not Einstein. Thus, they depend on their instinct to live from day to day. Their hunch tells them to hide inside the shell and blend in the mud while hunting or fooling predators.

Without shells, this species population would be declining by now.

3. The Self Therapy Session Is On A Roll

What do you do when you feel stressed? I prefer spending some alone time.

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Apparently, turtles can also go through trauma or anxiety. Yes, the surroundings or the care sheet is to blame for their mental state. Restoring the imbalance will make the pets happy again.

But in the meantime, turtles will retract into their shells to spend some ‘Me-Time.’ This helps them relax and return to normal life soon.

4. It’s The Home

Do you know turtles prefer sleeping inside their shells? It is because they feel exposed and vulnerable otherwise. You can not deny that the shells give the turtles a sense of security and comfort.

5. They Can Move Faster

Are you thinking I have lost my mind? How in the world does a shell help turtles move faster? That bulky box is one of the reasons why turtles are so slow. Right?

Absolutely. However, I was talking about moving in water, not on land.

There is a significant difference in turtle and tortoise shells. The turtle shells are slightly domed and hydrodynamic. So, the creatures can cut through water and swim swiftly because of the shells on their bodies.

On the contrary, tortoise shells are highly domed and barely follow any law of hydrodynamics.

6. It Is A Digging Tool

Scientists have recently discovered that turtle shells come in handy for their digging activity. For those who don’t know, turtles are burrows by nature. They will dig soils to cool off, hide, burrow, and lay eggs.

But how do the shells assist in digging?

Apparently, turtles look for an anchor to brace their heads and necks while boring down the soil with limbs. Shells work as excellent support in this task.

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Before You Go

Turtles can not live without a shell, which makes it a delicate body part. But sadly, many keepers try experimenting with this shield (paint the scutes or drill the plates). According to them, turtles can not feel anything on their shells. Are you sure about that? I have debunked this myth in the attached article.

Do Turtles Have Nerves In Their Shells?

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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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