Tortoises were a common sight in the early ‘80s as the animal trade was much less regulated. The tortoise would be left to run free and were regularly painted in the early ’80s with people’s house numbers on their backs. Our understanding of tortoises was much less than it is today.
People believed that because the shell was made from keratin, just like human fingernails. It would be perfectly fine to paint a tortoise’s shell just as people paint their fingernails. However, our understanding over the years about the tortoise has come a long way, and we see painted tortoises much less than we once did.
You should never paint a tortoise’s shell despite the shell being made from keratin the same as human fingernails. A tortoise’s shell is porous and allows chemicals to enter the tortoise’s body. Eventually making them ill and possible death, it also stops tortoise from taking in the natural UV.
It is shocking how many people would paint their tortoise in the early ‘80s, but luckily tortoise education has come a long way. People would say they used tortoise safe paint, but I can assure you any paint is such a bad idea. Hopefully, I can shed a little more light on the subject, so many more tortoises are saved from this cruel act.
Should I Paint My Tortoise’s Shell?
No, you should never paint your tortoise’s shell under any circumstances. When you paint your nails or your walls in your home, you will smell a strong smell of chemicals. As we paint our nails with nail polishes, these toxic chemicals will slowly make their way through our nails into our bodies. However, due to our nails being such a small part of our body, these chemicals will not affect us.
A tortoise is entirely different from humans; their body is covered in one large shell, only exposing their head and feet. So, we would be covering approximately 90% of our tortoise’s body with toxic paint that can’t be removed. It doesn’t need an expert to the point that the result will not be good.
So, it is fair to say what may have sounded like a good idea doesn’t when you give it some thought.
Why is it Bad to Paint a Tortoise Shell?
To put it bluntly, painting your tortoise’s shell would be akin to slowly poisoning them. A tortoise can’t tell you that they don’t like the smell or they have started to feel ill since you have painted them. Your painted tortoise will show no visible signs that the paint is poisoning it on its shell. The first time you may discover your tortoise was being poisoned is when you find them no longer breathing.
Many experts in the field wholeheartedly agree that painting your tortoise’s shell is just a disaster waiting to happen and should never be done. Never be fooled by tortoise or turtle-friendly paint; there is no such thing, and we list some of the reasons why below.
Paints are packed full of toxic chemicals, and painting this onto your tortoise’s shell will expose them to these poisonous chemicals. The toxic chemicals in the paint will slowly seep through your tortoise’s shell into your tortoise’s body. After some time, these toxic chemicals will enter your tortoise bloodstream. Once these are in your tortoise’s bloodstream, it will be near impossible to stop illness and eventually death.
The shell of a tortoise is not just there by chance. It is designed to let things in and out of your tortoise’s body. Under the shell is a whole complex system that is all attached to the shell of your tortoise.
A vast number of chemicals are in the paint that is harmful to both us as humans and much more to a tortoise. Just imagine how our bodies would react if we painted our whole bodies in wall paint. The results would not be as severe as a tortoise, but they wouldn’t be great for our health.
Paint Is Sun-Blocking
When you first got your tortoise, you will have discovered how important it was to get your tortoise lighting setup correctly. All this was so you can offer your tortoise all the essential vitamins that the lighting provides. It is also encouraged that you allow your tortoise outside as much as possible in the sun. You will enable them to naturally take in the vitamins from the sun that your lighting system offers in their indoor encloser.
These essential vitamins from the artificial lighting or the sun are taken into the tortoise’s system through their shell. If you cover the shell with paint, it will block out the rays from the lighting and sun. Not allow the shell to soak up the vitamins giving your tortoise vitamin deficiency that can lead to death by itself.
Stopping Heat Regulation
The shell of a tortoise has a lot more going on with it than meets the eye. The shell helps keep a tortoise both warm and cool. Tortoise regulates their body temperature by releasing heat through their shell when they are too hot or insulating their body with the shell when too cold.
If a tortoise shell is covered in the paint, it will not fulfill that purpose. The barrier caused by the paint will make your tortoise unable to regulate its body temperature correctly.
Your tortoise is likely to overheat in warmer weather very quickly as the painted shell cannot release the heat. Again putting it bluntly, you would effectively be boiling your tortoise to their death. An excruciating death that any pet owner would never want to happen to their animal, I am sure.
Respiratory Issues Caused by Paint
When we paint our homes, the smell given off by the paint makes us open our windows to escape it. The smell contains all the harmful chemicals, and for us humans, the scent is the most significant effect on us, and opening the window will solve the problem.
Now let’s think about a tortoise in this situation after they have had a coating of paint applied to their shell. Windows can not be opened for the tortoise; they have no option but to sit and endure these smells. Your tortoise will be breathing in all these harmful fumes, and while they have little effect on us, they will cause significant damage to your tortoise.
Let’s not forget that the chemicals after causing your tortoise to breathe them in will eventually get into their bloodstream through their shell.
Shell Deformation From Paint
Painting just a little section of your tortoise’s shell can lead to problems. Pitting and deformation and a softening of the shell. All will lead to internal injuries and illnesses that may not be reparable.
How Do You Get Paint off a Tortoise’s Shell?
Suppose you have unfortunately painted your tortoise’s shell or acquired a tortoise with a painted shell. After reading the above, I’m sure that you want to remove that paint as quickly and safely from your tortoise as possible.
It’s first worth pointing out that we want to take our time and get this process right. We don’t want to cause our tortoise more harm than the tortoise is currently in with a painted shell.
Apply paint solvent to a rag and rub your rag over the paint, avoiding the skin of your tortoise. Using a soft-bristle paintbrush to scrub the paint off the shell and clean off loose paint with a clean rag as you go. Carry out the process outside to avoid the fumes harming yourself or the tortoise.
The type of paint applied to the shell will determine what solvent you should use to carry the process out. If acrylic paint has been applied, then you can remove it with vegetable oil, which will be less harmful to the tortoise. Take your time and be over-cautious than being slapdash trying to get all the paint off in one go.
Your tortoise is going to dislike the whole process, and it can be stressful to see. However, keeping in mind that your tortoise will be better off, in the long run, should get you through the process.
Will The Solvent Damage My Tortoise?
This is a fundamental question to ask, and one a responsible tortoise owner should be asking once they discover how vital the shell is to our tortoises.
Yes, the solvent will cause your tortoise some harm; however, not as great as there would be leaving paint on their shell.
When carrying out the whole cleaning process, you want to avoid getting any solvent on their skin. The solvent could cause irritation and damage to the skin, and we want to prevent our tortoise from having any more problems.
You also only want to apply the solvent to the painted areas as best as you can. When cleaning the solvent off the shell, remove it as quickly as possible. Doing so will not allow it to soak through the shell.
Alternatives to Painting Tortoise Shells
I believe tortoises look stunning; however, there is a growing trend to change our pets’ looks. Whether it is coloring hair on a dog to paint a tortoise’s shell, we must look at safe methods to alter our pets’ look.
Make Tortoise Clothes
The safest way to change the look of your tortoise is by giving them some clothes. We must be careful not to inhibit the tortoise from moving about and taking in the UV they need through their shell.
The clothes are more for you than the tortoise, and you must remember this and only have them in their new outfit for a limited amount of time.
Decorate the Enclosure
Why not change the look of your tortoise enclosure than making them feel uncomfortable in clothes? You can change up the enclosure to make it pretty again; this is more for the owner than the tortoise, so they more than likely won’t bat an eyelid at your fancy new enclosure. However, it is the safest way to decorate your tortoise.
Painting Tortoise FAQ
Below is some of the common question I see when people are asking about painting their tortoise.
Are Tortoise Shells Porous?
Yes, tortoise shells are porous as they are made from keratin the same as a human fingernail, which is naturally porous on a microscopic level. Hence the reason it is essential never to paint the shell as the chemicals in the paint will enter your tortoise body, causing illness leading to death.
Is a Tortoise Shell Sensitive?
Yes, a tortoise shell is sensitive, and they can feel it when someone taps or rubs their shell. The shell is physically attached to the tortoise body by many nerve endings and blood vessels. So if you paint your tortoise’s shell, the chemicals will make their way into your tortoise’s body.
Is it Safe to Paint a Tortoise Shell with Nail Polish?
It is not safe to paint your tortoise with nail polish; it is just as dangerous to your tortoise as regular paint. The chemicals packed into nail polish will seep into your tortoise bloodstream as their shell porous. Leading to your tortoise becoming ill and possibly dead.
Is it Safe to Use Pens or Sharpies on a Tortoise Shell?
Both pens and sharpies contain oils, resins and solvents (both toxic and non-toxic), so no, you should never use pens or sharpies on a tortoise’s shell. Just like paint, these chemicals will make their way through the porous shell into their blood stream, causing illness and potentially death.
Can I Glue Gemstones to My Tortoise?
Never stick anything to your tortoise as the glue is highly toxic and can seep into your tortoise’s body through its shell. Also, the gems can be poisonous to your tortoise and become a choking hazard if they ever fall off.
Is Tortoise-Friendly Paint Really Tortoise-Friendly?
No, there is no such thing as tortoise-friendly paint, and all paint carries toxic components that will be detrimental to your tortoise health. Anything that covers the shell will inhibit your tortoise’s ability to take on the needed UV light.