Can Tortoises and Turtles Live Without Their Shell

Can Tortoises and Turtles Live Without Their Shell?

As soft-skinned mammals seeing a tortoise or turtle with their hard shell may have you asking questions about their anatomy. Looking at a tortoise or turtle’s hard shell, it seems like a large armored coat that they can slip in and out of. When you see them tuck themself inside, you may believe they can just as easily slip the shell off. That is understandable as it seems totally unnatural to us humans.

Tortoise and turtles can not live without their shell in any circumstances; they have nerve ending in the shell that they can feel. Any hits or bumps can be felt and will possibly hurt when they accrue. A tortoise without a shell would be akin to a human living without their skin.

A tortoise’s shell is conjoined to their bodies and can’t ever be attempted to be removed. The tortoise or turtle would be in great pain leading to death if you ever tried to do so. There are some other essential points every tortoise and turtle owner should learn about their shells.

Explaining the Tortoise and Turtle Shell

Whenever I hear can tortoise or turtles live without their shell asked, it makes me feel a little queasy. However, for someone who doesn’t understand how the shell works, it is an important question to answer. Knowing how the shell works and its impotence to these animals is always the best place to start.

A tortoise’s shell is very similar in the way it grows to the turtles. The shell is not something either animal can take off or maneuver their way out of; neither do they molt nor shed their shells. The shell is attached to the tortoise and turtle’s body and grows with them as they get bigger.

Tortoise and turtle shells have a skeletal system and an exoskeleton. A fancy word that just means part of their skeletal system is on the outside. As humans, our skeletal system is all internal, unlike the tortoise and turtle’s skeletal system. Tortoises and turtles shells their exoskeleton are attached to their ribs and spine their internal skeletal system.

So explaining how the tortoise and turtle shell structured makes it easy to see why they could never live without their shell.

Do Shells Feel Pain or Become Sensitive?

If you have ever broken a bone in your body, you will understand the extreme pain that this caused when it happened. A tortoise and turtle shell is very similar in that they would feel pain very much the same way.

The tortoise and turtle shell is not only attached to their internal skeletal system. The shell is connected to many small nerve endings all over the shell. Meaning a tortoise can feel if you are touching them or, god forbid, trying to pull the shell off!

So, if your tortoise ever gets their shell damaged with a crack or a hole, it would be excruciating for them, just as it would be for you breaking your arm.

Why Do Turtle and Tortoise Have Difference Shells

Many people can mistakenly believe that one can be broken without a problem because the tortoise’s and turtle shell differ. Despite the differences in shape and size, that doesn’t mean one over the other can be broken without issues. The shape, size, and build structure are different this is due to their living environment.

The tortoise is a land animal, and its shell is built for land-based protection from predators in the wild. On the other hand, turtles are both land and water-based, and the shell is smoother and more streamlined to aid their ability to move through the water.

The tortoise’s shell is more like the human bone with a keratin coating, the same stuff as our fingernails. Turtles have a leathery-type covering over their shells that protects them from the water they swim. There are, however, sometimes when a turtle may have a shell more akin to a tortoise.

Despite the difference in coatings, shape, and size of their shell and despite what people may believe, any damage to a tortoise or turtle’s shell will cause them immense pain.

Can Tortoises and Turtles Get Out of Their Shell?

No, you should never try to attempt to remove a tortoise or turtle from its shell. The shell is an exoskeleton, an overall part of the tortoises and turtle skeletal system, and there is no possible way to remove a tortoise from the shell safely. Attempting to remove a tortoise or turtle from their shell would cause excruciating pain and eventual death.

I won’t make apologies for repeating this. Never try to remove a tortoise or turtle from their shell; it would lead to their death. To put it into perspective, it would be akin to you trying to peel the skin off a human or trying to remove your ribs or spine. I’m sure you agree that this wouldn’t end well and is not a pleasant thought.

Tortoise and turtles can’t get out of their shell; they can, however, tuck their legs and head into the shell. Some tortoises and, more commonly turtles, can tuck themselves so far they can close up their shell so nothing can get inside. When seeing this, there can be a temptation to try to open it up. Don’t ever try to do this as the muscle are very strong, and you will cause the turtle or tortoise lots of pain and damage.

Can Tortoises and Turtles Survive a Broken Shell?

Luckily yes, a tortoise and turtle can survive a broken shell, and a broken shell doesn’t necessarily mean immediate death. However, a broken shell is a severe injury, and their inner body is exposed; it is the equivalent of a human gash to our skin.

One big issue that we need to be careful of is infections due to the inner body being exposed; you need to deal with the injury as quickly as possible.

A broken shell isn’t always the result of a bang and can be down to a poor diet. A poor diet or unclean enclosures can cause ulcers in and around the skin, causing the shell to become deformed and crack. However, this typically manifests itself in other ways before you see damage to your tortoises or turtles shell.

Does a Tortoise’s Shell Heal by Itself?

When you first discover your tortoise or turtle has a cracked shell, don’t panic and take rash action. If you are overly concerned, then a trip to the veterinarian would be advisable.

As tortoise and turtle shells are living and made from natural materials, they have the ability to heal by themselves. The same when a human who breaks a bone in their body, it will slowly knit back together over time, just as a tortoise and turtle shell.

Even though the shell can heal by itself, it is not best practice to leave the crack untreated. Leaving the break untreated can leave your tortoise or turtle’s insides exposed to the air. Dangerous bacteria can then enter your tortoise or turtle and cause them to become ill and possibly die.

A visit to the veterinarian can help you get the problem sorted; they will use a bonding compound to hold the crack together. Just as we would if we broke a bone, this will help the healing process speed up. Small fractures to the shell can be treated using home remedies like plasters. However, it would always be advisable to contact a vet to have an expert look and give advice.

Despite the fact healing a tortoise or turtle shell is standard; other issues could happen when the injury occurs.

Lung Injury

If the cause of a broken shell has accrued by an impact, one of the threatening secondary injuries is a punctured lung. Looking for signs of frothy mouth or bloody discharge emerging from the wound when your tortoise breathes these are all common signs of a lung injury.

In tortoises and turtles, it is not as much of an issue as it would be for humans, and they will still be able to breathe. However, it can lead to other problems that can cause your pet many other issues.

If you see any signs of a lung injury, it is highly recommended that you take your pet to the vet rather than try any home remedies.

How Long Does it Take For a Shell to Heal?

After a shell fracture, it will take approximately 12 weeks for it to heal completely. The larger the fracture doesn’t necessarily mean it will take any longer to heal. The problem with a sizeable fractured shell comes with an infection that can take your tortoise or turtle longer to recover.

How Do Tortoises’ and Turtles’ Shells Grow?

Both tortoise and turtle are born with a much softer shell than it later becomes, but it still offers them plenty of protection.

Other animals shed their skin; however, this is not the case with turtles or tortoises; the shell they are born with grows with them their whole life.

The shell is the exoskeleton that grows at the same pace as the tortoise and turtle’s overall growth. Overfeeding them will cause their body to grow too fast, causing what is called pyramiding, and the reason it is essential to get their diet correct.

The shell comprises what looks like individual plates, which are called scutes, and they grow over time and overlap. Turtle scutes do shed; however, tortoises remain growing and overlapping their whole life.

How Can You Fix a Tortoise Shell?

The biggest thing you want to achieve when dealing with a broken shell is infection prevention. The shell of tortoises and turtles has an extraordinary way of self-healing, and very little help will be needed.

However, an open wound will be near impossible to keep clean and sterile while the shell has time to heal, and the reason a visit to the veterinarian is advisable.

Smaller cracks are much easier to deal with, and a simple plaster may be all that is needed. Larger cracks will need something more permanent carried out by a vet to cover just as we would if we broke our arm.

I would highly recommend a visit to the veterinarian on the discovery of any cracks on the shell; they can advise on how they believe it has happened and ways to prevent it from happening again.

They will be the only people who can offer medication to prevent infections from open wounds that could possibly be needed.

Why Do Tortoises and Turtles Have Shells?

There is no real evidence of why a tortoise and turtles have shells and why they evolved to have them. However, the only real explanation for the development would be to protect their bodies from predatory attacks.

Scientists are always trying to discover why they have their shell and recent discovery in eunotosaurus africanus of a turtle fossil. This is the first-ever discovery of a turtle without a shell and could lead biologists to discover why turtles have shells finally.


We discovered that tortoises and turtles will die a painful death if you ever removed their shell. I have heard many horror stories about how people have tried to remove their tortoise or turtle from their shells. It is so vital that you never attempt to do the same.

Keeping their enclosures clean and removing hazards along with a balanced diet, you should have minimal problems with your tortoise or turtle shell.

When you find any cracks on your shell, it is highly recommended to visit the vets to get the best care for your turtle or tortoise. I would act cautiously if you ever find a crack to get advice from an expert.

A poor diet can cause cracks on a shell, and a vet will be able to pinpoint this and offer some friendly advice. Seeing your tortoise munching on a strawberry can seem cool, but this habit can cause the diet to be misbalanced.