Are Turtles Born With Shells? When Do They Get Their Shells?

are turtles born with shells

Are turtles born with shells? is one of the questions that cross our mind at some point or another while looking at a turtle. 

The neck retracting is a trait of turtles that can astonish us all; this unique characteristic naturally makes us wonder whether turtles are born with shells or not? If they are born with it, is it hard or soft? Wouldn’t it be dangerous for the mother turtle, or wouldn’t it crack the eggshell? Does it grow with their age? etc. etc.

Well, a lot many questions might emerge when we start thinking about the origin of that hard shell on your pet turtle. Let’s explore the subject, “are turtles born with shells” further.


Are Turtles Born with Shells?

Yes, all turtles and tortoises are born with their shells. The shells of the newborn turtles work as their armor to protect themselves from other predatory animals. When they are born, it’s soft; they harden as they grow. 

Baby turtles have their limbs, tails, and heads sticking with their shell; evidently, it makes us believe that they are born with shells. 

However, do all types of turtles come with a shell since birth? What about the aquatic turtles that live under the water? 

The sea turtle is one of those species that mostly dwell in the aquatic environment, but are they born with their shells? 

Well! Though these turtles live underwater, the mother turtle comes out to marshy land to lay eggs. Thus, every turtle species are born on land with their shells.

However, the shell that turtles are born with is much softer than they eventually grow in adulthood. 

If the shell of the babies are softer, then how do they get protection? The protection needed for hatchlings is sufficiently served by their moderately softshell, and as they grow, their shell hardens, rendering solid protection against enemies. 

However, unlike other invertebrates, turtles are not capable of growing and molting new shells. Consequently, whatever they are born with, they have to carry it until they die. 


How Do Tortoises and Turtles Get Their Shells?


The scientific communities marvel at the puzzle, how do turtles get their hard shells? This puzzles the scientists and puzzles the commoner, especially when one takes care of a turtle.

Just like our bones, the principal component in a turtle shell is calcium phosphate. The fertilized eggs develop shells by fusing the rib bones and the backbones. The upper part, the carapace, is made of ribs fused with the dermal bone; the lower part, the plastron, covers the ventral surface; over the years, the bony turtle shells join together like tectonic plates to form the tough armor.

Thus the shell of a turtle or tortoise is a part of its exoskeleton. This exoskeletal part of their body grows as they mature. Their shell grows very nicely in proportion to their entire skeletal system. However, these shells can grow as big as turtles get; researchers have found a 3-meter long turtle shell in the northern part of South America, the present-day Amazon region.

If you notice minutely, you will see that the shell of land turtles is rounder and thicker; and the shell is covered like tectonic plates. However, the sea turtles have much softer shells than the land species; besides, the cover of a sea turtle’s shell has a leathery consistency. 

The plates covering the shell of land turtles are known as scutes, which grow with time and discard; however, they discard scutes, not the shell.

Can Tortoise and Turtles Get Out of Their Shells?

No, turtles or tortoises cannot get out of their shells. The shell of a turtle grows with the turtle; they are attached to its shells. And as already said, their shell is a part of their skeleton. So, it is impossible to remove a turtle from its shell without hurting. 

If some crazy attempt to pull out a turtle or tortoise, it will cause a lot of pain to the creature, eventually leading to its death. Hence, never be so cruel to go into experimenting with your thoughts; yes, it would be cruel to try to pull them out of their armor!

Although turtles cannot get out of their shell, they can retract inside! They can easily fold all their limbs and retreat inside their armor. Also, some turtle species, such as leatherback, softshell have the superpower to tighten their shell so hard that it prevents anything from getting inside; they have no rigid ring of bone around the edge of the carapace, making it possible for them to squeeze into tight space. What a great way to take a break from the maddening world!


How Do Tortoise and Turtle Shells Grow?

Unlike other invertebrates and crustaceans, tortoises and turtles do not grow new shells and discard the old ones; for example, shrimps molt and grow new shells every time they grow. In lieu, the tough shells grow as the turtles grow because the shell is part of the exoskeleton, and it grows just the same as the rest of the skeletal system.

The plates covering the shells, otherwise known as scutes over time, sheds and grows new layers in the turtle by overlapping; however, tortoises never shed these scutes; they keep growing overlapping as they age thicker and thicker.

Well, their shell covers are made of keratin, which helps them protect their shells or a leather-textured surface for their cartilage shells.

Thus, turtles need an adequate amount of calcium to maintain their shell’s healthy growth properly, as the primary element in a turtle or tortoiseshell is calcium phosphate. Besides, turtles and tortoises also require various other minerals and vitamins in their diet to develop a strong shell that aligns with the size and pace of their body growth.

It puzzled the entire scientific community why turtles or tortoises have such a shell until a recent discovery of some ancient fossils of turtles revealing that they didn’t have any armor. It evolved into their body structure slowly, first the bottom part, the plastron, and then the upper part, carapace into a solid armor to protect themselves from the predators. This armor also helps them stay underwater for a longer duration.

Do Tortoise and Turtle Change Their Shells?

No, tortoises and turtles cannot change their shells. They are born with it that they have to carry till their death. 

Unlike other reptiles and crustaceans, these reptiles cannot shed their shell to grow a newer one. But some turtles shed off their old scutes to form new stronger ones. However, it is to be noted here that only the layer of scutes shed off, not the entire shell. Whereas, Tortoises never shed their shells; it keeps growing and overlapping growing older.


Do Tortoises and Turtles Die if Their Shells are Broken?

Since tortoises and turtles are born with their shells, what will happen to them if their innate cover gets damaged or broken? Would they die if their armors break? 

Well, even if the broken shell is a threat to the life of a turtle, it won’t die. Turtles will brilliantly survive with a crack or breakage in their cover. It simply means that the turtle’s body has now opened up. But if such injuries are left untouched or untreated, then the turtles might contract infections. 

Sometimes due to poor diet and unsanitary water conditions, turtles get broken shells. It can cause rotting of their shell, which can be life-threatening for both turtles and tortoises. 

If your turtles do not get sufficient sunlight, it can cause various deadly diseases and abnormalities of shells. Also, a deficit of calcium can lead to shell ulcers or broken shells in turtles. 

Shell rot can also indicate kidney damage, liver disease, or thyroid issues in a turtle. So, if the turtles suffer from any internal wear and go unnoticed, then broken shells can cause their death. 

Supposing you find a turtle with a broken shell, do not delay and offer them the proper care and treatment.


Related Readings:

What Do Turtles Do In The Winter? Do They Hibernate Or Migrate?

Can My Turtle Drown? How Long Can A Turtle Hold Its Breath?

What to Do When a Tortoise or Turtle Shell is Broken?

Supposing you find a turtle with a broken shell, do not delay and offer them the proper treatment.

The very first thing that you should do is take your turtle to a reptile vet. The vet will adopt proper methods for pain management of your turtle and prescribe the necessary medications to check on the infection and repair of the shell

If the veterinary clinic is far away, ask for online consultation from him, showing your pet. In other words, do not delay and waste time; you wouldn’t want to leave any chance to offer a cure to your little turtle as it might allow your pet to revive.

With proper treatment for pain management and infection control, your turtle will get some relief from pain. Apart from offering administering antibiotics and other medications, it is essential to provide your turtle calcium and vitamin-rich natural diet so that they can heal and develop a sturdy shell.

In case the injury in their shell affects their spinal cord, then you might have to make your turtle undergo rehabilitation sessions too. The shell repairs are typically done using bridges formed of plastic/ metal brackets or zip ties.

Using bridges will offer more stability to the fractures. Bridges are glued on either side of the turtle’s shell to prevent it from moving. 

This method is better for helping turtles or tortoises as this promotes their natural healing ability. But the fact is mobile wounds of shells never heal, which is why this method is claimed to be a reliable one by specialists. 

In general, a turtle undergoing such treatment needs constant monitoring for a few weeks, sometimes even months; hence, the ailing turtle needs to stay with the vet, experienced hands; until ready, you would want to take the back seat. 

You would also want to take all the necessary instructions from your vet for taking proper care of them after their treatment. 


Are Turtles born with shells? A Wrap-Up

Are turtles born with shells? The question is fascinating; notwithstanding, these species are full of mysteries; their behaviors set them apart from other reptiles. 

If you spot a turtle or tortoise, be assured that they are blessed with an intrinsic strong shell as a means of protection since their birth. Remember, it has taken millions of years of intelligence to develop such an armor; if you care for them in your tank, ensure to offer them a proper diet and keep the tank water clean to prevent it from growing any possible cracks or damage in their shells.

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