Can A Turtle Survive Without Its Shell?

Can A Turtle Survive Without Its Shell
Written by Mehwish Imtiaz

Can you survive without your sturdy rib cage? Or, let’s do it in other words. Is it possible for you to stay a minute without your skin?

The answer must be No. The same is the case with the turtle.

Turtles cannot survive without their shell. Without their shell, they would be too weak to walk and protect themselves.

In this article, we will discuss all the possibilities in which a turtle can live without its shell. However, before starting that, we need to discuss why the turtle’s shell is essential for its survival. So, let us discuss everything in a good flow.

Nature has never created anything useless. There is always a question of why there has to be a shell to slow down the pace of these cute little creatures. However,  for turtles, if there is no shell, one simple blow can end their lives.

Apart from this, there can also be other benefits. Some are as under.

  1. Turtle has its ribs and spinal cord into the hard shell outer core. The inner part of the shell protects the vital organs, including the heart, lungs, and GIT.
  2. The turtle protects itself using its shell. You must have seen a tortoise or turtle retract into their shell when they sense danger. A shell also provides them a nice camouflage in the environment to protect them from predators. No predator is strong enough to bite into the turtle’s shell.
  3. Apart from protection, a shell is also an excellent storehouse for food and water. Moreover, it also accumulates the turtle’s wastes. It can contain calcium, sodium, magnesium, carbon dioxide, phosphate, and multiple other substances.

Where Did Their Shell Come From?

You will be surprised to know that a turtle’s shell is not an extra set of hardcore on the top of the body. In fact, it is the extension of the ribs and spinal cord which somehow developed so much that it formed a hard shell.

It is not yet discovered that how a turtle’s shell evolved. However, it is for sure that evolution has something to do with the turtle’s survival. One theory suggests that broadening of rib cage affects increasing the comfort level of the turtle. Some say these species were strangled in a place where there was insufficient oxygen. Therefore, they ended up increasing their air cavity to increase the ventilation.

Some old turtle species have only the outer part of the shell. However, they evolved to form the inner part to increase the protection and store wastes.

Now, once you know the importance of shells for turtles, you can easily comprehend our main topic discussion.

Can You Remove A Turtle's Shell?

For live turtles, it is a big No!

You can never remove a turtle’s shell and still keep it alive. It is the same as removing your spine and rib cage and asking you to stay fit and healthy.

The following reasons will easily justify my statement.

It Has Nerve Endings:

As described earlier, the turtle’s shell has a spinal cord fused into it. So, it also has multiple nerve endings. It is similar to a bony structure with nerves. A turtle can easily feel if something is riding its top. Likewise, it can feel if the shell is removed from the body.

The Vessels And Bones Connect The Body!

The blood vessels and bones present in the shell connect to the whole body. Therefore, if you try to remove anything from the shell, the damage will connect directly to the vital organs of the body.

The Spinal Cord Is The Problem!

No vertebrate can live without a spinal cord. The spinal cord coordinates with all the tissues and muscles of the body, thus helping them move. Also, it helps to generate reflex movements that are essential for a turtle’s survival. So, if you think a turtle in any way can live without a spinal cord, you may need to rethink.

Its Skin!

Yes, a turtle’s shell is the first and most important defense of a turtle. It is the same as your skin. Can any human or animal live without skin? Obviously, not. The same goes for a turt and tortoise.

Ph Buffering:

All living organisms have some buffering mechanism in them. For example, in humans, it is in the kidney and lungs. The buffering mechanism keeps the blood and other body fluids in the ph on which body functions best. Otherwise, any change in that can destroy the whole metabolic system.

For turtles, this buffering system rests in their shells. Without the shell, no turtle can maintain a good Hydrogen balance in its body.

It Stores All!

As discussed earlier, the shell also serves as a storehouse of multiple minerals and elements, including waste products. All of these substances are crucial for their survival.

Shell Keep Them Alive:

Turtles have hundreds of predators not only in the sea but also on land. They strive hard to keep them alive for the next day. In this struggle, the shell is their only safe house. Turtles can not only retract their legs into the shell but also their face.

No animal predator can hunt them inside that no matter how hard it tries. So, no turtle can survive the deadly surroundings packed with the animals ready to swallow them in one gulp without a shell.

Can Turtles Shed Their Shells?

You may find a turtle’s shell in the wild and have multiple questions in mind. Did a turtle leave its shell? Is it dead, or has it hidden somewhere? Let us discuss this aspect too before ending our discussion

“No, turtles do not shed or leave their shells.”

However, a turtle can easily break or fracture its shell. A shell is a bony structure of a turtle. Like you can break your bone, a turtle can break its shell from severe trauma.

A shell injury is widespread in turtles. They can happen from falling from a great height or being hit by a strong force. In many cases, a turtle’s shell can repair itself quickly, but it takes some time. Let us discuss a few common turtle shell injuries.

Turtle Shell Injuries:

There can be multiple types of injuries to the turtle’s shell. However, the most common of them are as follows:

  • Losing Shell Pieces
  • Depression Fractures

Losing Shell Pieces

Losing shell fragments or pieces is common in turtles. Losing small pieces might not be a big problem. However, if your turtle loses a huge fragment, it can also be fatal. Therefore, contact your vet immediately if you see any injury to your turtle’s shell. The vet will take radiographs to assess the severity of the injury.

Depression Fracture

Depression fracture results from being hit by solid blows with tremendous pressure. It usually results in a fracture in the midline of the shell. If the fracture is not very severe and the spinal cord stays intact, the turtle can self-heal.

However, a severe injury to the spinal cord can also be fatal for a turtle’s survival.


You see, a shell is a vital part of a turtle. You cannot remove it in any case. Even shell injuries can be lethal for your pet’s survival.

I hope this article helped you get your answer very clearly. In case of any further queries, you may drop the comment.