So many of you have already heard that turtles without shells can not survive. And it is true that tortoises and turtles can not live without their shells.

What does include in their shell?

Their rib cage and skin are both included in the shell. Vertebrates can not live without these parts of their anatomy.

It is easy to assume that why can not they live without the shell, however, species like hermit crabs are famous pets and popular for their ability to crawl out of the old shell and make a new one when they outgrow it.

But the difference between turtles and hermit crabs is that their shell is not attached to their bodies, while the turtles have attached shell to their bodies. Moreover, their bodies do not have the ability to again make these shells. Even hermit crabs can use the body shells of other invertebrates that are expired.

Five Reasons Why Turtles Without Shells Won’t Survive

Reason #1: It’s Their Skeletal System

Reason #2: It’s Their Skin

Reason #3: It’s Their Self Defense

Reason #4: It Helps Them Absorb Heat

Reason #5: It Helps Them Absorb UV Light

What a Turtle Looks Like Without Its Shell

Five Reasons Why Turtles Without Shells Won’t Survive

The shell of turtles and tortoises not only functions as a Testudines skin and body but also act as a protector for physical protection from potential predators. The turtle shell also plays an essential part in the Testudines (turtles and tortoises) sunbathing habits.

Mostly, the turtles have no other defence system to protect themselves from the predators and can not avoid themselves from becoming predator’s meal without the turtle shell.

Now you know that turtles can not survive without their shell. Next, we are going to give you the reasons that why turtles can not survive without their shells. Keep reading.

Reason #1: It’s Their Skeletal System

Turtle’s shell is the part of their body, the spine and rib cage are fused with the carapace which is the upper portion of the turtle shell. The bottom portion of the turtle shell called a plastron contains unique bones that are comparable to inscriptional ribs in crocodilians and clavicles and serum of the other four-limbed animals.

The rib cage contains shoulder blades, which mark themselves different from the other vertebrates. All other lines are present underneath the skin in the turtle’s head and limb. The growth and health of a turtle’s shell can be directly affected by the deficiency of vitamin D. Just like vitamin D causes weakness of bones in other animals that do not contain the shell.

A cracked or broken turtle shell is just like a large gash in your skin or broken ribs. If a turtle misses its shell that means that the rib cage, spine and about 50 different bones of turtles are missing.

Reason #2: It’s Their Skin

Sometimes it is difficult to understand the components and overall structure of a turtle shell. The turtle shell includes skin, bones (rib cage) and a unique anatomical structure.

The turtle’s bones merged together, creating a structure known as dermal plates. Dermal plates perform a role in hardening the skin that resembles the bone. A layer of avascular skin covers the dermal plates and covers the turtle’s body.

The scutes of turtles are made up of keratin, it is the same material that makes your nails. Scutes have a role in protecting the sensitive and delicate skin and the dermal plates that are present below from the bruises and scrapes. Scutes are arranged in a manner that they overlap the sutures, dermal plates and other bones. They do not align with them, and this structure provides additional stability.

It is not the same for all the turtles because the turtle shell varies from species to species. As leatherback turtles, softshell turtles and some other species do not possess the gelatinous skin that is called scutes. Instead, leathery skin covered their bones that help them to glide through the water without any effort.

There are about seven various surprising facts that differentiate tortoises and turtles. The scutes on some turtles shed as they grow up. And if there is no skin on the turtle’s shell, their fragile dermal plates and nerves endings may expose them to trauma and bacteria. Just like humans can not survive without their skin, similarly, turtles are unable to survive without their shells.

Reason #3: It’s Their Self Defense

Turtle without shell

The most important purpose of the turtle shell is self-defence. Sometimes the turtles have both plastron and carapace together that completely encloses the vulnerable parts of the turtle’s body. While the other species can not retract into their shell, but their bony shell acts as a protector over the fleshy and soft skin of the potential prey around them.

The shells of turtles also evolve because of anatomical changes that play a role to help the early ancestors be great diggers. The ribs of the turtles flattened and broadened over time to provide stability and strength to their forelimbs, but this impaired the ability to flee and move quickly.

All the species have ways to save themselves from predators such as speediness, camouflage and thick skin. So here is another reason why turtles can not live without their shells.

Reason #4: It Helps Them Absorb Heat

The turtle shell also plays a role in absorbing the heat in the sun. Turtle shells also protect the inside of turtles from quickly overheating and dehydrating in the direct sunlight.

When it comes to exposure to viruses, bacteria, fungus and trauma can not cause the demise of them without the shell. The internal organs of the turtles will dehydrate under the sun before they could absorb enough heat for their body to function smoothly. It is the answer, why they can not live without the shells.

Reason #5: It Helps Them Absorb UV Light

Do you know that if you paint the turtles it can make them sick? Yes, It’s true because the turtle shell is made up of the skin partially and plays an essential role in absorbing the ultraviolet radiations. Turtle shell also plays a main role in synthesizing vitamin D.

The deficiency of vitamin D may cause metabolic bone disease (MBD) by interfering with the calcium levels in the animal body. Without the shell, turtles do not have the ability to absorb sufficient amounts of ultraviolet radiation because it does not have enough skin surface to absorb UV rays. They will face the same difficulty as wild turtles do because they have painted shells which cause them to sick and even dead.

Just like when humans do not receive any exposure to sunlight and receive vitamin D3 in the diet, they can not survive. Similarly, turtles can not survive without their shells.

What a Turtle Looks Like Without Its Shell

Turtle without Shell

You might be wondering how turtles and tortoises will look without the turtle shell. It is similar to other animals without the skin or an animal ready for dissection in a biology lab.

Without the turtle shell, you can see all the internal structures and organs. In fact, they will be exposing everything such as bacteria, dry air, all the predators, and even they might get injured when falling.

Moreover, if you look back 260 million years ago. You can see the prehistoric ancestors of the turtles such as Odontochelys semitestacea. This animal is a perfect example of how a turtle without its shell looks.

The ribs and body of the turtles are already broadened, and the lower ribs are fused into a plastron but the carapace is not yet developed.

They do not have carapace and teeth and because of this, they have a close resemblance to our modern-day chelonians.


Turtle shells are an essential part of the turtle’s body. They play an important role in their life such as protection and also protects them from ultraviolet radiations etc. Now you know that turtles can not survive without their shells. It is essential for their self-defence.

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