Turtle shell shedding

Filed under aquarium, health, pet care, red ear slider turtles, turtle tank, turtles

Many people don’t know that turtles shed their shells as they grow.

Turtle shells

Turtle shells are made of keratin, which is the same material fingernails are made of. Turtle shells grow in separate sections (or pieces), which are called scutes. Scutes grow in layers and build up outwards, with the oldest scute layers on the outside.

Turtle shell pyramiding

During periods of fast growth, such as when pet turtles are subjected to overfeeding by their owners, the shell scutes layer up quicker and more rapidly than it would naturally. This is called pyramiding, which is unhealthy and unnatural. It should be noted that some turtle species, such as some land tortoises, naturally have pyramided looking shells. In contrast, most aquatic turtles, such as red ear slider turtles, have smoother shells. It is to the smooth shelled turtle species in which pyramiding is not a normal nor healthy appearance..

Turtle shell shedding

In the process of growing new scute layers, turtles will shed their shells in time. This is a natural occurrence and not a sign of sickness or disease. Providing pet turtles the proper diet and environment, such as the proper humidity, basking areas, and temperatures will help turtles shed their shells and keep a healthy appearance.

Some turtles shed their shells in smaller pieces, some turtles shed their shells in larger pieces. You can usually tell when a turtle scute is about to be shed – the scutes look like they have air or space underneath them. Sometimes, when you press on them, water from underneath the scute will squeeze out. But that doesn’t mean a scute is about to fall off – it can still take more time before the scute will completely separate from a turtle’s shell.


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24 Comments for this entry

  • Tom

    Thanks for the information above. My Red Ear Slider has lost 3 scutes today and I was worried. But the new scutes underneath are a very dark brown but hard and smooth. It actually looks healthier than pieces that came off. Does this sound normal?
    thanks

  • patricia clary

    my redeared slider looks very healthy and eats good and he has lost 2 scutes right beside each other and nothing underneathe yet ,is that normal? he seems to be fine.

  • jessie

    My red eared has an almost flat shell. Looks healthy. He is 7 yrs old. Got him when he was 5. He has only shed two times. I also have a yellow belly. She is aprox. 3 yrs old. Got her about 2 and a half yrs ago. She has only shed one time. She has tripled her size since i have had her. Her shell is very large and bumpy. I put the shell protectant stuff on them every so often, but i am conserned. How often should they shed? Her shell does apear to have growth rings. What can i do to help her? ( the yellow belly)

    • forlogos

      You don’t have to worry, so long as they are able to bask long and warm enough to get their turtle shells dry.. Most of the time the shedding goes unnoticed, similar to the way we shed our skin. It doesn’t always fall out in large chunks.

      Your Red ear slider sounds like it has a very natural (in the wild vs. captive) shell, congrats! Do you know what it was fed and how often when it was a hatchling?

  • Finne Chordata

    my red eared slider is about 7 or 8, and shes very shy. she does bask, but maybe not as much as she should. one day i was cleaning her shell, and notices all of these layers of old scutes kinda built up. i put my nail under one, and it just kinda peeled off about 3 layers… she didnt seem to mind, she was kinda just sitting there looking at me. should i peel those old layers off? or will that hurt her?

    • forlogos

      Your pet turtle is 7-8 inches or years old? It’s best to let the shell scutes fall off naturally on their own. Do you know why turtle is basking as much as you think it should? Is its shell able to get completely dry?

  • Carlos Nogales

    my turtle has a little line on top of his shell almost like a spine is that pyramiding or is that natural? I have no idea of his age but he is six inches. also she seems to be shedding her under shell but whenever i touch it she claws at me and i dont know if that is because she wants back in her cage (she is very very shy and runs and hides alot) or because she is in pain. another thing that worries me is that she runs herself into the side of the cage and acts like shes swimming. also, i bought her one of those floating rocks that she can climb onto to lay in the sun but she never does and i get worried and put her on the rock and she just goes back in the water. Sorry but another thing is that she makes a hissing noise when she re tracks into her shell should i be worried? should i take her to a vet?

    • Finne Chordata

      Red Eared Sliders shed all over the place, its normal to shed under the shell. They are usually uncomfortable with people tuching their underbellys because they feel kinda vulnerable there, so most of the time its because she doesnt like it, not because shes in pain. My turtle does that all the time, i think they do that because theyre bored… And, my turtle used to not bask all of the time. Your turtle may actually be doing most of her basking at night if you keep it on through the night. Ever since my turtrle tank was put in my room, ive been turning the lamp down at night, so she basks all the time during the day now. If thats not it then she may not be comfortable with how close the lamp is or something. And dont worry about the hissing, they do that whenever you do something that they dont like. My turtle usually hisses at me when i clean her shell (she also tries to bite me); when i move too fast or whenever i pick her up. Hope this helps. ^^

    • forlogos

      Nothing sounds alarming.. You should find out what kind of pet turtle you have to find out if it’s appearance is normal. There are soooooo many kinds of turtles out there.

      What you need to do tho is to properly setup your pet turtles habitat, including proper basking areas and temperatures. And let your pet turtle be a turtle… They typically do not like being held, enjoy them from behind he glass.

  • Carlos Nogales

    Thanks alot it does help to know this because i leave my light on all night in case she likes to tan last minute same with my fish. Should i buy her a boyfriend they are only ten bucks or will she get all territorial?

  • Finne Chordata

    If you want to, normally they wont get erritorial because they all would share the same pond in the wild. Your turtle sounds alot like mmy turtrle, very shy and stuff. Shes not territorial at all, i put a baby and an adult male in the tank with her and for the most part they ignored each other. be sure to have lots of free basking space because sometimes the larger ones will bully the smaller ones.

    • forlogos

      just keep an eye out on them tho, sometimes they stay peaceful with each, other times they change and you need to take action. Ponds in the wild are exponentially larger than the typical pet turtle aquarium.

  • lydia

    I have two turtles and micheal angelo and jc. I dont know what they are they were given to me bc if i didnt take them they wouldve died. So they are rescued. Im worried about my little on jc she she about 3-4 inches long. And she doesnt bask any more. She used to in the beginning. She hides under the stairs all the time and comes out maybe twice a day. I can catch her everyonce eating but only hope that is normal bc the bigger one is alway bothering her.
    This is my first time ive seen micheal angelo shed n i was scare. But i did my research before i did anything. He seems to wiggle of my hand when i was checking him out. He is usually active but that last couple of hours he been relax and quite. Is that normal and how do i tell if its normal shedding or abnormal shedding.
    How can i tell when they are sick. How can i make sure they are a happy an healthy turtles.

    • Lea

      my turtle has red on the sides and his name is Raphael. On his shell he has an orange stripe then a black one right next to it and on the bottom he is yellow with I think 8 black dots 4 on each side and today he shed a piece of his shell, I was cleaning his tank and I was rubbing his shell so it wouldn’t be all slimy and a piece came off as I was doing that I didn’t know he was even shedding he’s two years old and I just got him two months ago. but where that piece came off some of it is dark and there’s a small piece when its white… is this normal??? will it get darker??

  • forlogos

    the first step is to make sure they are living properly. Read this and follow the recommendations How to have a healthy pet turtle = set up your turtle tank properly for your turtle species.

    Also, if one turtle is not eating, separate them when you feed them – take one out of the tank to eat.

  • shirley

    I’m a first time turtle owner, I’m not sure if my turtle is a western or an eastern. it has a line on its back like an eastern but it has all the markings and colors of a western. is there any change that it could be both.

  • Shirley

    It’s got a redish orange and some yellow color around the outer shell. The head part of the turtle has yellow with a hint of color. It has a darkish line on the back of the turtles shells. The bottom of the turtle is a redish orange with same black and yellow markings

    • forlogos

      The line on the back makes me want to say that you have a southern painted turtle. Do you have clear photos you can share?

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