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.


  1. 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?

  2. 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.

  3. 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)

    1. 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?

  4. 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?

    1. 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?

      1. Shes 7 years old. Its strange because she basks all the time now but when she was little i would hardly see her bask at all.

  5. 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?

    1. 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. ^^

    2. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

    1. 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.

  8. 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.

    1. 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??

      1. it’s definitely normal. Shell grows in layers, so you usually won’t be able to identify where it came from.

        The white tho, could be shell rot or something else. does it smell or some out?

        1. My turtle has a whitish line down the middle of his back I think it’s shedding but not sureIMG_2084.jpg

    2. shedding is normal. Find out what kind of turtles you have and make their home fit what they need.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

    1. no, no chance that your pet turtle is both. What are the colors of the markings on the shell?

  11. 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

    1. 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?

  12. We have had a pet yellow.bellied for 8 yrs now. She has gotten buge! Rehular diet of fresh fruit and leafy greens, pellets and fish- the ocational shrimp or frog. She sheds alot during.the warmer months and very little is cooler. She has out-grown all of the tanks i have put her in. Now shes in my backyard in a garden tub! Filtration and basking areas with plenty of room to swim. We take her out for bout 4-6 hrs weekly to roam about the yard or house. We did have 2 soft-shelled water turtle hatchling, in a seperate.take along with 2 new yellow another tank. We intoduced them and our older turtle went after the soft-shelled ones. Is that normal? She has never tried to snap at anything excepmy sisters catt for food. She plays with our dogs.and my sisters cat is always fishing in her.tub bitten.

    1. some turtles species are territorial (not sure if yours are). If it persists, you should keep them separate

  13. My turtle has been shedding alot lately but I did research and it was because I just got her a new tank. But like I said she has been shedding alot and on the places where they’ve fallen off there is little whiteflakes that kindda look like scaly dandruff. She has shedded alot but now I’ve been paying alot of attention. I think she’s shed her whole shell before but now she’s only got the back off and is working on the front. She has been basking more often and dosent go into the water to eat much. I’ve read this thread for help and read that you guys wash you’re turtles shells I haven’t done that before, should I start. Just to help u she was a wild turtle but we kept her she eats reptomin pelets mainly. Can u help is she ill or is she fine? Please respond.

  14. Okay, okay I got a closer look at the scaly dandruff and when I touch it it falls off. I read the article above this thread and it said some turtles shed in smaller pieces but all the times she’s shed before she shed in one whole scute or patches of scutes. Oh and just to help you guys we think she’s a Eastern Painted Turtle. Please respond

    1. white flakes *might* be shell rot. Does it smell bad?

      Washing a turtle’s shell is optional. It’s usually better to just let them fall off on their own.

  15. I have a baby painted turtle from here in Minnesota. He is 8 months old and already the size of a 50 cent piece or maybe a bit larger… He eats a lot… I really don’t know what to do because now he started eatting part of the artificial plants if he doesn’t get a lot of his pellets… He eats between 5-7 pellets per day… But I haven’t started him on regular fruits and veggies yet.. So should I maybe start and cut him back? I noticed his scutes starting to pyramid so I thought I would ask…..

    Also how do you suggest preparing the fruits and veggies if they are store bought?

  16. Well I actually switched to night crawlers and less pellets and he is doing a lot better. Should I maybe add some time of conditioner for his shell to help his shell get back to normal?

    1. in my experience shell conditioners / treatments don’t work.

      Wow, you are a quick responder!!

  17. He does not take spinach or romaine yet.he is a year old now and 3.5 inch shell length. Other alternatives?

    Hi I have a red eared slider and I live in Asia in a place where herp vets aren’t very common. My turtle’s about 5 years old and his (I think he’s male) scutes have been appearing to come off for over 6 months now. The shedding had started everywhere all at once but then never completed.
    Some scutes came off and I forced 2 others off when I was scared as a mistake. But many appear to need to come off.
    Also, under the ones that came off the shell appeared to be healthy but only a few days later air bubbles appeared to form like how is he ready to shed that layer already? I read that excessive shedding could be fungal is this what’s wrong?
    Who do I ask for help I’m really scared about whether it is excessive shedding or improper/slow shedding. Should I feed him more vitamin E, more basking, do a fungal treatment, what?

    1. find out what the “air bubbles” are first. If it’s fungal, it would likely have a small.

    1. I’d say they keep them.

      I’ve never seen them loose a claw and can’t answer from experience.