Can Turtles Feel Their Shell? (& Feel THROUGH Their Shell?)

Turtles are equipped with a super solid suit-of-armor-like shell that protects their internal organs.

But can they feel through their shells?

We’ll be discussing everything about shell sensitivity in various turtle species in this article.

Key Takeaway:

The shell of a turtle is made up of pieces of keratin scutes. A turtle can feel its shell and everything that happens on it because of the nerve endings in it. It will feel what touches its shell like humans feel what happens on their fingernails.

A turtle shell may look rock hard, but how much can a turtle feel through it? You’ll find out more about the turtle and tortoise’s shell coming up next in this article.

tortoise in its shell

Can Turtles Feel Their Shell?

All turtles are kitted out with the best suit of armor – their shells. This solid layer of protection keeps their vital organs out of harm’s way and some turtles can even tuck their heads and legs under their shells when under threat.

Turtle shells look pretty tough.

But, what are they made of?

The turtle’s shell consists of a layer of individual pieces of scutes made of keratin. These keratin layers shield the turtle’s vital organs.

Turtles are covered by robust shells. But are these shells so tough that a turtle can’t feel through them or…

Can turtles feel through their shells?

The answer to this question might surprise you!

Do Turtles Feel Their Shell?

A turtle’s shell looks like a solid lifeless shield.

Do turtles have feelings in their shells?

Yes, turtles feel everything that touches their shells just like you would feel scratching on your fingernails. Their shells contain nerve endings which means turtles feel pain through their shells, so make sure you are always gentle with your turtle, no matter where you touch it!

A turtle’s shell is attached to its body and is essential for life. A turtle cannot live without its shell.

Now, we’ve spoken about turtle shells in general. So, let’s find out more about some different turtle species and how they feel when you touch their shells.

We’ll be considering the following types of turtles.

  • Box turtles
  • Snapping turtles
  • Sea turtles

The Box Turtle’s Shell

Box turtles have a really cool shell design that allows them to tuck their head and limbs away out of sight. The shell is hinged, low and helps it protect itself from predators.

Box turtles have a brown carapace and a dark brown plastron.

The box turtle’s shell is an integral part of its body. It is covered in a thick layer of scutes made out of keratin.

The turtle can continue to grow more and more layers of scutes throughout its lifespan.

Although the box turtle’s shell looks indestructible, it is sensitive and they can feel pain through it. Box turtles feel everything that touches their shell because their shells are covered in nerve endings.

Cracked shells and damaged shells can cause infections, and diseases, and can even be life-threatening to your box turtle, as they would be to any other species of turtle. And damage to their shell would be extremely painful for the turtle.

If your box turtle has a shell problem, make sure you take him to the vet immediately.

The Snapping Turtle’s Shell

Snapping turtles are tough creatures that are not afraid to defend themselves when they are in danger (hence their names). Snapping turtles have super-powerful jaws and very mobile heads and necks.

These animals lay low in muddy, shallow water with their mouths open looking for fish to prey on.

The snapping turtle’s shell is covered in ridges, especially the juvenile and baby turtles. These ridges wear down as the turtle gets older.

The upper half of the shell is rough and the bottom half of it is cross-shaped. Its shell can measure up to 50 cm in length.

This turtle may seem unbeatable, but their shell is covered in nerve endings which means it can feel pain just like other animals. A hard shell protects the turtle’s vital organs so any damage to it would be detrimental to the turtle.

This turtle has a highly flexible neck and head and it also has a slightly volatile nature. Do not touch the turtle’s body or approach the turtle from behind.

If you have to move it, do not lift it by its tail as this can harm the turtle and cause it to strike at you.

Sea Turtles and Their Shells

turtle shell

The sea turtle’s shell is unique. It cannot retract its head and limbs into its shell like a land turtle can.

There is no difference in size between male and female turtles. You cannot tell the sex of sea turtles by looking at the markings on their shells like you can with other turtle species.

Sea turtles, just like land turtles are sensitive creatures that feel pain and notice everything that touches their shells. Their shells are incredibly sensitive because they are covered in a thin layer of many nerve endings.

Sea turtle shells are made up of two layers. One layer has flattened bone plates that gradually interlock with the ribs as the baby sea turtle gets older.

The other layer is made up of keratin scales called scutes. This is the same protein that is in our hair and nails.

The only exception is with the leatherback sea turtle that does not have keratin scutes. Unlike the hard shells of other sea turtles, this turtle has a waxy, leather-like shell.

Leatherback sea turtles feel everything on their shells just like other turtles do.

Interesting Facts About Tortoise and Turtle Shells

People tend to think that a turtle shell because it looks hard and lifeless, is completely indestructible. But is that true?

Can a turtle feel its shell?

Here is a list of turtle and tortoise shell facts that you will love.

  • Most turtles can retract their heads and limbs under their shells except a few species like sea turtles
  • Turtles can feel their shell because of the nerve endings in them. This means your pet can feel it when he has his shell rubbed.
  • Most tortoise shells and turtles are made of keratin, the same material that is in human fingernails and hair. Some turtles, like the leatherback sea turtle, do not have a hard shell.
  • The shell colors of red-eared sliders get slightly darker as the turtle grows. Hatchlings are normally leafy green.
  • Blood vessels run through a turtle shell
  • Illegal markets use tortoise shells to make eyeglass frames, jewelry, combs, and other items
  • Turtles continuously grow new scutes under old scutes. Aquatic turtles shed their old scutes.
  • The turtle’s spine and rib cage are fused into its shell. Turtles shells grow with the turtle.
turtle shell diseases 2

The Guide to Touching Your Pet Turtle

Many pet animals enjoy it when you stroke them and crave human attention.

But what about pet turtles?

Should you stroke them? Can they feel it and where should you touch them?

We’ll be answering all your questions about touching your pet turtle in this next section.

Can Turtles Feel Their Shell Being Pet?

Turtle shells are full of nerve cells that help them to feel what is happening on their shell. Turtles can feel when they have their shells scraped or rubbed.

Make sure you are gentle when touching your turtle’s shell like you would when touching another pet.

Do Turtles Like Having Their Shell Rubbed?

There is no easy way of answering this question as all turtles are different. Some turtles will enjoy having their shells scratched lightly, but others will be indifferent and will not like this.

Turtles generally do not look for human affection but they can become more used to it if you handle them often.

So, how can you know what to do?

Make a note of how your turtle reacts to having his shell touched before you continue to pet him. Always approach him from in front so he can see you and you will not startle him.

Be gentle when touching his shell, remember, he can feel everything on it. Asides from petting him on the shell, he may also like it if you stroke him gently on the top of the head or the back of the neck.

Is It OK to Touch a Turtle’s Shell?

Dogs and cats like to be stroked and given attention.

But what about a turtle? Is it ok to stroke or touch a turtle’s shell?

Many turtles either enjoy human interaction or are unconcerned about it. Therefore, it is entirely up to you whether you choose to pet your turtle or not.

But there are some things you will need to bear in mind when touching a turtle’s shell to ensure you stay safe.

  • Always approach the turtle from the front. Make sure he sees you before you reach out and touch him. This will ensure you do not frighten him.
  • Always wash your hands after touching your turtle. Your turtle may carry salmonella. Make sure you wash your hands after feeding him, touching him, or cleaning out his enclosure.
  • Snapping turtles have an aggressive nature. Do not attempt to pet this turtle as it has a very flexible head and neck and strong jaws that could injure you if it were to bite you.
  • Alligator snapping turtles are also dangerous. Treat them with the same caution as you would a regular snapping turtle.

The Sensitivity of a Turtle Shell

The shell is an integral part of the turtle’s body. Although the shell of a turtle looks insensitive, this article has helped us to see that this is not the case.

Turtles can feel their shell and everything that happens on it thanks to the nerve endings that run through it. They can feel it when they have their shells rubbed by you.

Always be gentle when touching your turtle’s skin or shell the same way you would with any other animal.

Did you find the information in this article helpful?

At Oddly Cute Pets, we always strive to provide you with the best facts about the shell of a turtle, tortoise, and the best tips on keeping turtles and tortoises. For more help for turtle owners and guides about other animals, make sure you check out our website.

Thanks for reading!

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