We’ve probably all seen the cartoon turtle that pops out of his shell; this could be why so many people think that in real life turtles are not attached to their shells. However, this is a big myth. The truth of the matter is that turtles are indeed attached to their shells as they are connected to their backbone and ribs.
The top of a turtle’s shell is called the carapace and the bottom portion that encases the belly is known as the plastron. The part of the shell that connects these two together is known as the bridge. The carapace does not have scales; rather they are equipped with large sections that are called scutes. These scutes are made up of keratin (similar to a human’s fingernails). The cloaca is an opening in the body that is located underneath the tail. Through this opening, the turtle can perform fecal, urinary, and reproductive functions.
Contrary to what many people may believe, turtles can feel things that come in contact with their shells because they have nerve endings located there. They cannot however feel pain as they are not equipped with that particular type of nerve ending.
A turtle’s chest is different from a human’s chest. We humans expand our chests when we breathe and then our chest’s contract. This is done to pull in air and then release it. A turtle’s chest cannot do this because they have hard plastron. Instead, they breathe by inflating their lungs, which take up room inside of their shell.
No turtle is able to leave their shell and still be alive afterwards. If you have found a vacant turtle shell than the creature that once lived in it is in fact dead. They are attached to their shell, it is actually a part of their rib cage. This shell grows at the same rate as the rest of the turtle, so there is not really a concern for turtle’s becoming too fat for its shell. When the shell begins to look as if it is coming apart, it most likely means that it is growing and discarding portions of the old with incoming segments of the new shell. If the scutes come off in large layers or there are red or raw areas shed in some areas, then there is a problem with your turtle and a veterinarian should be consulted immediately.
As the turtle continues to grow you will notice a separation of the scutes as well as a lighter colored area between them on the plastron. This is common and completely normal. The area will also be softer than the surrounding scutes.
The inner layer of a turtle’s shell is actually made up of about 60 bones and includes portions of the backbone and ribs, which again means that they are unable to simply just climb out of their shells. Furthermore, a turtle’s scutes overlap the seams between the shell bones and add strength to the shell as well.