Are Tortoises Attached to Their Shells?

You may wonder, Are Tortoises Attached to Their Shells? If you do, you’ll learn what the shells do and why. Read on to learn about the structure of a tortoise’s shell and whether it will ever grow out of it. 

This article will give you an answer to these questions and more. Once you know the answer to all of these questions, you’ll be able to enjoy tortoises and their habitats.

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Are Tortoises Attached To Their Shells?

Although most people know that tortoises cannot survive without their shells, few of us actually understand why tortoises attach themselves to their shells. 

Tortoises have very intricate skeletons and shells that protect them from predators. While their shells do not actually consist of bones, they are very tightly attached to their bodies, and if they tried to separate the shell from the tortoises’ body, they would be severely injured. 

While tortoises cannot use negative pressure inside their chest cavity to breathe, they can breathe through the opening in their shells, known as a cloaca. 

This opening can also double as a set of gills, as it absorbs oxygen from the water. This cloaca is used for both eating and breathing. While hibernating, tortoises use their cloaca for breathing. 

Unlike most reptiles, tortoises’ shells contain a scaffold-like structure that helps them breathe without oxygen.

What Is The Purpose Of A Tortoise’s Shell?

Despite its placid nature, the tortoise shell offers little protection to the animal’s internal organs. Even though the shell is tough, it isn’t enough to prevent serious injury to the tortoise. 

The shell may rupture if you accidentally hit the tortoise, causing the animal pain and infection. If you do accidentally hit a tortoise, seek medical assistance immediately. Proper treatment may include antibiotics and painkillers.

See also  Why Do Tortoises Hibernate?

The shell is composed of two types of bone: skeletal and dermal. The former is made from accretion within the dermis, while the latter consists of cartilage. 

Both the clavicle and the shell are examples of dermal bones. Dermal bones are found in almost all animals. The purpose of a tortoise’s shell is to protect its internal organs, such as the lungs and heart.

What Is The Structure Of A Tortoise’s Shell?

The structure of a tortoise’s shell consists of three basic parts: the carapace, or the upper portion of the shell, and the plastron, or the lower part of the shell. The plastron is made up of nine bones and is connected to the carapace by bridges. 

The carapace is made up of scutes called gulars, which form a triangle shape near the neck and the plastron. There are also three other structures called pectoral scutes, which connect the plastron to the carapace.

A tortoise’s shell is made of a dense layer of bone called the carapace. The shell encloses its rib cage, dermal armor, and scutes. The shell protects the tortoise from attacks and bites from predators and is much stronger than a tortoise’s shell. 

In addition, the structure of a tortoise’s shell reflects the shape of the animal’s body. Its shell is not impenetrable, but its structure means it is extremely resilient to heavy weights and damage.

Will A Tortoise Grow Out Of Its Shell?

When a tortoise is injured, it usually develops a scar. While surface level shell cracks will heal on their own after a few weeks, deep shell cracks may require surgery. 

If left untreated, a deep shell crack can become a fatal infection, compromising the internal organs of the tortoise. If a shell crack develops on its surface, it may heal in time if the layer below the keratin layer is unaffected.


Unlike snakes, tortoises don’t have external auricles. Their ears are merely simple flaps on the back of the head. Tortoises rely heavily on their sense of smell, making them an important part of their daily routine. 

In addition to using scent to locate food and avoid predators, tortoises are incredibly agile and able to dig through almost any surface. Their balance is also quite good, making them superior climbers and diggers.

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Can A Tortoise Be Able To Survive A Broken Shell?

Fortunately, a broken shell isn’t necessarily a death sentence. Though it can be alarming to watch a tortoise’s body crumble, the shell is incredibly resilient.

We did an article about it; How to Heal a Damaged Shell. It’s essential to give that a read if your tortoise has a damaged shell.

The process of healing can take between two and eight months, depending on the type of injury and the location of the break. 

In most cases, a broken shell is completely mended within a few weeks, but it may take anywhere from four to eighteen months.

While you can’t immediately tell if your tortoise’s shell is broken or has cracked, it can feel the impact of the damage. A broken shell can cause bleeding, infection, and more if it is damaged. 

Similarly, a damaged shell can result in weakened scutes or a serious case of shell rot. Regardless of where the crack is, there are ways to help it heal, and the best way to do this is by combining a proper diet with the right environment.

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