Do Turtles Shed? (Full Detailed Guide with Pictures)

Turtle shell and skin peeling are natural processes for turtles. A turtle’s head, neck, arms, legs, and tail are covered by leather-like skin similar to small scales. Surprisingly, a turtle’s shell is made up of at least 60 bones in most turtle species.

Well, this may not be so obvious because a turtle’s shell is covered by plates called scutes. These scutes are made up of keratin, the same substance that makes up our nails.

The scutes fall off as the turtle grows, a process known as shedding and the main subject in this guide. Read on to discover how to recognize healthy peeling and more about what to expect during shedding.

Do Turtles Shed?

Yes. All turtles shed their scutes and skin from time to time. Also known as scoot peeling, skin and shell shedding is more common in young turtles growing fast. Adult turtles also shed but relatively less often. While hatchlings shed to grow, adults do it to keep the shell clean and safe from any blockage that could cause infection and sickness.

Furthermore, a turtle will shed if the shell is injured or damaged. If a scute is injured or lost somehow, a turtle can regenerate as a means to heal.

picture of turtle shed
Copyright: steve loya

How Does Shedding Occur in Turtles?

Like all reptiles, turtles shed, but for many turtles, they shed the scutes, not the skin. Most aquatic turtles will shed their skin but in small and irregular pieces.

While the inside of the shell comprises bones, the outside has plate-like scales known as the scutes. The work of the scutes is to protect the bones and cartilage.

That said, skin-shedding is less pronounced in turtles than scute-shedding. Scute shedding involves peeling and flaking of the scutes, which are then replaced by new ones.

The shedding process is a normal growth process as the turtle’s body expands, so does its shell. Moreover, aquatic turtles shed more rapidly than terrestrial turtles to lower the risk of rot and parasitic infections that could result from spending too much time in the water.

As for turtle owners, it’s essential to keep an eye on your turtle during shedding so that they don’t spend too much time in the water, as this could trigger a shell rot.

Again, they shouldn’t spend all the time on dry land as the shell could dry out, causing abnormal shedding. If unsure, consult your vet to know how much time your turtle species needs to spend outside and inside water.

Do Turtles Shed their Skin?

Like many other reptiles, turtles shed the skin on the head and limbs. In case your turtle is shedding the skin, it’s totally normal. However, healthy skin shedding should appear just normal hazy as the old skin detaches from the body.

A few days to shedding, the old skin will start peeling, but it does not peel in one piece like other reptiles. As peeling takes place, you will see bits of skin hanging and can form tiny bubbles when it swims.

Like with the scutes, you should not try to pull off the turtle skin as this could leave injuries. However, make sure you remove any large pieces in the tank to avoid clogging up the filter.

Symptoms of unhealthy skin include white plagues, swelling, and red areas. Problems with skin shedding can occur due to:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Chemical and thermal burns
  • Stress-induced trauma
  • Vitamin A overdose.

What Causes Excessive Skin Shedding in Turtles?

There are several causes of skin shedding in turtles, including:

1. Sudden rapid growth

A common reason for excessive skin shedding is a sudden growth spurt. This is common if the turtle overdoses on the protein, which is considered unhealthy due to pyramiding.

2. Overheating

Turtles thrive in temperatures ranging from 750C – 850C. Beyond this, they can suffer from overheating, which makes their skin shed excessively. Ensure you don’t expose them to extreme conditions.

3. Excessive Ammonia

If the ammonia content in the water rises to extreme levels, turtles do shed excess skin. If you suspect there may be excess ammonia in their tank water, use a water test kit to rule it out. Excessive ammonia can cause serious health complications and negatively affect your turtle.

4. Vitamin A

A turtle’s diet needs adequate Vitamin A to support healthy shell growth and liver health. An excess of it can have the opposite effect (vitamin A toxicity) – make their shell thicken, and a lack of this nutrient can lead to excess shedding.

Why Do Turtles Shed?

picture of turtle shedding
Copyright: Ryan Somma

There are three reasons why a turtle sheds its scutes. These include:

1. Peeling shell for growth

The shell grows along with the turtle. The old scutes are replaced intermittently to accommodate the growth of the shell.

Younger turtles will shed more because they grow more rapidly, while adult turtles are likely to shed to a lesser scale because the growth is minimal.

2. Shedding to fight illnesses

Aquatic turtles are prone to various growths of algae that get attached to the shell. When the shell is covered either by algae or dirty water, the turtle may not efficiently absorb the sun’s heat.

With the dirty shell, they may absorb enough heat to raise their body temperature, exposing them to shell rot and other infections.

Besides, too much growth can make it harder for them to swim. The ability to shed helps them stay clean and illness-free.

3. Peeling off to heal

Sharp rocks remain the number one cause of injuries for turtles in captivity. As for pet turtles, the tank is mainly too small, and the turtle frequently keeps banging against the sides.

When the shell is injured, it responds by peeling off the injured scute or scutes and regenerating new ones underneath.

How Often Do Turtles Shed?

How often a turtle sheds depends on the environment and season. Aquatic turtles are heavy shedders and will peel their shells more often than turtles that spend more time on land. The reason is that the shell is more prone to rotting and infection in the water.

As such, the more a turtle spends time in the water, the higher the risk. For them, shell peeling is a defensive mechanism.

Other types of turtles that hardly live in water, such as box turtles, do not shed their scutes as regularly. In fact, this happens as part of a healing process.

It’s normal for shedding to occur right before hibernation to prepare for the long sleep ahead and immediately after emerging from hibernation.

Other reasons why turtles shed too often include:

  • Its basking area is too hot
  • Fungal infections on its shell
  • High ammonia in the pond, the reason you need to have a good turtle tank filter for biological filtration
  • Certain illnesses

What are the Signs That a Turtle is Not Shedding?

There are a few signs you can see and know a turtle is shedding. Well, for most turtles, the scutes falls off whole. If they are coming off in parts, it could be an indication of a possible disease.

However, the box turtles are different because they shed in patches rather than in large pieces like most aquatic species. A change in their skin color is one of the ways to know they are about to begin their shedding.

Remember, you should allow the peeling to occur naturally without pulling the skins. Scutes that do not fall off could mean that it isn’t ready to come off yet, or it could be a sign of potential illness. Also, scutes should be thin and translucent sometimes – not thick.

As stated earlier, it’s common for some turtles to eat these scutes when they fall off. Although this is a normal response in the wild, pet owners should remove the scutes as soon as they spot them. The scutes are stiff and might cause damage to the turtle’s throat.

If you notice that the turtle’s shell has some blockage, such as algae-induced blockage, you can attempt to remove it or cut it off carefully. Still, you can wait for it to fall off eventually.

Why are My Turtle’s Scutes Not Shedding?

If you have observed and are certain that the turtle is not shedding its scutes, it’s usually because there’s an issue with the water or basking temperature. You need to check whether there’s a problem with the UV lightbulb or your turtle lacks enough calcium in its food.

Check out each of these factors below.

  • Your water temperature is too low or the basking temperature is not right. Depending on the turtle species, you need to adjust the water and basking temperature as necessary. For many turtle species, the temperature should range between 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the basking temperature should be in the 90s. You can use a digital thermometer to determine a turtle’s water tank temperature and PH level.
  • Your UV light is weak. One of the main reasons for not shedding is a lack of vitamin D. It’s common for UV lightbulbs to degrade in quality over time. It’s why you should change them after a few months. A lack of sufficient UV light can negatively affect shedding, growth, and overall health.
  • A lack of adequate calcium in the diet. The shell and bones primarily consist of calcium, so a lack of this mineral can hinder its growth. Ensure your turtle gets enough of calcium in its diet by including calcium blocks.
  • Age. Also, as turtles get older, the shell peeling can become less conspicuous. If they are no longer growing, the production of scutes is not a must because there’s no more room for growth. You might see a few peels here and there after a while, but that’s normal.

It’s possible that a turtle is shedding its scutes, but you can’t see them because the turtle is eating the peels or the peels are lodged in the bottom of the aquarium or on plants. Besides, the box turtle rarely sheds its scutes just like a tortoise.

What Causes Abnormal Shedding?

In some instances, a turtle’s shell or skin can shed abnormally, such as coming off in small pieces rather than whole. Many owners admit that abnormal shedding tends to occur more frequently than healthy shedding.

Some health conditions in the liver, bone or a lack of adequate nutrients are common causes of abnormal shedding.

The pet owners may also overfeed their hatchlings and juvenile turtles with protein pellets because they want them to grow faster. This can mean more shedding more frequently as their shell is trying to keep up with the growth.

Well, this may increase the growth, but it could also lead to health issues. You can avoid this by feeding the turtle in moderation and ensure a balanced diet.

Another cause of abnormal shedding is high ammonia levels in the tank. Turtles are quite messy, which could increase ammonia levels in the water.

However, with a quality filtration system, you can speed up the breakdown of sludge to avoid abnormal shedding.

Illnesses caused by bacteria and fungi could also cause abnormal shedding. Also, overheating inside the closure can increase shedding more than it should.

Dirty water can also be a significant cause of shedding problems if the pond is not filtered adequately, leading to fungal and bacterial infections.

Why Shouldn’t You Pull Off Your Turtle’s Scutes?

It’s tempting to think that pulling off scutes from your turtle is actually helping them. It turns out that it’s the opposite and might hurt them instead. If you forcefully pull off the scutes, it can cause excruciating pain to them.

Turtles can develop stress quickly from pain, which can negatively affect their immune system and shedding.

Understand that the scutes are part of their body and are connected to nerve endings. So, even touching the scutes can hurt them.

Besides, pulling off scutes that are not yet ready to come off can expose the bone beneath. This means you might also need to keep the wounds clean to prevent infections.

How to Spot Healthy Turtle Shell Peeling?

The most effective way to recognize if a turtle’s shedding is healthy is to look at what the scutes look like after they fall off. Healthy scutes should come out whole, not in parts.

When they come out in parts, it could signify that they are lacking or suffering from something.

Sharp rocks are a common cause why a turtle may suffer premature shedding if some of its scutes are injured or damaged. So, ensure you keep their environment safe from injuries.

Another way to identify proper turtle shell peeling is to observe the scutes. Indications of scute-shedding include;

  • Bubbles under scutes
  • Spending more time in the water than usual
  • Rubbing up against things

Scutes should look partially translucent and not very thick. One more thing about turtle shedding is that they attempt to eat some of the scutes after falling off.

As mentioned, this sort of thing is normal for turtles, but you should be vigilant about the hard peels as they can damage your turtle’s insides.

What to Look for in a Turtle Shell Peeling?

Shedding is a healthy process for turtles where scutes fall off as well as the sides and bottom of the shell.

If you see the scutes peeling off, don’t be surprised or try to force the peels off. Give it time and wait until the peel can easily come off.

You might ask, “how do I know when the scute is ready to come off?” Well, any sort of resistance means it’s not yet time, so you should avoid the temptation to force it off.

However, sometimes the scute may not come off due to blockage of algae. In this case, you can carefully use a knife to cut it off. Just ensure you do this super carefully to avoid hurting the turtle! Or you can wait a little more.

How Can You Help a Turtle with a Peeing Shell?

Ideally, there’s nothing you need to do to help your turtle shed because the process occurs naturally for them. No need to pull the pieces off because they come off on their own.

But there are a few things you can do to make the process easier for them:

  • Supply them with more Vitamin E and A to promote the shell growth
  • Take the turtle outside to absorb real sunlight
  • Use a soft toothbrush to rub gently and loosen the scutes that don’t seem to come off

Additionally, you can help by placing a couple of rocks with varied shapes in their space, which they can use to scratch their backs on.

Just ensure you wash them regularly before putting them inside the aquarium to avoid infections.

One more thing, remember to pick any scutes from the tank as they can get trapped in the filter, affecting the water and sludge flow.

Besides, turtles will eat anything, including larger pieces of scutes, which can harm their throats and interiors. As such, remove the large pieces and probably save them for guitarists who use turtle scutes as picks.

How to Differentiate Between Shell Shedding and Rotting?

Shell rot is an infection in the shell caused by various things, including diet, more or less temperature, or contaminated water. A turtle shell rot is common when a scratch or crack is left untreated.

Aquatic turtles are more prone to shell rot because they spend more time in humid environments where microbes thrive. It’s easy to mistake skin shedding for rotting but here’s is how you can tell a turtle has a shell rot:

  • Unsightly indentations in the shell
  • White spots on the top or bottom or sides of the shell
  • The white areas could worsen and turn pink
  • As the rot gets bad, the scutes can begin to fall off
  • You can see the flesh underneath the shell
  • Soft spots in the shell

Shedding, on the other hand, may show some color changes on the shell. However, the color is usually more metallic due to the air bubbles underneath the scutes.

Note that shedding does not turn the color to white or pink. Turtles can transmit a shell rot to one another. Fortunately, this is easy to treat if you go to the vet on time. So, visit the vet immediately if you suspect a shell rot.

How to Treat a Turtle Shell Rot At Home?

  1. First things first, remove what causes the injury or rot, including addressing all sharp edges in their environment. Next, ensure the filtration system works efficiently and replace the water. Use a soft toothbrush and gently clean off the algae and dirt.
  2. Clean the rot using an antiseptic, e.g., Nolvasan
  3. Place the turtle away from water to dry off
  4. Repeat the treatment for a week
  5. If the problem persists, call the vet

How to Prevent a Shell Rot?

Instead of treating shell rot, you can as well prevent it. Here’s how;

  • Start by removing any sharp edges, sharp rocks, or objects that can injure the turtle
  • Next is to ensure the water in the tank is clean by changing a third of the water weekly
  • Check the filter regularly and ensure it’s working properly
  • Make the basking spot warm enough to dry off the turtle after swimming
  • Keep the water temperature moderate by heating the tank with a basking spot lamp
  • Makes sure there’s adequate UV light to enable Vitamin D3 production.
Turtle Shedding

So, Do Turtles Shed?

Yes, shedding is a crucial part of a turtle’s growth as it allows the shell to expand as its body grows. It’s the main reason juvenile turtles shed more regularly than adult turtles, which shed very little at maturity.

If a young freshwater turtle isn’t shedding their scutes, it could be a sign of improper conditions such as malnutrition, inadequate UV light, and inappropriate temperature.

If you notice excessive shedding, you may want to reduce the protein content, balance vitamin A, test the tank water for excessive ammonia and check whether the temperature is higher. Note that aquatic turtles shed more than terrestrial turtles.

A reminder that you should interfere with your turtle’s shedding process because the scutes will come off naturally.

Thank you for visiting us here and reading this detailed guide on turtle shedding. You can check other resources about turtles on this site.

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