Ever Wondered What’s Inside A Turtle Shell? Come Take A Peek

Turtles – or more specifically turtles, tortoises and terrapins – have some unusual body plans that rationally favor them.

The exterior is simple enough to understand, has features visible to the human eye, including features derived from four limbs, a head and a shell from a shell (or hard skin slab, in the case of a soft shell tortoise) but have you ever wondered. What is inside the tortoise shell? We decided to find out.

The turtles come out with a shell, but according to Daniel Kane, keeper at ZSL London Zoo, it could be far from the animal’s final clothing. “A few years ago when the Spanish Mountain tortoises were scattered at the ZSL London Zoo, for example, the egg was the size and shape of a kiwi, but a few days later the animal itself was flat like pancakes and chic.”

The shells themselves have several layers that include bone, live tissue, and cartilage. The combined feature of most species (with the exception of the soft shell bois) is an outer layer of scouts (Latin for “solder”) made of keratin – a strong, fibrous structural protein that makes everything from horns to human nails and hair. Although it is strong, the shell may still be sensitive to touch which implies that the turtle dances when some water recedes. 

Despite the fact that cartoons have led you to believe, turtles cannot remove from their shells. The shell is not a bit of fashionable arm by turtles that they can put in the sun on the backs of tooth hunters, it is actually a part of their skeleton. 

They can heal moderate injuries but if the shell is severely damage it is unlikely to survive, as their internal organs will be exposed. The upper dome, known as the carapace, has a bony inner lining that fuses the animal’s spine. Plastron, which is the flat bit of the tortoise’s “belly”, also fuses the bones and sternum with the animal’s ribs. Not a tortoise’s entire skeleton is on the outside, although its shoulder and hip punches actually sit inside the shell. This makes terrestrial-living turtles unique, as they are the only terrestrial vertebrae that tap into the inside of their ribs mainly with their hips and shoulders. No.

“The shell bones of many, though not all, species are actually light weight because they have a kind of hive structure,” Ken explained. “For example, our Galapagos turtles Dolly, Polly and Priscilla turtles don’t even come from the shell but are more than just inside.”