shell anatomy

Turtles cannot climb out of their shell – their shell is part of their skeleton! As turtles evolved, their ribs, sternum and spine fused to form a hard shell.

The shell is covered by ‘scutes’, which are modified scales. There are nerves and blood vessels in the scutes, and they will bleed if damaged.

The top part of the shell is called the carapace. The bottom part, which covers the belly, is called the plastron. These two halves are joined along the sides at the “bridge”.

There is a lot of variation in the size and shape of turtle shells. Some turtles, like the Blanding’s Turtle, can pull themselves entirely into their shell. Snapping Turtles on the other hand are not very well protected by their shell. They cannot pull themselves inside their shell and their plastron is very small. This leaves them vulnerable to predators when they travel over land.

Some turtle’s shells are not even bony at all. Softshell turtles have a leathery shell instead of a bony one.