Ask A Naturalist: Can a turtle feel something touching their shell?

March 23, 2021

Written by Kristen Angelini

Learn 

Many people think a turtleís shell is only for protection against the sharp mouth of a predator, but it is much more than that Ė itís also their home! Turtles are unable to remove their shells because they are connected to it by their spine. Because of this, the spinal cords nerve endings run through the surface of the shell and give the turtle the ability to feel contact when something touches it. This goes for all species of turtles!

There are approximately 356 species of turtles living on land in all continents, except Antarctica, and both in salt and fresh water. The United States is home to 57 of those species! Tortoises, a type of turtle, live exclusively on land and have anatomic features (e.g. larger body, dome-like shells, and bumps in certain species) distinguishing them from other turtles.

 

Most turtle shells are made up of hard scales made of keratin, called scutes, that provide a home and protection. In contrast, soft shell turtles have shells protected by thick skin instead of scutes! 

Fun Fact: Most turtles can hide in their shells, but some species like the sea turtle, cannot!

 

Create 

Get your hands a little messy and make your own paper mache (papier-mâché) turtle! Donít have a balloon? Try a bowl or any other item that has a similar shell-like shape that is easy to clean afterwards! Click here (or the image below) to follow along with the tutorial!

 

Activate

Spring is here! Next time youíre out visiting a pond, keep an eye out for a turtle swimming or sunbathing.

Clem, EYNC's Western pond turtle, will also be waking up soon to greet the spring warmth! Keep an eye out for him in his tank next time you visit the Nature Center!