Can Turtles & Tortoises Feel Their Shell?

can turtles feel their shell

People usually think turtles and tortoises can’t feel their shells. It is not true. Turtles can feel when you touch or scratch them on their shell. Although a turtle’s shell is hard and strong, nerves attached to the shell help them sense touch. 

In the older days, people used to drill in turtle’s shells without knowing they were hurting them. With several studies on turtle’s anatomy, we now have enough evidence to support the fact that the turtles can feel when you touch or rub on their shell.

This article will answer some commonly asked questions about turtles, such as can turtles feel their shell? Do turtles have nerves in their shells?

Related Article: Can Turtles Hear?

Can turtles feel their shell?

Yes, turtles do feel their shell. They have nerves attached to the shell, which enable them to feel when someone touches their shell. A study suggests that these nerve endings are not very sensitive. But they give turtles a feel of vibration when someone touches their shells. 

Imagine someone touching your nails; how would you feel? Turtles almost feel the same. A gentle rub on their shell may help them feel relaxed. However, if they are not comfortable, they will hide in their shell.  

Turtle shells have a strong structure and are inseparable from their body. Shell for turtles has the same purpose as ribs in humans. Just underneath the shell, they have their spine; their legs are also attached with them. 

Do turtles have nerves in their shells?

The turtles’ shells are connected with nerve endings that make them feel when someone touches their shells. People have a misconception that a turtle’s shell does not feel anything, which is completely wrong. In reality, turtles can feel if you touch or harm their outer shell. Breaking their shell is equally painful as breaking your bone. 

Different species of turtles show different levels of sensitivity when touched on their shells. Land turtles or tortoises are less sensitive to touch. In comparison, sea turtles are much more sensitive as they have an extra layer of skin on their shell. This enables them to feel any touch on their shell better than that of tortoises.

Do turtles like their shells scratch?

Turtles may feel relaxed when touched or scratched on their shell. This is because the turtle’s shell contains nerves, which get activated when touched or scratched. This gives the turtle a mild vibration, making them feel good. 

Most of the turtles feel good and happy when you stroked or scratch on their shell. However, if your turtle is not feeling safe, then they might act differently. If you are a turtle or tortoise owner, go ahead and try giving a love scratch on your turtle’s shell. 

Do turtles feel pain in their shell?

Yes, turtles do feel extreme pain if they break their shell. Turtle’s shell serves as a protective shield for the internal organs. It acts as the rib for turtles. However, as their shells are connected with nerve endings, they can feel any sensation on their shell. 

Turtles show different levels of sensitivity on their legs and shells. In comparison to their legs, shells are very less sensitive. If you break or harm your turtle’s shell, you are giving them immense pain. 

Turtle’s shell is not separable from their body. It is connected with their spinal cord. There are several nerve endings and blood vessels attached to the inner part of the shell. This means if the turtle’s shell gets damaged, it will damage the nerve endings and the blood vessels underneath. This damage will give them intense pain, somewhere on the same scale as you broke your bone. 

Can a turtle survive without its shell?

You might wonder why turtles have such a big shells? Or if they can survive without their shell? We have the answers. Let’s understand why shells are important for turtles. 

Turtles have a tough outer shell, which protects their inner organs. The turtle’s shells are attached to their spine so can not be detached. Turtles are the only animal with this kind of feature. As these creatures do not have ribs, their shell works as ribs for them. It is not sometimes that can be removed from their body; doing so will result in the turtle’s death.  

A recent discovery of 250 million-year-old turtle fossils in China reveals that these little creatures were different initially. The fossil found shows a half turtle shell, which implies that turtles evolved their shells over time. Discovered fossil looks more like a lizard but with a bottom shell. 

Even though turtles are underwater animals while tortoises are land animals, they both have inseparable shells. As their shells are connected with several nerve endings and blood vessels, any attempt to remove their shell will result in unbearable pain and eventually death. Please don’t try to remove the shell out of a living turtle. Otherwise, you will end up killing your friend.  

Will a damaged turtle shell heal?

A broken or damaged turtle shell is a serious condition. Minor damage is not life-threatening, but if the shell is broken severely, it can cause the death of the turtle or tortoise. 

The turtle shell is made up of calcium and keratin, the same material our fingernails are made up of. Thankfully nature can heal shell damage naturally. With time the damaged shell parts knit together organically, making them healthy again. But if the damage is severe, it can exert pressure on their inner organs and lead to serious complications.  

Sometimes the poor diet, lack of sunlight, or calcium deficiency can also cause damage to the turtle’s shell. It is important to give them a proper diet for their healthy shell. As turtles spend most of their time inside the water, they are susceptible to fungus and other bacterial infections on their shell. To help them, you should pay immediate medical attention when diagnosed with any such infection.    

Does the turtle shell grow back?

Turtles and tortoises are born with a shell. Their shells are not as strong as a mature turtle’s shell initially, but they decently protect them against predators. 

Unlike many other animals, turtles cannot molt or grow a new shell altogether. The turtle’s shell grows with the turtle itself. As their shells are a part of their body, they grow at the same pace as their other body parts.   


Turtles are one of the oldest aquatic animals on earth. These may look very tough due to their outer shell but are vulnerable from inside. The turtle’s shell has numerous nerve endings and blood vessels, making it easy for them to feel when someone touches their shell. Their brain gives them signals of vibration when the outer shell is touched. 

A gentle rub or scratch on their shell may be a pleasurable event for them. However, it is important to understand that their shell can similarly feel pain as we humans do. Apart from that, any attempt to remove the shell from the turtle will hurt them and lead to death. The shells are an integral part of their body, and no way can be removed.