Turtle Shell Discoloration: Fading and Changing Colors

Turtle Shell Discoloration

If you are a turtle owner, then you know that the turtles’ shells can change color over time. This is perfectly natural, and usually isn’t anything to worry about. However, there are some instances where discoloration or fading can be a sign of an underlying health issue. In this article, we will discuss the causes of turtle shell discoloration, and what you should do if your turtle’s shell starts to fade.

Related Article: How To Moisturize A Turtle Shell?

Do turtles change color?

Turtles do change color and there are several reasons why this may happen. The most common cause of shell color change is when a turtle grows. As they get older, their shells will darken in color as the pigmentation deepens. This is perfectly normal and should not be cause for alarm.

However, if your turtle’s shell color begins to fade, it could be a sign that something is wrong. This can be due to a number of factors, such as not getting enough UVB light, malnutrition, low protein intake or hard water conditions. Turtle may also change color based on the environment they are in. For example, a turtle kept in a warm environment will be darker than one kept in a cooler environment.

Why do turtle’s shells change color?

Turtle shell color change could be classified into two categories:

  1. Turtle shell discoloration
  2. Turtle shell colour change

Let’s understand both the conditions in detail.

Turtle shell discoloration

Turtle shell discoloration is not natural and may indicate any underlying health issue. It is more or less due to the improper caring of your pet turtle. If I define turtle shell discoloration, it would simply be the fading of the shell color. In this condition, the turtle’s shell looks pale or washed out, and the turtle shell loses its vibrant colors.

What causes turtle shell color fading?

There could be a number of reasons for your turtle’s shell to fade, but the most common causes are:

Hard water

This could be due to the presence of high levels of magnesium or calcium in your water. Though hard water is not harmful to your turtle, it can cause its shell color to fade over time. It is not color fading but the minerals deposited on the scutes.You can try wiping out the shell with a soft cloth to get rid of the build-up, or you can use a water filter that reduces mineral levels.

Water changes and using a water conditioner can also help to reduce the levels of magnesium or calcium in your water and restore the shell’s original color. Read our article for getting the best water conditioner for our turtle.

Not getting proper UVB light

In order for your turtle to properly absorb calcium, they need to be exposed to UVB light. If they’re not getting enough, their shell will start fading color. If you have not changed your UVB bulb for years, it might be time to do so. Over time UVB bulb loses its efficiency to emit UVB rays. You might not be able to notice the difference but it would have serious consequences for your turtle.

It is a good idea to change the UVB bulbs every six months to a year. One more thing which you need to understand is that no matter how expensive the UVB bulb you are using for your turtle, it can not match or replace the UVB rays emitted by the sun. In more simple words one hour of sunlight is equal to more than 3 hours of UVB rays emitted by a bulb. With that said it is important for you to keep the UV bulb on for 8-12 hours a day.


A lack of vitamins and minerals can also cause fading shell color. Make sure you’re providing a balanced diet for your turtle. A balanced diet includes commercial turtle pellets, veggies and occasional feeding of worms. If you already are feeding your turtle with pellets then you might try replacing it with ReptoMin pellet.

Tetra Reptomin is a complete diet for the turtle. It has all the necessary ingredients which help in the growth and maintenance of your turtle shell.

Low protein intake

Protein is essential for turtles, especially growing turtles. If they’re not getting enough, it can lead to fading shell color. Make sure you’re providing a diet that is high in protein especially for a baby or juvenile turtles as they need protein the most. Giving your turtle worms and insects occasionally along with pellets would do the trick.

Turtle shell color change naturally

Now that we know the reasons for the turtle shell color fading, now let’s understand how turtles change the shell color naturally and why it is not a matter of concern.

Turtles change their shell color naturally too and it is a part of their growth process. In this process, you can observe your turtle shell color changing from lighter green or yellow to a more darker shade.

An indicating sign that it is natural and nothing alarming is when there is no behavioural change in your turtle. If it eats well and acts normally you should know the color change is natural and not painful for them. Also during this process, the turtle will develop the darker color evenly on every inch of its shell.

Below are a few instances to identify turtle shell color change is normal and natural:

Scutes are falling

Turtle shed their scute and replace it with new scutes as they grow. This process keeps on repeating every year throughout their life. This process is important to keep turtle shell healthy and free from fungal infection or shell rot. We have explained it in detail here in this article turtle shell rot vs shell shedding.

When turtle shed their scutes underlying new layer looks much colorful and fresh. But as the new scutes get exposed to light, water and air it starts to get dull and takes the color of its surrounding. This process is normal and natural.

Don’t confuse faded color during shell shedding process with abnormal turtle shell color change.

As mentioned above, healthy turtles will have an even and deep color on their shell. The only time when you should be concerned is when your turtle’s scutes are fading or the shell is losing its color over time as it is an indication that something might be wrong.

Turtle is growing

As your turtle grows, its shell will become darker and more evenly colored. This is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.

However, if you notice that your turtle’s shell is beginning to fade in color, it could be a sign of something wrong. Shell discoloration can be caused by a lack of UVB light, malnutrition, low protein intake, or hard water so make sure to keep these things in check.

Environmental factors

Environmental factors influence what color would turtle shells have. It is often seen that turtle who lives in an aquarium with subdued light tend to have a paler shell color as opposed to those kept in direct sunlight. This is because the natural environment provides turtles with an abundance of UVB rays that help them produce vitamin D, which is necessary for their good health and shell growth.

In captivity, even if you have provided your turtle with good quality UVB lights it won’t be able to match the properties of the sunlight. This slight difference in turtle shell color is normal and you need not worry about it.

What is healthy and unhealthy turtle shell color change?

A healthy turtle shell will be a consistent color throughout its body. An unhealthy turtle may have patches of discoloration on its shell. These can be different colors and indicative of different problems.

If your turtle’s shell starts to fade, it is likely due to a lack of proper UVB lighting or malnutrition. If the entire shell fades, this is usually an indication that the water quality is poor and the turtle is not getting enough nutrients.

If your turtle’s shell becomes darker, this is usually a sign that they are eating well and getting plenty of nutrition. However, there are some exceptions – for example, if a baby turtle has very dark coloring, it may simply be because they are young and still growing. As they age, their coloring will lighten.

Signs of a healthy turtle shell color change could be:

-A consistent, deep color across the entire shell

-No patches of discoloration

-The shell is not faded or bleached out

Signs of an unhealthy turtle shell color change could be:

– A patchy or uneven coloring

– The shell becoming lighter or darker in color

– Fading of markings or stripes

Why is my turtle’s shell turning white?

Turtle shell color could change to white if their tank water has dissolved minerals. This kind of water is referred to as hard water. Though hard water is not dangerous for turtles over time the minerals will get deposited on their shell giving them a white appearance.

Most of the time white shell is just the hard water minerals deposited on the shell which could easily be wiped out with the help of a wet cloth. But if wiping does not work then you should consult a veterinarian as soon as possible. Your turtle might be suffering from shell diseases such as shell rot or fungal infection. If not cured soon then this could be fatal to them.

If your turtle’s shell is turning white or pale, take him or her to a veterinarian as soon as possible for an evaluation. While it may not always be indicative of a health problem, it’s best to be safe and ensure that your turtle is getting the care it needs.

Black spots on the turtle shell

If your turtle has black spots on its shell, this could be due to a variety of reasons such as burning from the UB bulb, shell rot or any other fungal infection.

Burning: If the turtle is constantly in direct contact with the UV bulb, it can cause burning on its shell. I have often seen people put the turtle directly on top of the bulb or place it too close to the basking UV bulb. This should be avoided at all costs as it can cause permanent damage to your turtle’s shell. Make sure there is enough distance between the basking dock and the basking lamp.

Shell rot: If there is an infection or rotting going on in the shell, it will cause black spots to form on the shell. This is a very serious condition and requires immediate veterinary attention.

Fungal infection: A fungal infection can also cause black spots on the shell. It will look like patches of black, scaly skin growing on the turtle’s shell. This too is a serious condition that requires veterinary attention.

If you see any black spots on your turtle’s shell, take him or her to the vet as soon as possible for an evaluation. While it may not always be indicative of a health problem, it’s best to be safe and ensure that your turtle is getting the care it needs. 


While discoloration can be a cause for concern, it is usually nothing to worry about. Most cases of discoloration are due to natural causes and are not indicative of any health problems. However, if you notice your turtle’s shell color fading, make sure to take it to a veterinarian to rule out any potential health issues.