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Turtle Shell Preservation

Preserving your turtle’s shell after it’s death

​Turtle shell preservation is necessary if you want the shell to last after a turtle’s no more. As many of you may already know, the shell is a living organ and will start to decompose after the chelonian’s death. There are many reasons why you would want to preserve a turtle’s shell. Turtle  shells are beautiful. Its intricate design is elegant.

The shells make beautiful ornamental features. Some people may want to preserve a part of a beloved pet. Regardless of your reason, the preservation process is simple and will ensure that the shell will be preserved for a long long time.

Preserving The Shell

The process of preserving the shell itself is not difficult. You start by removing the carcass and any flesh, then clean the shell and disinfect it. The last process includes varnishing the shell. You can also apply felt feet to the underside of the shell.

Materials needed

  • Toothbrush
  • Cleaning Gloves
  • Vinegar or Rubbing Alcohol
  • Borax
  • Salt
  • Glue (school glue or super glue), only needed if you need to glue back scutes
  • Polyurethane or Varnish
  • Felt Pads, optional

Remove Organic Matter From The Shell

The first part of the process is to ensure that no carcass is left within the shell. You can have nature do the decomposition of the carcass for you. Set the shell down at a place where insects can eat the carcass. An example of this is an ant bed. You can place the shell on the ant bed for  a week or so. You can also bury the shell for about a month.

If you do not have the time, you can remove any carcass from inside the shell with a knife and scrub it out using a toothbrush and water. Rinse and let it dry for an entire day (24 hours). Try to get rid of as much flesh as possible.

Even if you get rid of the remaining carcass using an ant bed or by burying it, I advise that you use a toothbrush and water to gently scrub the edges and inside of the shell removing any remaining organic material. Let the shell dry for 24 hours. This ensures that any moisture present leaves the shell.

Remove any and all organic material. You don’t want any continuous decomposition after you have preserved the shell.

Clean The Shell

Removing the carcass isn’t enough. You also need to clean the shell. Here I recommend using a solution of water, borax, and salt. Just place the shell into the solution and leave it for an hour.

After having the shell in the solution for an hour, place it into a water and vinegar solution for another hour. After this, rinse it with just water and then let it dry off. The 50:50 vinegar-water solution serves to disinfect the shell.

You may also want to disinfect the shell using alcohol (isopropyl rubbing alcohol) if you have no vinegar. This can stop any mold, or bacteria threatening to grow on the shell.

Apply Lacquer, Polyurethane, or Varnish to the Shell

If any of the scutes are coming off or come off during the preservation process, you just need to glue it back. Do that before you apply the lacquer, varnish, or polyurethane to the shell. You can use super glue or even school glue.

The last compulsory step is to apply the lacquer, varnish, or polyurethane to it. A clear varnish works well. It protects the shell from flaking, scratching, and other damages. It also gives it an attractive clean look.

When applying the polyurethane or varnish, make sure to do it in a place with excellent ventilation. Appear the finish to the outside and the inside of the shell.

After applying the finish, allow it to dry.

Optional Step: Apply Felt Pad

Placing felt pads to the underside of the shell. This ensures that the shell doesn’t scratch the furniture you place the shell on. Applying a felt pad such as the Scotch Felt Pads is easy to do.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a turtle live without a shell?

The short answer is no. A turtle cannot live without a shell. This is because the shell is part of the body and not the housing the turtle lives in. The shell even forms part of the turtle’s ribs. The shell is a living organ that can feel touch and pain. It can also get infected. Damage to the turtle’s shell is damage to the turtle.

Is it legal to preserve a turtle shell?

In most cases, it is perfectly legal to preserve a turtle shell. However, the legality of this can change from one case to another. It is generally not allowed to import shells into the United States. Additionally, with endangered turtle species, it may be against the law to sell or exchange souvenirs made of the turtle’s body parts such as the shell.

Even if you are to preserve a turtle shell, selling that shell can be illegal depending on your locality and the species. These laws are in place to stop poachers from exploiting endangered species for souvenirs and other products.

Why does a turtle need a shell?

The shell is part of the turtle’s skeleton. It forms part of the ribcage and the spinal cord. As such, the shell serves similar functions as the sternum and clavicles in other vertebrates. The shell is also a part of the turtle’s skin.

Additionally, the shell also protects the turtle from harm. The shell forms a tough suit of armor for the turtle. This shell can withstand a large amount of force. Because of this protection, most adult turtle species have few predators. Some turtles such as the box turtle can retreat into their shell and completely close themselves off in the shell.

The carapace, which is the upper section of the shell, absorbs heat and sunlight when basking.

Should you clean your turtle’s shell?

Is it important to clean your pet turtle’s shell? Cleaning your turtle’s shell is not a must. It is not necessary to clean your pet’s shell unless you need to treat infections or injuries. You may also want to remove algae from the carapace.

When cleaning the shell of a living turtle do not use cleaning agents as these can be harmful to the turtle. It is best to simply use dechlorinated lukewarm water and a soft-bristle toothbrush.

Turtle Shell Preservation Video


Before you get started, it is a good idea to check with the law. The buying, selling, or importation of turtle shells is illegal in many parts of the world. Turtle shells and their souvenirs are considered contraband if you are transporting them into the United States.

However, if you aren’t planning on transporting the shell outside your country of residence, it’s usually legal to preserve the shell of a dead turtle. Regardless, it is always a good idea to check the laws of your locality.

The first part will be removing any bits of meat from the shell. This is where decomposition comes in. After this, you have to clean the shell. Next, you disinfect the shell and apply varnish or polyurethane to the shell.

If you have any questions or extra information, kindly leave a comment. 

Note: A baby turtle shell is harder to preserve because the shell is very small and their bones are not calcified all the way yet

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