Turtle Shedding (A Complete Guide)

Shedding Turtle

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Turtle Shell Shedding

The peeling or shedding of the shell is normal and is something that happens to all turtles. Like other reptiles, turtles also shed. However, unlike other reptiles, the turtle has a big shell that is part of its body.

As such, the shedding process is different. As you may already know, the shell of the turtle is hard and is generally not composed of skin. The shell is made of bones with a thin layer of epithelium. This epithelium comes together to make the scutes seen on the shell.

You can learn more about what’s inside a turtle shell here.

For most turtles, the scutes aren’t shed instead new wider scutes are produced under older ones. This ensures that the shell expands as the turtle grows.

These scutes remain on the turtle’s shell for the entirety of their lives. Old scutes may wear down over time, but this isn’t a turtle shell shedding scutes. This is evidential in burrowing tortoises such as the gopher tortoises.

For many aquatic turtles, the outer layers of the scutes are shed on an annually. This is necessary. As you can imagine, swimming with a heavy shell is not ideal. The shedding of the scutes also allows the turtle to rid its shell of algae.

So while not all turtle species shed, all turtles shed the skin on their limbs, neck, and head. As the turtle outgrows its skin, it sheds it. A turtle shedding skin on the neck is nothing to worry about. This also helps the turtle to rid itself of infections and parasites.

Quick Reference Section

Turtle Shell Shedding In Freshwater Turtles

Shedding Red ear slider
Shedding Red Eared Slider

As already mentioned, aquatic turtles shed their scutes to ensure a streamlined shell and rid the shell of algae and infections. Aquatic turtles such as map turtles (Graptemys), cooters (Pseudemys), painted turtles, terrapins, and sliders all shed their scutes.

This is normal and as such, there is no need to panic if it seems like the turtle shell is peeling off. It most likely just shedding. Unlike there are other negative signs, you have no need to worry. Box turtles who are terrestrial belong to the pond turtle family and shed their scutes as well.

A turtle shedding its scutes also helps aquatic freshwater turtles prevent and stave off parasitic infections and shell rot which happens more frequently among aquatic turtles as they spend most of their time in the water.

Abnormal shedding (Why is my turtle shedding?)

There are some conditions that force the turtle to shed its scutes more often than normal. These include

  • High ammonia levels – Without adequate filtration, the ammonia level in the water can get very high. This can lead to scutes shedding.
  • Infections and diseases – Fungal infections and illnesses can cause the turtle to shed its outer scutes. Learn more about turtle fungus.
  • Overfeeding – When a juvenile is overfed, it grows very quickly and as such sheds its scutes more often. It is not advisable to overfeed your turtle. Overfeeding can cause abnormal growth which can be both unsightly and cause the turtle several hindrances as it goes about its life. Feed turtles a well-balanced diet and ensures they eat enough plant matter.
  • Overheating- An overly hot enclosure and basking spot can cause the turtle to shed more than normal.

Abnormal sedding is referred to as Dysecdysis and it is a serious issue as it leads the turtle’s shell exposed to infection. Abnormal shedding can also be a symptom of bone disease, liver, thyroid or kidney disease, or vitamin D/calcium deficiency.

What Are The Conditions That Can Cause A Freshwater Turtle To Not Shed Its Outer Scutes?

Just as there are conditions that can make your turtle shed its outer scutes, there are also certain things that prevent a freshwater turtle from shedding.

Let’s discuss these. Correct any inadequacies so your turtle can live a healthy and full life. Turtles may also eat the shed scute right after it falls off.

Calcium/Vitamin D deficiency

Turtles need to receive the right amount of calcium in their diet. Calcium ensures that their shell and bones grow as they are supposed to.

To ensure your turtle receives enough calcium and vitamin D you can offer the turtle vitamin D/calcium supplement, feed the turtle with commercial turtle diets that have all the needed nutrients for healthy growth, or offer food items high in calcium such as cuttlebone and kale. 

Inappropriate temperatures

When the water/basking/ambient temperatures are too high or too low, the turtle may stop shedding its outer scutes. To prevent this, ensure the temperatures within the enclosure is right for your turtle.

For most North American turtles, a basking temperature of 90 F and a water temperature of 75 to 85 F are generally appropriate. However, make sure you are aware of the temperature needs of our turtle.

Lack of access to UV light

UV is important for adequate growth and shedding of outer scutes. Turtles housed outdoors generally receive all the needed UV light from the sun.

This isn’t always the case with turtles that live indoors. You need to set up a UV lamp in the enclosure. Additionally, you need to change the bulbs every 6 months as the UV emissions weaken over time.

Old age

As your turtle ages, the less they shed as their growth slows down.

Signs That The Turtle Is Shedding Its Scutes

As we have already mentioned, scute shedding is perfectly normal. Here are the signs that your turtle is shedding as it should.

  • When a healthy turtle sheds its scute, the scute generally just falls off as a whole. You may notice the gradual peeling of the scutes. This is normal. There is no need to help the turtle. Don’t pull off the peeling scute.

    Let it fall off naturally.  If the scutes do not fall off intact and whole, then it can be a sign of illness. Also, inspect the enclosure and ensure that there are no sharp edges that can cause the scutes to come off prematurely.
  • The scutes that the turtle shed should appear translucent. The turtle may even eat the fallen scutes or attempt to eat the scutes that are peeling off. This is perfectly normal. However, it is best to remove any shed scutes as soon as you see them.

Preventing And Treating Abnormal Shedding

The severity of the dysecdysis dictates the course of treatment you need to douse out. For mild cases, you need to get rid of anything can be causing the problem. This includes ensuring that everything is just right – from temperature to the turtle’s diet.

  • Remove any sharp objects that can cause injury to the turtles’ scutes. This should be your first course of action.
  • Ensure that the turtle doesn’t lack any important nutrients. Feed the turtle the correct diet and provide UV lighting.
  • Next, you need to ensure the enclosure’s temperature is at an ideal level. Make sure there are no hot spots.
  • Ensure that the water quality is good. Change the water in the enclosure and provide a good water filter. The water filter should be able to filter both chemical and biological contaminants.

Most mild cases can be easily handled and corrected by making changes to the habitat and diet. However, with more serious problems, you need to visit the vet.

Turtle Shell Rot Or Shedding

Shell_rot_in_red eared slider
Red Ear Slider with Shell Rot

Another problem faced by turtles is shell rot. It is easy for novices to confuse shell rot with shedding and vice versa. So far we have talked in length about what normal shedding looks like and what to expect. Now let’s look at some symptoms of shell rot.

  • First of all look for damage to the shell. The plates may look lifted and you can often notice foul-smelling discharge under the shell.
  • You may also notice a little white spot on the scute affected by shell rot.
  • As the rot gets bad, the scutes may start to fall out.

Shell rot is caused by both fungal and bacterial infections. It is more common among aquatic turtle as they spend more time in a humid environment which is conducive to the growth of bacteria and fungus.

Turtle shell rot usually occurs when a scratch, puncture, or crack is left untreated. Shell rot can be transmitted from one turtle to another. As such it is important to treat it as soon as possible.

Treating Shell Rot

Hermanns Tortoise with shell rot
Hermanns Tortoise with Shell Rot
  • First of all, remove whatever caused the injury and rot. Remove any sharp edges. Next, replace the water and ensure that the filtration system works well.
  • With a soft toothbrush, gently clean off any dirt and algae.
  • Gently scrape off any dirt or algae that won’t come off easily
  • Apply n antiseptic such as Nolvasan to the rot.
  • Place your turtle in a dey container for two hours so he dries off.
  • Repeat the treatment for a week. If the problem still persists after this, book an appointment with a herp vet.

Preventing shell rot

  • The first step involves removing any sharp edges or objects that can injure the turtle.
  • Next, you have to always keep the water in the tank clean. Change about a third of the water in the tank every week. Also, use a powerful filter.
  • The basking spot must be warm enough for the turtle to adequately dry off. The temperature shouldn’t be too high though.
  • The water temperature shouldn’t be o warm that the turtle refuses to leave the water to bask. If the water temperature is too high, you can down the water heater in use. Also, if the tank is not large enough, the basking spot lamp can also heat up the water.
  • Ensure that the turtle is exposed to adequate amounts of UV light. This enables vitamin D3 production.

Skin shedding

Do turtles shed their skin? Turtles like many other reptiles also shed the skin on their limbs and head. This is nothing to worry about if your turtle is shedding skin. As far as the sloughing skin appears normal you are good to go. Symptoms of unhealthy skin shedding include swelling, red areas, and white plagues.

A few days before the turtle starts to shed/molt, the skin should look hazy as the old skin disconnects from the body. The entire skin is likely not going to peel as one piece. As the turtle skin is peeling, you should notice bits of skin tissue hanging onto the turtle as it swims or walks.

As already mentioned, ensure you feed your turtle a well-balanced diet. Also, see if the turtle is eating and acting as it normally does. As always, try not to pull the dead skin off the turtle. You may end up injuring the turtle. However, do remove any shed skin in the tank. This ensures that the filter doesn’t clog up.

Problems that cause a turtle to shed include bacterial infections, trauma which can be caused by stress, chemical and thermal burns, and injectable vitamin A overdose.

Watch out for cracks or injures in the shell or skin. Also, watch out for incomplete sheds. This is usually down to a lack of moisture. If the turtle is unable to completely shed, have a professional remove any remaining skin.

Conclusion

There are several turtles that shed their outer scutes as well as their skin. Shedding of scutes is natural and should be expected among freshwater turtles.

Young turtles tend to shed their scutes more often than old turtles do. Although box turtles also shed their scutes, this is much rarer. Tortoises, on the other hand, do not shed their scutes.

If a young freshwater rule isn’t shedding their scutes, it indicates improper growth. This can be due to inappropriate temperature levels, inadequate access to UV light, or malnutrition.

The main reasons include vitamin D or calcium deficiency. Have you ever wondered, “My turtle is shedding, what should I do to help?” When the turtle starts to shed its scutes, you need not help it.

They will fall off naturally. The same should be done when the turtle sheds its skin.

If you have any questions or additional information, kindly leave them.

About the author

Brock Yates

Brock Yates has a passion for educating people about turtles & tortoises. He manages several websites and has a goal of getting everyone the best and most accurate information to help them with their turtle & tortoise care.

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