Turtle Shell Peeling: Why Does This Happen?

Why do turtles’ shells peel? Is it normal? Yes, turtles do shed their shells, and these pieces are known as scutes.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • Why do turtles shed?
  • How often does it happen?
  • How to tell the difference between shedding and shell rot
Red-eared slider shedding its shell

When it comes to reptile care, turtle shell peeling can be a confusing and concerning topic. Shell peeling is a normal growth process for turtles, but if the scutes on your turtle’s carapace aren’t shedding properly, you may have cause for concern. We’ll explore why turtle shells peel, how often they should shed their scutes, tips for maintaining healthy shell condition, and when you should start worrying about your pet’s health regarding its carapace.

Key Takeaways

  • DO NOT pick shedding scutes!
  • It is a natural process that helps keep their shells healthy and strong
  • It occurs when the outer layer of scutes begins to peel away from the underlying layers
  • It can look alarming, but it should not be cause for concern unless there are signs of infection or other issues present
  • Providing adequate UVB lighting and heat sources will promote optimal health conditions

What is Turtle Shell Peeling?

Turtle shell peeling is a natural process that occurs as turtles grow. It involves the shedding of old, worn-out scutes (the rigid plates on the turtle’s shell) and the growth of new ones underneath. This process helps keep their shells healthy and strong.

What Causes Turtle Shell Peeling?

  • Age & normal growth
  • Diet
  • Stress
  • Temperature fluctuations
  • Inadequate UV exposure

As turtles get older, they will naturally shed their old scutes more often than younger turtles due to normal wear and tear from swimming and basking in the sun.

A poor diet lacking essential vitamins and minerals can also lead to excessive shell peeling, affecting how quickly new scutes form under the existing ones.

Stressful environments such as overcrowded tanks or sudden changes in water temperature can also cause an increase in shell peeling activity and improper UVB lighting, which is necessary for proper calcium absorption for healthy shells.


Removing a turtle’s scutes by picking or cutting them is very painful for them. DO NOT DO THIS!

How to Identify Healthy Shell Peeling?

Healthy shell peeling should look like small flakes coming off of your turtle’s scutes with slight discoloration or cracking underneath them. The flakes should come off easily without any force applied by you or your pet turtle when touched lightly with your fingertips.

You may notice your turtle basking more often or even “itching” themselves to encourage shell peeling. This is completely normal!

If you notice any redness, swelling or soft spots on your turtle’s skin, this could indicate a bacterial infection known as shell rot, which requires immediate veterinary attention before spreading further into other parts of its body.

When Should You Be Concerned About Shell Peeling?

If you notice that your turtle’s scutes are not shedding normally, it is time to take action before the situation worsens. Pay close attention to how often they are shedding compared to previous times, what color they are turning, if any discoloration is present, and if any cracks are forming. These signs point towards potential problems with their shells; thus, consult a veterinarian immediately if anything seems out of place.

Understanding the Difference Between Shell Peeling and Shell Rot

Shell peeling and shell rot are two conditions that can affect your pet turtle’s health. Therefore, it is important to understand their differences to properly care for your reptile.

Symptoms of Shell Rot: Shell rot is a bacterial infection that affects the outer layer of a turtle’s shell, known as scutes. Symptoms include discoloration or darkening of the scutes, softness or flaking around the edges, foul odor, and pus-filled lesions on the surface. In severe cases, it can cause deformities in the shape of the shell and even lead to death if left untreated.

Treatment for Shell Rot: Treatment involves antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian and regular cleaning with an antiseptic solution to prevent the further spread of infection. The affected area should also be kept dry until it has healed completely.

Preventing shell rot: Proper hygiene and habitat maintenance are essential. Ensure that the turtle’s enclosure is kept clean by changing out its water regularly and providing adequate air circulation in its environment. Overcrowding should be avoided as it increases humidity levels which can lead to bacterial growth on shells resulting in infections such as shell rot over time.

📚 Read More >> Guide To Shell Rot

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Turtle Shell

  1. Maintain a healthy diet for your turtle
    • A healthy diet is essential to maintaining a healthy turtle shell. Turtles should be fed various fresh vegetables, fruits, insects, worms, and commercial turtle food. It’s important to avoid overfeeding your turtle as this can lead to health problems such as obesity or shell rot.
  2. Maintain a clean tank
    • To keep your turtle’s shell in top condition, it’s important to regularly clean their tank or habitat. This includes removing uneaten food or waste from the water daily, changing out 25-50% of the water weekly, and scrubbing down all surfaces with an aquarium-safe cleaner once a month.
  3. Provide adequate lighting
    • Turtles need access to UVA (ultraviolet A) light, which helps them regulate their circadian rhythms, and UVB (ultraviolet B) light, which allows them to produce Vitamin D3 for calcium absorption into their shells. Additionally, they need adequate heat sources such as basking lamps that provide temperatures between 80-90°F (27-32°C).


Is it bad if my turtle shell is peeling?

No, it is not bad if your turtle shell is peeling. This can be a normal part of the shedding process for turtles and other reptiles. As they grow, their shells may start to peel off in thin layers as new ones form underneath. If you notice any large chunks or patches of shell missing from your turtle’s body, however, it could indicate an underlying health issue that should be addressed by a veterinarian.

How do you know if a turtle has shell rot?

Shell rot is a common fungal infection in turtles and other reptiles. It can be identified by soft, discolored patches on the shell that may appear slimy or have an unpleasant odor. The affected area may also feel spongy to the touch. If left untreated, it can lead to further damage and even death of your pet turtle. To prevent shell rot, keep your turtle’s enclosure clean and dry, provide adequate UVB lighting, feed a balanced diet with plenty of calcium-rich foods, and avoid overcrowding in their habitat. If you suspect your turtle has shell rot, seek veterinary care immediately.

Lara Sotto

Lara Sotto

Lara Sotto is a marine biologist, freelance animal writer, and reptile lover. She is passionate about empowering reptile owners with the information they need to give the best care possible for their reptiles. She is currently taking up her Ph.D. in Marine Science and providing her knowledge to the ReptileKnowHow community.

4 thoughts on “Turtle Shell Peeling: Why Does This Happen?”

  1. Hello,
    My RES recently vegans shedding scutes. I had noticed some pyramiding before and was happy she was finally getting around to it. But it’s been mostly the back top part of shell and the shell now looks light yellow instead of brown or olive. Is this normal?
    I would appreciate the help

  2. Is it normal for a painted pond turtle to loose appetite when shedding scutes? If so, how long is it normal for him to not want to eat much? He’s shedding and it’s close to winter.


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Lara Sotto

Lara Sotto

Lara Sotto is a marine biologist, freelance animal writer, and reptile lover. She is passionate about empowering reptile owners with the information they need to give the best care possible for their reptiles. She is currently taking up her Ph.D. in Marine Science and providing her knowledge to the ReptileKnowHow community.

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