Can Turtles Feel Touch on Their Shell?

Do you own a turtle and want to know more about its anatomy? Are you wondering if a turtle can feel a touch on its shell?

Congrats, you found the right page for that. 

Turtles do feel even the lightest touch in their shell. However, there are some particularities that you must learn before trying to pet your beloved reptile. 

Read the article below to find out more about your turtle’s shell. 

What is a Turtle Shell Anyway?

If you have a turtle, you probably want to know what is a turtle shell. It is, indeed, a very interesting structure with lots of different tiny aspects. 

A turtle shell is basically, the armor of a turtle. It is made of a protein named keratin. It has the same structure as our nails, hair, or even a rhino’s horn. It is a compact and hard layer of organic material that helps the turtles escape from various predators. 

Here are the most important things you must know about a turtle shell.

Also read: Why is my turtle’s shell turning white?


The scutes are the external protective layer of a turtle shell. Its outer squares are primarily made of keratin, a type of protein found in nails, hair, and other such constructions. 

Scutes are there to protect the bones and internal organs. They are thick and practically impenetrable to any predator. 

Different types of turtles have different types of scutes. There are, for example, turtles that shed their scutes once a year. 


There are two portions of a turtle shell. The top portion, one that everybody sees, is called the carapace. It is a thick layer of scutes that ensures safety and security for the turtle. 

The carapace is usually dark green and has multiple big, square portions of keratin. 


The plastron is the bottom part of the shell. It is usually less thick and strong than the carapace. The plastron has a light tan color and protects the turtle when it gets upside down or when it touches the bottom 

Do Turtle-Shells Have Nerve Endings?

Nerve cells

Yes, turtle shells have nerve endings. However, being not as sensitive as other nerve endings, the ones in their shells only transmit the vibrations to the much more sensitive cells. These sensitive nerves are located on the inside part of a shell. 

That being said, not all turtles have the same nerve structure. There are turtles with much more sensitive shells. Leatherbacks, for example, have a layer of skin on their shells. This permits them to glide more smoothly in the water. However, it adds sensibility to their shells. 

A crack on a turtle shell feels very painful. Turtles can literally die from a painful shock if the crack in their shell is big enough. It almost feels like a human bone that breaks. 

Also, the quantity of nerve endings is derived from the thickness of the shell. The thicker it is, the harder for the turtle to feel any kind of touch or pet on the shell. However, thick shells are encountered on the biggest turtles that cannot be contained as a pet. Therefore, our little pet turtles don’t have this kind of problem. 

Also read: Why is my turtle’s shell peeling?

Can Turtles Feel Their Shell Being Pet?

A large turtle being pet on its head

Yes, turtles can feel that as well. However, you need to apply a fair deal of pressure for your turtle to feel it. 

As I said, turtles have numb nerve endings in their shells. They only react to vibration, and, a light touch cannot give the right amount of pressure to form the right vibrations. 

Also, it depends on the kind of turtle you have. Some turtles feel any kind of touch easily, and there is a turtle who cannot do that. The only right way to find out is to search specifically for your type of turtle or, to try and observe if the turtle can feel it when you touch it. 

Last but not least, you can ask your veterinarian if the turtle you bought has a sensitive shell or not. It will help you with petting as well as choosing the aquarium and other things that are directly touching your turtle’s shell. 

Do Turtles Like Their Shells Rubbed?

No, in most cases, turtles don’t like to be rubbed or even pet. They aren’t as friendly as other animals you can keep as pets. Turtles are easily scared and are inside their shell for various reasons most of the time. Petting is one of them. 

Even if a turtle is sensitive enough to feel the petting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will like being rubbed. In most cases, turtles like to be left alone and not rubbed. However, there are cases when a turtle is particularly friendly and loves to be pet, held or stroke. 

Although they are not friendly, a small rub on their shells won’t hurt them at all. Also, you should know that pet turtles actually understand who their owner is and can recognize the sights and sounds of familiar humans around them. 

Therefore, it is more likely for a turtle to love a rub from its owner than from a complete stranger. Thus, it is better for their health and stress level not to let your friends and even family hold them or pet them for a long time. 

Can You Touch a Turtle’s Shell?

Yes, you can touch a turtle’s shell. If you are worried about hurting it, you shouldn’t be. Turtles aren’t sensitive enough to feel pain from the touch of their shells. 

However, if the shell is cracked, burned, or somehow damaged, it will hurt your turtle. It can literally cause death by pain shock, so, be very careful. 

If you just want to pet your turtle with light glides on their scutes, go ahead. A turtle won’t mind. Just keep in mind the fact that it should be done carefully if it is a new turtle that you don’t know. 

Difference Between Turtle and Tortoise Shell

The main difference between a turtle and a tortoise is the fact that a tortoise lives on land and a turtle lives in water. Thus, their shells have practically nothing in common. 

A tortoise shell is more rigid and has a completely different shape. It is not as aerodynamic and thin as the turtle shells. They are big, heavy, and rounded in order to protect the turtle from land predators and other damages. Also, the tortoise doesn’t shed their scutes. The keratin constantly grows and pushes back the old scutes as the new ones grow. 

A turtle is completely different. Their shells are more compact and flat. It isn’t as heavy and thick as the shells of a tortoise. They have to be very aerodynamic to swim with less physical endorsement. Also, turtles shed their scutes regularly. This is the main reason that they step on land. To stay in the sun for the scutes to dry out and fall. However, there are cases when turtles rub their shell onto rocks or trees for the scutes to fall off. 

In conclusion, tortoises are less agile and fast but more protected from predators and extern damage, whereas a turtle is more agile and fast, can swim and glide through the water, but has little to no protection. This is the power of shells in the wild world.

Related Article: What do tortoises eat?


Yes, a turtle can feel all your touches, especially a pet turtle. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it likes being touched or rubbed. 

You just need to observe and understand your turtle’s reaction to these signs of affection. If it doesn’t love them, it is fine. It’s a normal thing for pet turtles. You can give it some more treats to get it to love being touched or just live it be. It is your choice! 

Dorothy Razo

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