What The Inside Of A Turtle’s Shell Looks Like

When you look at a turtle you hardly think of them as being one of nature’s mysteries, however, after being around for 157 million years, their bone structure continues to be a source of intrigue. Turtles are the only animal to be able to grow a shell from bone, and this fact has led the species to evolve quite the strange-looking spinal cord.

In fact, they’re the only shelled animal that cannot entirely remove themselves from their shells – all because their shells are part of their bone structure.

These naturally shy creatures truly have some incredible and intriguing secrets hidden within their shells.

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I’ll still be out of the shop for most of this month working on this big project, so here is a repost of one of my paintings from a couple years back! Ink and watercolor on Stonehenge paper, this is The Anatomical Dissection of a Red Eared Terrapin. I would love to redesign this image for a tattoo, in color or black work, your choice! This would need to be at least 6 inches tall, so email or dm me if you are interested! . . . . . #turtleillustration #tattoodesign #stonehengepaper #turtletattoo #scientificillustration #anatomicalillustration #pointillism #dotwork #watercolorpainting #watercolor #femaletattooer #femaletattooartist #ladytattooer #ladytattooers #phillytattoo #phillytattooartist #wilmingtontattoo #anatomicalart #scienceart #anatomydrawing #turtleanatomy

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In fact, if you were to look within their shells, you’d notice that they actually have a lot of space within the central cavity. And it’s not just empty space within that cavity, it’s actually where their internal organs are located – and they’re pretty well-packed into it too.

The turtle shell also contains both the turtle’s spinal cord as well as their rib cage.

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To answer the previous bone structure question – Many people think that the spinal column and ribcage of a turtle/tortoise just runs through a turtle's shell. No, it is actually attached TO the top (carapace) of the shell. The carapace is the dorsal (back), convex part of the shell structure of a turtle, consisting of the animal's ribcage combined with dermal bone. The spine and ribs are fused to dermal plates beneath the skin which interlock to form a hard shell. Exterior to the skin the shell is covered by scutes, which are horny plates made of keratin that protect the shell from scrapes and bruises. The turtle shell is a highly complicated shield for the ventral and dorsal parts of turtles, tortoises and terrapins, completely enclosing all the vital organs of the turtle and in some cases even the head. It is constructed of modified bony elements such as the ribs, parts of the pelvis and other bones found in most reptiles. Therefore turtles have no backs. The bone of the shell consists of both skeletal and dermal bone, showing that the complete enclosure of the shell probably evolved by including dermal armor into the rib cage. The shell of the turtle is an important study, not just because of the obvious protection it provides for the animal, but also as an identification tool, in particular with fossils as the shell is one of the likely parts of a turtle to survive fossilization. Hence understanding the structure of the shell in living species gives us comparable material with fossils.🐢🐢🐢

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And as it turns out, this is why a turtle has the capacity to retract their heads into their shells.

Nature is truly incredible.


So, next time you see a turtle, you will know more about their anatomy. They’re not just “slow and steady” they’re also built like little tanks.

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Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.