Like most reptile species, aquatic turtles molt. They do this by shedding scutes or layers of shell as the body of the turtle grows. Because an aquatic turtle spends so much time in water, molting can look like shreds of tissue sloughing off from the turtle. It can cause concern for pet owners who have never experienced a turtle molt before.
How It Works
An aquatic turtle’s shell is similar to a rib cage on other animals; it grows with the turtle as he grows. An aquatic turtle may not shed or molt in one piece, like some snakes and crabs. It’s more likely that you’ll see bits and pieces of shed floating in the tank or trailing behind the turtle like tissue paper. This is completely normal. Don’t try to help your turtle by pulling molting shell from his body; doing so could hurt him.
Facilitating the Molt
Aquatic turtles need a balance of appropriately heated water, as well as dry basking areas. This ensures your turtle’s shell has an opportunity to dry out and prevents fungus or shell rot, and it encourages healthy molting. Keep your turtle’s water tank temperature at 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit using a submersible heater or by installing a full-spectrum UV heat lamp above the tank’s basking area. This will ensure good overall health as well as productive molting.
Aquatic turtle molting can be messy, particularly in a tank that contains multiple turtles. Left unchecked, such a tank can quickly become a dirty environment. Shed shell skin can clog up filters and promote bacterial growth, which can lead to turtle health problems. Keep your tank free of floating debris and algae to promote a healthy environment.
Molting Turtle Handling
Your turtle’s shell may look cloudy before a molt. The turtle’s shell will be slightly softer than usual following a shed; you should handle him with care. Always wash your hands with an antibacterial agent after handling your turtle to protect against salmonella. Watch for pitted rough areas on the shell that could be signs of shell rot.
- Animal Planet: Can a Turtle Outgrow Its Shell?
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources: Environmental Education for Kids: Shells and Skin
- University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine: How Your Reptile Changes Its Wardrobe
- University of North Carolina: An Overview of Common Semi-Aquatic Turtles
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Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.