Everyone can recognise a turtle with its unique hard shell, but what about the rest of their bodies? Since turtles are reptiles, do they have scales? If they do have scales, what are they like?
Yes Turtles Do Have Scales
First, their shell’s surface is covered in scales called scutes. The top side of the shell is called the carapace and usually has 38 scutes. The underside of the shell is called the plastron and has 16 scutes. Both parts are fused together along the sides by a bridge. The scutes on the surface look like mosaic tiles, but some species have overlapping scutes on their carapace.
The scutes on the carapace are split into five categories:
- Nuchal: the scute above the head.
- Vertebral: a single line of scutes which run along the middle from head to tail.
- Costals: run parallel on both sides of the vertebral.
- Supracaudal: the scute above the tail.
- Marginals: run next to the costals and attach to the bridge.
As we know, the only exposed parts of a turtle’s body are its legs, tail, neck and head. All these areas are covered in scales except for the neck and head.
Why Do Turtles Have Scales?
Turtles have scales for the same reason other reptiles have them for protection from the elements and predators. Here are five ways:
- A turtle’s main predator is a shark, so having a solid shell and scales gives them much-needed protection from shark bites. Only the biggest and strongest sharks will be able to damage a turtle.
- Their scales protect them from strong ocean currents battering them against the reef.
- When climbing over rugged terrain when entering and exiting the water, the scales protect them from scrapes.
- Stops harmful bacteria from entering their body and making them sick.
- The sea turtle’s scales come in handy when your favourite food is jellyfish. The scales stop the turtle from being stung.
What Are Turtles Scales Made Of?
The turtle’s scales or scutes are made from keratin, the same material human nails and elephant tusks are made of. The turtle can absorb vitamin D from the sun because the scales are made of keratin.
Do Turtles Shed Their Scales?
It is common knowledge that other reptiles shed their scaley skin leaving behind an old ghostly layer of skin. But what about turtles? Since they have scales, it is logical to assume they shed their skin too.
Every year or so, turtles can and will shed their scales. This happens much less dramatically than when other reptile species shed their skins. Their scales are lost and replaced in a way that is not even noticeable, like how human skin cells are constantly being replaced with new ones.