Baby turtles have been around for millions of years.
They’re some of the oldest animals on Earth, and they’ve survived several extinction events.
But how do these reptiles get their shells in the first place?
And are turtle babies ever born without them?
In this article you’re going to discover – Are baby turtles born with shells?
Are Turtles Born With Shells?
The question is not whether turtles can be hatched out from an egg that has no shell at all.
It’s more like “When were turtles born with shells?”
The answer is simple — when turtles evolved over time and developed a hard outer layer called the carapace.
This shell protects young turtles while they grow into adults.
As soon as hatchlings emerge from eggs or nests, they immediately start building up calcium deposits inside their bodies.
These deposits eventually form bone structures which become the turtle’s skeleton.
Once bones begin developing within the body, the reptile begins growing its protective covering, also known as the plastron.
In other words, it takes time before adult turtles develop a fully-formed external shell.
A newborn turtle may look like a little ball with flippers but it actually grows quickly once it leaves the nest or egg.
A baby turtle will continue adding layers of flesh until it becomes thicker than one inch.
After shedding the last bit of skin, the new turtle digs itself under cover using its front claws and forming burrows with mud walls.
Since the animal cannot breathe underwater yet, it must stay above ground level where there are air sacs.
When ready, the turtle crawls through the water toward land.
Its tail helps propel it forward by pushing off the bottom of the ocean floor.
Once it gets close enough to the surface, the turtle opens its mouth wide so it can gulp down air.
Now breathing both fresh air and saltwater, the turtle dives back under the waves to rest for a few hours.
During this period, the turtle builds up strength in its lower limbs and develops coordination between its two sides.
Soon after emerging from the sea, the newly-hatched turtle scurries away from danger and seeks refuge among leafy plants for protection.
In just four weeks’ time, the baby turtle reaches maturity and sheds the final parts of its shell.
At the same time, it stops eating because food isn’t available any longer.
Over the next six months, the turtle gradually loses weight and puts on muscle mass.
Meanwhile, it keeps laying eggs and protecting them against predators such as birds and raccoons.
Eventually, the female turtle produces hundreds of tiny eggs which she then covers with soil or sand.
She’ll bury her treasure underneath a mound that will serve as a nest or shelter during incubation.
After hatching, every species of turtle spends most of its first year crawling across dry land looking for vegetation to eat.
However, scientists say juvenile green sea turtles can survive swimming short distances if necessary.
Many experts believe that baby turtles could swim far better than people realize since they already possess webbed feet.
So now you understand why baby turtles don’t hatch out of eggs devoid of shells.
Next we’ll discuss why many turtles lose their shells later in life.
Do New Born Turtles Have Shells?
You might think so since you see plenty of baby turtles wandering around with exposed ribs and backsides.
But those missing patches aren’t caused by damage inflicted by humans.
Instead, the gaps occur naturally when hatchling turtles shed their shells.
It turns out that the process of molting happens all throughout a turtle’s lifetime.
Hatchlings molt frequently, losing the top half of their shells each time.
By doing so, turtles prevent injuries that could otherwise happen due to falling debris or sharp objects.
On average, a wild tortoise should replace its entire exterior shell every five or six years.
Scientists still haven’t determined exactly how long individual turtles live but recent studies show that tortoises typically reach sexual maturity at age three.
Turtles who spend too much time submerged beneath water usually end up getting sick or even dying.
That’s because aquatic creatures lack access to oxygen unless they come up for air periodically.
Consequently, drowning victims often suffer severe brain damage and die shortly afterwards.
However, freshwater turtles who live near ponds and lakes rarely encounter this problem.
Do Turtles Die If Their Shells Are Damaged?
Though turtles generally build stronger shells with time, damaged shells occasionally heal themselves.
Sometimes cracks or breaks occur as a result of accidents involving rocks or heavy branches.
Other times, injury results from attacks by predators or human hands.
Even though broken shells pose less serious problems than full replacements, the repairs are quite painful.
To treat minor wounds, injured turtles rely upon bacteria present on their skin.
Normally, these microorganisms produce antibiotics which reduce swelling and inflammation.
However, if the area surrounding the wound stays moist, foreign invaders can enter the body and cause infection.
Therefore, it’s important to keep the affected portion clean with soap and warm water.
Also, try applying antibiotic ointments, numbing agents, or antiseptic lotions directly onto the shell patch.
If the situation worsens, veterinarians recommend amputating the cracked section of the shell.
Otherwise, the remaining fragments may fall apart and leave the animal vulnerable to harm.
Furthermore, cracking sounds coming from a turtle’s shell suggest possible internal trauma.
Such injuries require immediate medical attention.
Since tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles, they generate heat internally instead of relying upon sunlight.
Like mammals, they sweat to regulate temperature levels.
Unlike mammals however, tortoises can’t control the amount of moisture in their surroundings.
So they need extra fluid intake to avoid dehydration.
For example, many tortoise owners give their pets drinking bottles filled with tap water.
Water refills are another common source of hydration.
Fresh water sources include streams, ponds, rivers, wells, and watering cans.
Keep in mind that tortoises dislike being confined indoors and may escape outdoors.
If yours does manage to break free, call a veterinarian right away.