If you were to ask any biologist, zoologist or reptile specialist the question “does a turtle have hair?” they would all respond with an emphatic YES.
A turtle has many unique characteristics that make it stand apart from other reptiles and amphibians.
One such characteristic is its ability to grow hair.
In fact, some species of turtles are so well known for their long thick plumes of hair that they have become synonymous in our culture as ‘turtles’ rather than just referring them as’soft-shelled turtles’.
But what exactly does this mean when we refer to soft shell turtles versus hard shelled turtles?
What about hairless turtles?
There still seems to be confusion over whether or not turtles can actually shed their external covering.
So let us take a closer look at these questions and more!
Do turtles have hair?
Most people who know anything about turtles will answer yes to the question “do turtles have hair?”.
The reason why most people say yes is because the majority of turtles have been documented growing hair on the underside of their shells.
To understand how this works though, first lets talk about what makes up a turtles shell.
Most people think of a turtles shell as being made out of nothing but bone right?
Well unfortunately this isn’t true although there are indeed bones present within the structure of a turtles shell.
Instead of bone, the outer coating of the turtles shell is made up of keratin which is found mostly in your fingernails and hair shafts.
Keratin helps protect the softer parts of your body like your brain, spinal cord, lungs etc.
It also provides support and protection against injury and infection.
Since we now know that turtles have keratin within their outer protective layer then technically speaking yes turtles do have hair.
However since we don’t see actual hair strands floating around on top of the turtles exterior surface like we do with mammals, birds and fish, we tend to forget that turtles aren’t hair bearing animals.
Now that we’ve answered the question “do turtles have hair” let me address another common misconception regarding turtles; Does a turtle need to shed its shell to breathe?
This is often referred to as having a hard shell or a tough shell.
While I agree that shedding one’s shell may help regulate temperature and reduce water loss through evaporation, it doesn’t necessarily affect breathing.
Turtles are capable of regulating their internal temperatures by absorbing heat from sunlight during sunny days and expelling excess moisture from the tail.
If you were to remove the shell entirely from a turtle it wouldn’t stop them from functioning properly.
Does a turtle have teeth?
Since turtles are cold-blooded creatures they cannot generate enough heat internally to produce saliva.
Like crocodiles, turtles have glands near their mouths that secrete a thin mucus type substance that coats their mouth area.
Unlike crocodiles however, turtles lack a tongue and rely solely on this mucous membrane to moisten food prior to swallowing.
Yes turtles have a set of small pointed protrusions under their tongues that serve as their primary method of eating and digesting food.
Although their teeth are quite weak compared to those of mammals and vertebrates, their dentition nonetheless functions efficiently.
You’d be surprised to learn that turtles have dental plaque bacteria similar to that of humans.
Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, turtle eggs never hatch with tooth buds.
Rather, turtles lay their eggs in nests lined with fungus and bacteria that break down the eggshells.
After hatching turtles eat their way through their unfertilized eggs.
Turtle parents teach their young about 6 weeks after birth how to locate hidden nesting sites and feed on dead worms and grubs by gently scraping them onto their tongues.
Once the nest site has been discovered, turtles dig deep holes that resemble large burrows.
Within these tunnels are chambers filled with loose sand and decaying matter that serves as their homes and shelters.
Inside these dark caves, turtles spend hours hunting for food in order to survive.
It takes years for turtles to mature and reach sexual maturity so its natural instinct to hide away until they’re ready to start breeding.
What is a turtles skin made out of?
When we consider that turtles live primarily outdoors in damp muddy environments it becomes easier to comprehend why turtles have developed a semi permeable membrane as part of their skins.
First of all, unlike lizard skins which consist almost exclusively of hardened overlapping scales, turtles have evolved to wear a thinner elastic membrane composed mainly of collagen fibers.
Secondly, turtles naturally absorb nutrients and minerals absorbed through their skin.
Thirdly, turtles also require humidity levels of approximately 40% in order to maintain healthy skin tissue.
Finally, based on my own personal observations, turtles have excellent control over their movements allowing them to easily shift positions whenever necessary.
With that said, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of keeping warm and dry especially given that turtles can lose 10 – 15 percent of their total body mass overnight depending on their environment.
Can you touch a turtle?
Although turtles are generally considered harmless pets, there are exceptions to every rule.
Before adopting or buying a pet turtle you should research local laws pertaining to ownership requirements.
Some states prohibit owning certain types of turtles including African dwarf river tortoises, Asian pond turtles, red eared sliders and ball pythons.
Other restrictions include specific size limits, age limitations and length of possession periods.
Also important to review, is the potential risk associated with bringing home newly hatched baby turtles.
Many state governments recommend waiting 7 – 10 days after hatching before attempting to handle them.
During this period, baby turtles undergo critical developmental stages that involve learning basic survival skills like finding food sources, avoiding predators and building nests.
Remember that baby turtles represent one of the highest risks associated with turtle ownership.
Baby turtles can suffer from severe trauma and injuries caused by mishandling or improper care resulting in death.
Because of the high level of danger involved with handling newborn turtles, please contact a professional breeder or repopulation center for advice.
Keep in mind that turtles kept indoors are usually free ranging animals.
Therefore if you plan on keeping them outside you should ensure the enclosure has adequate ventilation and drainage capabilities.
Related article – Can a baby turtle live with a big turtle?