A tortoise’s skin may appear dry, ashy, or patchy. If it’s centralized around the tortoise’s neck or legs, you may think it has a skin infection or fungus.
Tortoises naturally shed skin, scales, and scutes throughout their lifetime. The shedding process allows them to cast off old skin and grow healthy, robust skin.
This fresh layer rejuvenates the body and serves to protect them from diseases. Tortoises don’t shed their skin in one uniform sleeve, so it flakes off in patches.
The tortoise won’t require your intervention, and you should never peel off the extra skin by hand. It can take days or weeks for a tortoise to shed fully, but it shouldn’t be a distressing process.
Do Tortoises Shed Their Skin?
Tortoises shed their skin, but they won’t do this in one uniform piece, like you might observe with snakes, but instead in flaky patches.
Tortoises can’t take off their shell since it’s a part of their skeletal structure, much like a rib cage.
So, shedding won’t happen inside the tortoise’s shell, just on the outside. Skin will fall away from its outer limbs in regions like the neck, head, and legs.
Do Tortoises Shed Their Scales?
Depending on the species of tortoise, it may have prominent scales.
These are usually found along the legs and might connect to spurs used to protect the tortoise. These scales are keratin, like the scutes found on a tortoise’s main shell.
The tortoise will naturally shed these scales along with the rest of its skin.
Why is My Tortoise Shedding Skin?
Whether skin or scales, tortoises shed as a regenerative process that replaces dead or old layers with a new layer. Like other reptiles, this allows them to benefit from healthy, undamaged skin. Also, it accommodates their size as they grow.
Additionally, tortoises will experience flaking when healing from injuries. This usually happens if the tortoise is recovering from fungal skin infections, so replacing the skin allows it to recover.
Tortoises can’t lose all their skin at once because their hard shell makes it impossible, so skin shedding happens in stages.
To confirm a tortoise is shedding, you need to know what the process looks like:
Skin Appears Duller
When a tortoise starts to grow new skin, the top layer will die, which can give it an ashy or dull color, making your tortoise appear to have dry or unhealthy skin.
As long as this happens in patches and the layer beneath appears healthy, it’s not of concern.
If you’re wondering, “why does my tortoise have dry skin?” you’re most likely observing the natural phenomenon of skin-shedding in action.
You should first notice a tortoise shedding skin on the neck. This part of your tortoise’s body stretches and moves the most, making it easier for the old skin to be dislodged.
The tortoise will fully shed its old skin by rubbing against objects, soaking in water, or waiting until the skin comes off on its own.
The skin underneath is fresh and healthy and could starkly contrast with other areas that haven’t yet been shed. It can take several days or weeks to complete this stage.
Is it Safe To Peel Off Flaking Skin from A Tortoise?
You should never peel any flaky skin from a tortoise’s body. Even if you want to assist, pulling at this skin before it’s ready can lead to wounds or bleeding.
The skin may not be dead and unready to detach from the tortoise. Like pulling off a scab too soon, you can rip the fresh skin from underneath.
This can be painful and unsightly, requiring your tortoise to heal at a slower pace. At worst, the area may become infected with bacteria, leading to illness.
If you notice your tortoise’s skin is beginning to peel off, the best thing you can do is allow the skin-shedding process to happen naturally.
Any pieces of dead skin hanging from the body will eventually fall off without your intervention.
Tortoises shed the outer layer of keratin that protects the shell. A more accurate question would be, “do tortoises shed scutes?” and the answer is yes.
Much like shedding skin, tortoises need to rejuvenate their scutes with a fresh, healthy layer. Otherwise, the scutes would constantly show wear and tear.
The tortoise would also have difficulty growing to its full size with a healthy shell if the old scutes remained firmly, unchangingly in place.
Tortoises shed their scutes naturally. As the tortoise grows, the scutes on its carapace will start to fall off.
New growth will create a strong shell to protect the tortoise’s internal organs. You’ll know this is happening when the following happens:
- Scutes become more translucent
- New layers develop underneath the old shell
- Shell increases gradually in size
- Shell becomes stronger
How To Help A Tortoise Shed
There are ways to help the shedding process without harming the tortoise.
Soaking your tortoise will help the old skin come loose naturally. In particular, the outer layer of dead skin will soften, making it detach more quickly.
Soaking can help your tortoise absorb water and stay hydrated, making the new skin underneath healthier. If the fresh skin is in good condition, it’ll push away the old skin.
Keeping the humidity in a tortoise’s enclosure high can expedite the shedding process. A moist environment creates the right conditions for the old skin to become softer so that it peels off easily.
Using a substrate with high moisture-retention properties, such as grass and mulch, can maintain the right balance throughout the day. Alternatively, you can use a humidifier.
Clean The Tank
Your tortoise will find it harder to shed clean flakes if it lives in a dirty enclosure. So, change the substrate, wash its hides, and provide fresh water.
This will minimize the risk of infection as your tortoise regenerates its skin and give them clean soil and objects to rub against to naturally remove the flaking skin.
Why Is My Tortoise’s Skin Peeling Unnaturally?
While shedding is a natural process, there are times when illness or injury causes a tortoise to shed unnaturally. You should check for these signs:
Fungal or bacterial infections may cause your tortoise to develop unhealthy skin or scutes, which will die and flake off in patches.
This can leave behind inflamed and discolored marks or cause bleeding. You should be concerned if the skin takes on a strange texture, appears irritated, or creates an unpleasant smell.
According to Medical Mycology Case Reports, tortoises are prone to infections, and wounds increase the risk. A skin infection can lead to an open wound, which then becomes infected.
Dysecdysis is the abnormal shedding of scutes that can expose the tortoise’s fragile organs, making it vulnerable to infections and injuries.
If the scutes fall off quickly, especially if the tortoise has shed recently, you should seek a vet’s opinion.
Shell rot is an ulcerative bone disease due to bacteria infecting the blood vessels inside the shell. This condition causes the scutes of a tortoise’s shell to fall off, thereby exposing the internal organs.
If not diagnosed and treated early, shell rot can spread throughout the carapace of your tortoise, causing significant damage to the shell.
According to The National Marine Life Center, metabolic bone disease is caused by an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus in the body.
This weakens a tortoise’s carapace and plastron, making the shell vulnerable to cracks and fractures. When left untreated, MBD can cause the scutes to peel off until none are left.
Pyramiding is a disorder that is characterized by the raising of scutes on a tortoise’s shell.
While excess protein is believed to be the main cause of pyramiding, other factors, like deficiencies in calcium and vitamin B3, can contribute.
Pyramiding causes the scutes to be pushed upward, which weakens the shell structure, thereby making the shell susceptible to breaking and peeling off.
It’s normal for a tortoise to shed its skin, which will be a stress-free process that takes place in stages and doesn’t harm the new skin growing underneath.