How Strong Is A Turtle Shell?

Since childhood, we have heard one thing very; evidently, that turtle shell is unbreakable. Therefore, the turtle shell is the toughest gift of god for the turtles to obtain protection from natural aspects & calamities. As per science, a turtle shell can withstand around 1000 pounds of pressure on it.

How Hard Is A Turtle Shell?

How Hard Is A Turtle Shell

As stated above, a turtle shell has the strength to withstand immense force upon it. There is a scientific term named, Fracture toughness, which measures the force essential for fracturing through certain surfaces.

Also read our guide on Can turtle live without a shell?

Fracture Toughness Rating:

The Fracture Toughness rating of a turtle shell is 36.4MPA m1/2. It has a very high fracture rating that states the toughness and durability of a turtle’s shell. In comparison with a turtle shell, aluminum is weaker! Aluminum has a fracture toughness rating of 22 MPa m1/2, which is less than a turtle shell.

But, if you look for a stronger object than that of a turtle’s shell, then you need to count on titanium. The fracture toughness rating of titanium stands at 95 MPa m1/2.

A turtle shell is tough enough to withstand the wrath of many wild and sea animals. But, they are not that strong to withstand the bite of crocodiles, alligators, or honey badgers. Few other animals have the potential to break the turtle’s shell, but they do not intend to.

Alligators and Crocodiles have strong jaws, and they can grab the turtles/tortoises in their mouth to break the turtle’s shell. But honey badgers are small animals that have an immense amount of strength in their jaws to break through even the hardest shell of a turtle. This is because honey badgers are fond of turtle shells, and they have sharp teeth to penetrate them easily.

What Makes A Turtle Shell Hard?

What Makes A Turtle Shell Hard

The evolution of the turtle’s shell was a mystery for scientists. However, as per the scientists’ research, a turtle’s shell consists of around 50 bones. These bones include rib, vertebrae, and shoulder bones, which combine to build a tough outer shell or skeleton of a turtle.

The Presence of Keratin In The Shell Of Land Turtles/Tortoises

The shell of turtles/tortoises is made up of bones that are also covered up with keratin. Keratin is the same material that is used for making the rhino’s horn. Its contents form a layer called scutes over the tough shell that acts as shields to prevent breakage. 

Keratin is the most abundant protein available on Earth, and it has a high potential of preventing the shell from getting cracked. However, the researchers are still investing their time, resources, and efforts to derive more verdicts upon how strong a turtle’s tough shell is.

The land tortoises and many other species of turtles have the privilege to hide their head completely inside their carapace. But the sea turtle’s carapace cannot accommodate the head completely. So the turtles survive most of their life hassles with the help of their thicker shell.

How Much Force Does It Take To Break A Turtle’s Shell?

The shell of a tortoise or turtle is very strong, and it is very rare for you to find any turtle with a broken or cracked shell. It is the toughest amongst all of the other natural materials. But still, there is a limit of force that it can withstand. Science has answers for all!

As per science, the hardest shell of an empty box turtle can resist the force of up to 200 times its weight. As far as the records are concerned, the shells can withstand up to 1000 pounds of pressure upon them. Therefore, you or most species of animals need to implement to damage or crush the turtle shell.

Shell Rotting Can Weaken The Integrity Of Turtle Shells

The shells are hard enough to withstand major pressure-oriented attacks, but they fail to deal with the problem. Shell rot, also known as shell ulcers, is a common bacteria-oriented infection of a turtle’s shell. It occurs mostly due to a cracked shell or due to other internal problems in a turtle.

A turtle/tortoise that has experienced any damage to its shell or has faced any brute force often has poor body condition. As a result, the hard scutes give up their potential of protection, and eventually, there is an opening for bacteria to infect the hard shell from within.

Some of the turtles also experience shell rot conditions due to dehydration problems and poor diet. There are ways to treat the shell rot condition in a tortoise or turtle to protect the species from experiencing a painful death before time. Therefore, use a healing process such as debridement, housing, antibiotics, nutrition with proper diet, and other such solutions. You can consult a turtle vet to know more about it.

Hence, irrespective of how hard a turtle’s shell is, some adversities can compromise its durability. But they are rare conditions, as turtles or tortoises don’t get into such troubles, like other prey and predators.

Remember, if you have a pet turtle, you are responsible for giving it an ample diet to help it keep its shell safe over time.

The Loggerhead Sea Turtles have the hardest and strongest shell among all of the other tortoises or turtles. Apart from that, there are leatherback turtles, who are quite bigger than that of the loggerheads. But the shell is softer for this species of turtle than the Loggerhead.

Is A Sea Turtle Shell Bulletproof?

Is A Sea Turtle Shell Bulletproof

A tortoise or turtle’s shell is very strong and durable, which helps to protect them from jungle and sea dangers. The sharks in seas will simply slip the turtle in their mouth to crush them with their powerful jaws. In addition, sharks have strong teeth to break the rib or turtle’s shell and easily crush the flesh.

But if you keep aside the preying danger, there is a big question that people often ask. “Is the turtle’s shell bulletproof?”. The easy and simple answer to this question is ‘No.’

Even though the shell is super strong, they are not meant for withstanding a bullet. A shell is easily breakable by a strong predator with sharp teeth. However, bullets are much stronger than the jaws of predators!

The shell of a tortoise or turtle is composed of several bones connected within their body through the turtle’s spine. As a result, when the bullet hits their shell, their body will start to bleed.

The tortoise or turtle’s shell consists of nerves that will burst out with a bullet shot, and the blood will flow. As a result, the rib cage will break, and there is less chance that the limbs inside the turtle will also experience damage.

Can A Dog Bite Through A Turtle Shell?

Can A Dog Bite Through A Turtle Shell

If an adult dog of a powerful breed attacks a turtle of middle age, the shell might experience damage. But the general dogs do not have the capability of piercing through the hard shells of tortoises or turtles.

A big dog like Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Pit Bull, and other such breeds can damage even the shells of older tortoises/turtles.

Can A Turtle Shell Be Broken?

Can A Turtle Shell Be Broken

The hardness of the turtle shell consists of special bonding material that makes it difficult to break. Difficult, but not impossible! They can crack in just a few bites from some predators, just like the human bones experience damage.

One such random cause of turtle shell breakage is Pyramiding. Pyramiding is the indefinite growth of scutes over the shells—pyramiding results in cracking the shell and splitting it. In the worst scenarios, it can even break the shell.

Read our new post ff you want to know whether the turtle has unhealthy shell and it’s cause, prevention, etc.

Other Reasons For Which The Turtle Shell Can Break

There are a few reasons for which the shells of water and land turtles can experience breakage over time:

  • Improper diet
  • Less exposure to UV light of the sun.
  • Less consumption of vitamin D. (Vitamin D is an important nutrient for determining strength to shells of turtles)

Animals That Can Break The Turtle’s Shell

To give you a brief understanding of what types of animal can break a turtle’s shell with just a few bites, here is the category and list of them:

1. Crocodiles & Alligators

These are strong reptiles that can break the shell of one of the other reptiles, turtles, or tortoises. They can do it because they have sharp jaws that can break the shell of turtles & tortoises easily.

2. Honey Badgers

These are not that big predators in comparison to crocodiles or alligators. But they have sharp teeth and strong jaws for biting the turtle shell with immense power. It can easily crush down the shell in a matter of seconds. 

3. Sharks & Whales

Sharks & Whales are accountable to be the biggest predators of turtles in the sea. As their shells are softer than the turtles on land, they are quite easily breakable.

4. Birds

Strange but true! Birds, too, can break the shells of tortoises and turtles. Birds don’t need their jaw strength for breaking the shell, but they need ingenuity. Birds commonly lift the turtles off the ground or sea and drop them on land from a high altitude. Hence, it results in breaking of their shell due to the impact. 


The body of tortoises/turtles is protected from most of the lively threats they encounter in their lifetime. But some intentional and aggressive approaches of predators break the integrity of their shell, and the nerve endings are the first to experience damage. Most animals break their shells easily due to their superior power over turtles.

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