Turtles are adorable, intriguing animals with several unique traits, including their ability to hide in their shells. Except for a few species, most turtles can withdraw into their shells and conceal themselves within.
While that’s great for protecting themselves from predators, it’s not so great for turtle owners (like myself!) who want to see their heads pop out every now and then.
I remember when I got my first turtle. I was so excited to see the little guy, but unfortunately, he wasn’t that excited to see me. He was actually pretty shy and frightened in the beginning, which is why he hid in his shell for the first few days. It wasn’t until I did some research that I found some useful tips for getting him comfortable enough to come out of his shell and say hello!
Here are a few tips to help you do the same.
Why Does My Turtle Not Come Out of Shell?
There may be a few reasons why he’s hiding in his shell. Here are the most common reasons.
His Shell is His Home
You need to remember that the shell of a turtle is its home. It is a protective structure made up of hard bone that serves as his armor against predators and weather. While other creatures like snails and crabs also have shells, a turtle’s shell is unique in that it is attached to its spine and rib cage. In other words, a turtle cannot survive without it.
Since the shell of a turtle is hard bone, it has nerve endings and blood supply, so any injury to his shell can be extremely painful for the turtle.
Turtles may be one of the slowest creatures on the planet, but they have an advantage in the wild because of their shell. While they cannot run from predators, turtles can almost instantly withdraw into their shells, protecting themselves from danger.
Most animals would struggle to get past the thick, bony shell, so they simply end up leaving him alone.
However, turtles will also pull themselves into their shells if they feel threatened by humans. For example, when I first got Mack (my pet turtle), I hardly ever saw him come out of his shell. He withdrew for days. It turns out, I made the mistake of getting too close to him and trying to touch him — a move that obviously left him terrified. Poor guy!
Turtles hate to feel threatened. When they do, their first instinct is to “go home.” Kind of like humans I suppose!
Turtles get easily stressed, and when he’s stressed, he’s scared. Everything from a cat or dog that gets too close to a TV playing in the same room can leave your turtle feeling super stressed. Whatever can stress out a human will stress out a turtle.
Even things like walking too closely to him, speaking in a loud voice, or playing noisy music can leave your turtle feeling panicked. And when this feeling crops up, the only way he knows how to protect himself is to withdraw into his shell.
How to Make a Turtle Come Out of Shell
Here are some ways to get your turtle to come out of his shell.
#1: Keep Him in a Quiet, Peaceful Space
As I mentioned earlier, turtles don’t like noise. At least for the first couple of weeks, keep your pet turtle in a quiet, calming space where there are no distractions like the TV, music, or other pets in your home. In fact, this shouldn’t just be a one-time thing. Turtles generally thrive in a quiet space. Before getting a pet turtle, consider if you actually have a quiet, peaceful space that you can designate as his living area to let him enjoy a stress-free existence.
Once he feels comfortable and non-threatened, he’ll slowly reveal himself.
#2: Win His Trust
Every turtle is different, and some of them might be a lot shyer than others. Be prepared to wait a few days or weeks even before you see him come out of his shell.
While you wait, start trying to win the trust of your turtle. You can do this by being patient and letting him come out in his own time. Another way is to avoid over-touching him, as this will only stress him further. Keep your distance in the beginning so you don’t overburden him or scare him, which only jeopardizes his trust.
Remember that turtles love food. You can earn his trust a lot quicker by giving him his favorite treats, such as lettuce or carrots. Simply place your turtle on the floor, scatter some food near him, and step away so he can eat in peace.
Feeding your turtle treats shows him that you’re someone who wants to look after him, not harm or hurt him. It’s a quick way to win his trust and get him out of his shell.
#3: Handle Him Carefully
While his shell might be solid, it’s also very sensitive, meaning he can feel the pressure and discomfort of careless handling. Avoid squeezing him too hard when picking him up so that he doesn’t end up in pain.
Also, try keeping him in the palm of your hand so that he does not feel trapped and ultimately, afraid.
When placing your turtle down on the floor, do it as gently as you can to prevent damaging or breaking his shell. In the wild, predators throw turtles at hard surfaces in an attempt to break their shells and get to the meaty flesh. If your turtle feels a hard thud when he hits the ground, he’ll think you’re trying to do the same. Just because your turtle hasn’t been in the wild doesn’t mean they don’t know these things instinctively.
#4: Place Him in a Glass Aquarium
If your turtle is extremely shy and won’t leave his shell, place him in a glass aquarium where he’ll feel safe and comfortable enough to come out. This way, he’ll feel safe enough to come out of his shell while you’ll be able to observe him doing it. He doesn’t need to live here full-time. In fact, it’s good if he gets some diversity with his environment. However, it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re concerned your pet turtle is extremely shy and needs a “safe zone.” Although I’m pretty sure all turtles need that — including my very own Mack!
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