Human Interaction

Top 10 Weird Turtle Facts

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That Shell isn't What it Seems

Chelonians' shells look a little like human body armor, so one might conclude that they're reptilian versions of the powered exoskeleton that makes Iron Man such a fearsome superhero. But the shell, which is made up of about 50 different bones, actually is an evolutionary modification of the rib cage and part of the vertebral column. And contrary to what you may have seen in animated cartoons, a chelonian can't take off its shell and crawl out of it -- just as you couldn't dismantle your own spine and ribs, according to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.

The shell itself actually has two parts: an upper section, the carapace, and a lower portion called the pastron, which are joined by a bony bridge. Some turtles have a moveable joint, usually in the plastron, that acts as a hinge and enables the creature to pull the two shell sections together tightly while it retracts its body inside. Shells have nerves embedded in them and a blood supply as well, so if a chelonian's shell is injured, it may bleed and feel pain.

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