AUG 02, 2016 11:29 AM PDT

What's the Real Reason Turtles Have Shells?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Turtles have shells that they can hide inside of when they feel like they’re in danger or when they are feeling anti-social and want everything around them to disappear.
 

 
On the other hand, do turtles really only have shells for protection from predators alone? Despite the long-standing idea that turtles have shells for protection, a new study published in the journal Current Biology suggests that turtles might actually have shells for something completely different.
 
The protection theory makes a lot of sense because turtles are relatively slow and they needed protection from much faster predators. On the other hand, if the shell was such a successful protector from predators, wouldn’t more types of animals have them?
 
The wide-base of a turtle shell, combined with the smooth bottom and rough edges, may have made the turtle’s shell an excellent body-sized burrowing tool. It could be utilized in such a way that the turtle could easily bottom itself out in sand and other loosely-packed Earth.
 
“Why the turtle shell evolved is a very Dr. Seuss-like question and the answer seems pretty obvious – it was for protection,” said Dr. Lyson, lead author of the study. “But just like the bird feather did not initially evolve for flight, the earliest beginnings of the turtle shell was not for protection but rather for digging underground to escape the harsh South African environment where these early proto turtles lived.” 
 
Although many modern turtle species have full-body shells, which undoubtedly protect the creature from various attacks, many early turtles may have had only partial shells, such as only spanning the belly, and not the back.
 
Research had also indicated that turtle shell structures evolved over time from the broadening of rib bones that, over time, merged into a single unit. Such evidence was also present in the turtles that only had belly-based shells and no protection for the back.
 
So are turtle shells really for protection? Today they might be, but back in the early days of turtle evolution, the shell was probably just for making burrowing and digging easier on the animal, a skill that turtles still use today.
 
Source: Denver Museum of Nature and Science via The Atlantic

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
AUG 01, 2021
Microbiology
Some Insects Can Fight Off Parasites with Genes From a Virus
AUG 01, 2021
Some Insects Can Fight Off Parasites with Genes From a Virus
The genetic action in this 'evolutionary arms races' involves gene swapping and three organisms.
AUG 12, 2021
Plants & Animals
World Elephant Day - Elephant Conservation in Action
AUG 12, 2021
World Elephant Day - Elephant Conservation in Action
Elephants are the largest currently living land animals, and they are majestic. They must consume nearly 70,000 calories ...
AUG 21, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Celebrate Honeybees and Beekeepers on National Honeybee Day!
AUG 21, 2021
Celebrate Honeybees and Beekeepers on National Honeybee Day!
The third Saturday in August, this year the 21st, is National Honeybee Day! The date celebrates honeybee keepers and all ...
AUG 22, 2021
Microbiology
Morbillivirus in Fraser's Dolphins May Infect Other Marine Mammals
AUG 22, 2021
Morbillivirus in Fraser's Dolphins May Infect Other Marine Mammals
Scientists are concerned about a virus they've recently identified in Fraser's dolphins. Though the disease has already ...
SEP 07, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Genetic Influences That Help Make the Human Brain Unique
SEP 07, 2021
Genetic Influences That Help Make the Human Brain Unique
For years, many researchers have been trying to answer the question "What makes us human?" from both a biological and ph ...
SEP 08, 2021
Plants & Animals
Unusual Cookiecutter Sharks Will Pursue Meals of Any Size
SEP 08, 2021
Unusual Cookiecutter Sharks Will Pursue Meals of Any Size
For many years, researchers took notice of weirdly shaped bite marks in marine animals like dolphins, whales, sea turtle ...
Loading Comments...