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 17, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Therapy Found in The Shell of Cashews
AUG 17, 2020
Therapy Found in The Shell of Cashews
A compound found in the shell of cashews can help in neurodegeneration. "We see this as an exciting finding, sugges ...
AUG 27, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Pheromone Molecule at the Center of Global Locusts Crisis
AUG 27, 2020
Pheromone Molecule at the Center of Global Locusts Crisis
Since earlier this year, agriculture and food production in the developing world have been taking heavy damages from an ...
SEP 16, 2020
Plants & Animals
The World is Failing to Save Biodiversity
SEP 16, 2020
The World is Failing to Save Biodiversity
Earlier this week, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) released the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 (GBO- ...
SEP 17, 2020
Microbiology
Animals May Sense the Magnetic Field Because of Bacteria
SEP 17, 2020
Animals May Sense the Magnetic Field Because of Bacteria
Animals can sense magnetism, an ability called magnetoreception. Scientists have been trying to understand this sense, w ...
NOV 01, 2020
Plants & Animals
Plant Hormone Auxin Helps Orient Growth of Plant Veins
NOV 01, 2020
Plant Hormone Auxin Helps Orient Growth of Plant Veins
There are veins in plants that move nutrients and other important molecules around. These veins have to be carefully org ...
NOV 04, 2020
Plants & Animals
Scientists Rediscover "Lost" Chameleon Species in Madagascar
NOV 04, 2020
Scientists Rediscover "Lost" Chameleon Species in Madagascar
Voeltzkow’s chameleon was recently rediscovered after disappearing for more than 100 years. According to an articl ...
Loading Comments...