Do Turtles Change Color – Reasons Behind Why They Lose Color

Dec 16, 2020

Do Turtles Change Color?

I haven’t noticed my turtle losing its color, but one of my close friends said that her turtle’s shell color seems different from when she got her pet a few months back. I was quite curious when she told me that. So I had to find it for myself. Then I dwelled for hours on this new case- Do turtles change color?

I visited several forums intending to find out why turtles change color (wearing my deerstalker cap). And here’s what I found out after my thorough investigation.

Can Turtles Change Color?

Yes, turtles change color because of several factors. Most common reasons are adapting to their environment, changing seasons, and blending with their surroundings when a predator is around.

However, there are other reasons, too, which might be the reason for a change in the turtle’s color. We discuss that again as we dive further (No pun intended).

A newborn turtle usually sports bright green or yellow colors. Eventually, as they mature, their colors change into darker shades. If your turtle is changing colors as he gets older, then it is normal, and you need not worry, for it isn’t because of any health issues.

Do Turtle Shells Change Color?

Box turtle
Box turtle

Yes, a turtle’s shell changes its color from brighter shades of green to darker tones as they get older. However, the degree of variation depends from turtle to turtle. Studies have shown that the color of the substrates also determines the color of a turtle’s shell.

So, if your turtle is changing colors while growing, then it is a normal phenomenon.

Turtles like red-eared sliders can change their shell color to black or white if the substrate they live in is black or white. It is because of their instinct to be undetectable from the predators by blending with their surroundings. The surrounding could be the substrate you have in your aquarium. 

A freshwater turtle in the wild could have brighter shades of green if the water he lives in has lots of algae. Turtles try to camouflage with their surroundings to prevent them from incoming harm.

You might also like to read:

Do Turtles Like Music? The Science and Myths Behind It

How To Play With A Pet Turtle – Best Indoor And Outdoor Games

What Happens to Turtles When They Die? Is It A Bad Omen?

Why Is My Turtle Losing Color?

All coloration or discoloration in a turtle’s shell cannot be related to the growth process. However, you need to know which type of coloration is healthy and which is not. 

A healthy discoloration will cause overall body discoloration, i.e., shell, head, and legs. But, if the discoloration is only in patches and blotches only on a few specific parts, this is an unhealthy discoloration. This means that some unnatural reason is behind the discoloration.

Here are some reasons your turtle is losing color.

Your Turtle Isn’t Getting Enough UV Light

Turtles are cold-blooded animals, which means their body temperature directly relates to air or water temperature near them. So, a turtle requires ample heat to bask and maintain its body temperature. 

So, when a turtle isn’t getting enough heat or light, then discoloration is seen in their body. 

If your place has a window or aisle where plenty of sunlight enters daily, you need to move your turtle tank to that location.

You should also use UV bulbs during the evening and in winter when there isn’t enough sunlight. While choosing a UV bulb, make sure you get a quality UV bulb that emits UV-B light and is durable. Usually, UV bulbs aren’t that powerful, so you need to light them for 10-12 hours during winter to gain enough UV light for your turtle.

I’ve switched from the classic two-bulb setup to mercury vapor bulbs, which emit both UVA and UVB lights. Since I have separate basking spots for all my turtles, one-bulb setup definitely saves space.

This bulb comes with a 6000-hour lifespan and a six-month warranty. But I haven’t ran into any problem with the bulb so far. Just make sure that you don’t position the bulb too near or too far from the basking spot.

Sometimes, putting the UV light too close could burn your turtle’s shell. This can cause spots in a turtle’s shell.

Keeping this in mind will prevent unhealthy discoloration in your turtle’s shell. 

Lack Of Nutrition

Lack of a nutritious diet can also lead to the discoloring of a turtle’s shell. So, you need to feed him a quality feed that is rich in nutrients turtles need like vitamin A, calcium, and protein.

Commercial pellet food is one of the best foods that you can give your turtle. These food are made specifically with turtle’s dietary needs in mind. Also, they do not crumble quickly, making them a good option for aquatic turtles who only eat underwater. Research has shown that 25% of a turtle’s diet should contain pellets. You should be able to find them in your local pet market.

Here’s floating food sticks by Tetra that I buy for my turtles. As I said earlier, this pellet is tailored for pets like turtles – fortified with calcium, protein, vitamin C, and essential amino acids.

Protein Is A Must For Turtles

Protein is the only macronutrient that a turtle isn’t able to store in his body. So, a daily intake of protein is necessary for a turtle to be healthy. Feed him fish, insects, and worms, which will provide your turtle a fair amount of calcium they need.

This also helps in making your turtle’s shell sturdier.

But be careful with the amount of protein you’re giving your turtle. Too much protein can cause pyramiding.

Lack Of Veggies And Occasional Fruits

A turtle is an omnivorous animal. A plant-based diet will provide your turtle the required vitamins, which act as a supplement for the appropriate functioning of his organs. Feed him leafy plants like kale, collard, and mustard greens. Add shredded carrots, squash, and zucchini in rotation for a well-balanced diet. 

Fruits like shredded apples, melons, and berries will make a turtle’s blood vessel healthy. But fruits are often high in sugar and citric acids – so only give them in moderation.

Overall, your turtle’s diet should comprise at least 50% of veggies and fruits.

Contaminated Water

Although turtles themselves are quite messy, they need clean water for thriving. If the habitat he is living in becomes polluted, then a turtle’s shell can get discolored. 

Here’s how you can maintain the water quality in a turtle’s tank.

Get a bigger tank

Turtles need a larger space for thriving. The larger the area, the merrier a turtle will be in a tank. You need to get at least a 20-gallon tank for your two-inch long turtle. 

Also, larger tanks are easier to clean than smaller ones. 

Monitor the water quality

The reason behind a turtle’s discoloring could also be the excess amount of chemicals in the water. You need to regularly check the amount of ammonia and nitrate/nitrite levels in your tank water. Get an aquarium water test strip which you can use to monitor the chemical level of your water. 

Here’s aquarium test strips measuring pH, nitrite, nitrate, ammonia, chlorine, alkalinity, and hardness in the water!

Use A Filter

There are filters that are made just for a turtle tank. These filters have more filtration media and can pass more water than a typical filter used for fishes. Filtering regularly will help in keeping your turtle tank clean of turtle pee and poop.

Now that you know what causes unhealthy discoloration and the remedy, let’s move to the next topic. 

Why Is My Turtle’s Shell Turning White?

If your turtle is spending too much time in hard water, then his shell can turn white or faded. Hard water has high mineral content, which is formed because of increased deposits of limestone, chalk, or gypsum. 

You might notice your turtle’s shell’s whitening and worry that your turtle isn’t getting enough moisture. But he is getting enough moisture, and the whitish part is just the hard water residue. 

Another reason for your turtle’s shell turning white is because of scute shedding. Scute is the outermost layer of a turtle’s shell. These scutes comprise keratin, which is the same element that makes up the hair and nails in a human body. 

Shedding scute is expected when a turtle is growing. They need to shed scutes to replenish the amount of keratin in their shell. Whenever there’s an occurrence of profound shedding, a turtle will shed a massive amount of scutes, revealing a bare shell. And in this course of shedding, a turtle’s shell might seem to turn white, dull, or transparent. 

If you want to hasten the shedding of scute in your turtle, you can softly scratch and have them removed, and they should fall off easily. However, it is recommended to let nature take its course.

Sometimes, the scutes do not come off quickly during shedding. This can cause vast deposits of scutes on a turtle’s shell and could be an alarming sign to your turtle’s health. 

So you need to use a soft toothbrush, mix it with diluted vinegar, and start brushing off the scutes. Brush the scutes around the edges where the scutes are loosely deposited. Dry dock your turtle for half an hour and rinse him after that. This should help him lose the scutes on his shell.

Do Turtles Change Colors As They Grow?

Yes, with the development of their body, the colors of most turtles change with it. An infant turtle is bright-colored, and as they get older, their shell color gets darker. Even the patterns change as they grow. A baby turtle will have the same color and design for at least a year or two before you notice the change.

Also, the color difference depends upon the species of the turtle. 

Some turtles will have the same pattern and color throughout their lifespan. The painted turtles of North America are an example of it. The baby painted turtles have the same design and color that they get from their parents and will not change while growing.

However, turtles like eastern mud turtles are quite different when compared to painted turtles. In their infant stage, these eastern mud turtle has a black shell and bright orange or red plastron with black streaks. But after a year or two, their colors fade and turn into dark brown carapace and dull yellow-brown plastron.

Do Turtles Colors Change Colors With The Season?

River terrapins
River Terrapins

Not all turtles change their colors with the season. Most of the turtle’s color pattern remains the same throughout all season. However, some turtles change their color with the season. These changes aren’t that noticeable to that of a chameleon’s color change. 

Turtle species like painted terrapins, which are found in Malaysia’s lagoon, Sumatra, and Borneo, can change their color with the change of the season. The gray head and light red stripes down the center of their shell are noticeable traits in this turtle species. When the mating season starts, their head’s colour turns into white, and the dull red of stripes becomes bright red. This phenomenon is one of the fascinating color transformations in the turtle kingdom. This helps to attract female turtles as potential mating partner. 

The same color transformation is found in the male river terrapins. Normally, they have pale grey colours, which one doesn’t find peculiar. But during the mating season, their shells get darker and almost black. Research has shown that there isn’t any other reason for this except attracting female river terrapins. 

Apart from these two turtle species, other breeds also change their color with the change in season. However, our human eyes aren’t able to distinguish them, but a turtle might notice, especially females.

Can Turtles From A Single Species Have Different Colors?

Red eared slider
Red eared slider

Yes, the turtle from a single species can have different colors according to their subspecies, i.e., their habitat location. 

Slider turtle has three subspecies, which are of three different colours — yellow-bellied slider turtles, the red-eared slider turtles, and the Cumberland slider turtles. Each has its unique colour.

The yellow-bellied slider turtles have yellow blotch on the side of their head behind their eyes and a yellow plastron with two black spots on the front.

The red-eared slider turtle has red markings with a yellow plastron and multiple black spots on each of its scutes. 

As for the Cumberland turtle, it has similar color and pattern to that of yellow-bellied slider turtles. 

Other such species of turtles with different colors are the common box turtle, which has four subspecies with varying shell shades.

Do Albino Turtles Exist?

Yes, albino turtles exist just like every other animal. Albinism occurs when an offspring inherits one or more mutated genes from both parents. This mutated gene then interferes with the offspring’s body’s production of melanin and causes albinism. 

However, albino is a rare phenomenon but can be found in turtles too. The albino turtle shouldn’t be mistaken for the white turtles, which are found lying deep in the ocean. Divers who frequently dive regularly get lucky enough to see these white sea turtles in the sea. 

Why Does My Turtle Have Spots? How To Treat Them?

Some turtles have genetically gained spots that you cannot remove and shouldn’t treat. When you lay your hands on them, you won’t feel any bumps or unusual texture on these spots. These spots won’t harm your turtle, so you need not worry about that. 

But, some turtles get spots caused by the shell’s rotting or because of fungus growing in the shell. You will quickly notice these spots, and they feel unusual when you lay your hands on them. Once you see these spots, immediately treat them.

If you spot these spots early, you can treat them in your home; otherwise, take your turtle to a vet for treatment. 

First, you need to dry your turtle and apply Betadine, which you find easily in every drugstore. Next, dry-dock your turtle for an entire day before putting him in the water. Repeat this treatment every day till you see the softening and ultimately disappearing of the spot. 

Why Do Some Turtles Have Fluorescent Colors?

Turtles aren’t bioluminescence, which means they cannot change their color like other colour-changing reptiles. But in 2015, scientists encountered a glowing turtle, the first-ever to have been discovered by humans. This turtle could reflect neon light at night. After a thorough observation, studies showed that this turtle used the ocean’s blue light to reflect different colors. 

Last Words: Do Turtles Change Colors

So, most turtles change both their color and pattern as they grow. Most of them change their color in their first year. And some turtles only change their colour and pattern following the change in season.

Turtles like male painted terrapin change their color only during mating season to attract female terrapins. However, some turtles change their color with their surroundings. They do this to camouflage and prevent an encounter with predators. 

If you want to experience this firsthand, take your smartphone and start clicking your turtle photos in an infant stage. To time it correctly, make sure you get those photos every six months, and you can notice this change in his color. 

Further Readings:

How to Bury a Turtle? A Proper Ritual

Can Box Turtles Swim? – Or Do They Drown?

Do Turtles Get Lonely? 6 Tips To Keep Your Turtle Happy

rohit gurung author at urbanfishkeeping

About Rohit Gurung

My never-ending love and fascination with Aquascaping started when I received a red-eared turtle for my 10th birthday.

Apart from researching and writing, I spend hours gazing at my 3 turtles. And yeah, I bask alongside them too.