There are two types of discoloration that generally occur with turtles; the transition from bright greens and yellows to darker shades, and the fading of all color. Most of the time the former is natural and inevitable, whereas the latter sometimes suggests a problem.

In this short article, I am going to show you how you can easily identify healthy and unhealthy turtle discoloration.

Best Products to Help With Turtle Losing Color


Why Is My Turtle’s Shell Turning White?

On the other hand, if your turtle’s shell color isn’t darkening or dulling but lightening or whitening, the most likely reason is hard water.

Hard water is simply water with larger amounts of dissolved calcium and magnesium in it. It’s completely harmless to both you and your turtle. It is important that you have a strong filter. To learn more, check out my article on the best filter for turtle tank.

It’s easy to tell if your turtle’s shell has been turning white or lightening due to hard water:

Your turtle’s shell color will look faded or whitened uniformly over the shell. Basically, it won’t be just in one spot. Unless of course your turtle has been sitting in a bucket of water recently, in which case you’ll see clear hard water marks according to the water height. It may look chalky as well. This will look like your turtle’s shell is completely dried out and needs moisture. But it doesn’t. That’s just the hard water residue.

If you think your tank has hard water, I recommend using this API Anti-bacterial conditioner for $7.

Another possible reason your turtle’s shell has lightened or whitened in color could be due to scute shedding.

Scutes are the outermost part of its shell. They are made of keratin, which is the same substance that makes up your fingernails.

In order to grow larger and keep its shell healthy, your turtle needs to occasionally shed its scutes.

If it’s in a deep shed, where all of the scutes are nearly or ready to fall off, your turtle’s entire shell may look very faded, dull and almost transparent.

Removing them should be easy. You can simply pull them off. If you feel any resistance at all, stop pulling. The scute will loosen and fall off naturally. Don’t force the issue.

If your turtle has some scutes that are having trouble falling off or never sheds, it could potentially cause a problem down the line, as these scutes get “caked into” its shell.

In order to facilitate faster scute shedding, you can:

Use an old soft toothbrush and apply vitamin E oil or a diluted vinegar solution to the turtle’s scutes. Gently rub the vitamin E oil or diluted vinegar solution to your turtle’s loosened scutes, especially around the edges. Dry dock your turtle for at least 30 minutes. Rinse your turtle off.

Turtle shell turning black

If your turtle shell is turning black, it could mean a couple things. If the edge of your turtle’s shell is turning black, it could mean they are suffering from shell rot. This can be a very dangerous condition and can spread to the rest of their shell if not properly treated.

Your turtle’s shell might also be turning black simply because of their environment. There is a chance that your substrate or water is causing the shell to pick up a blackish color.

Why Does My Turtle Have Spots?

If you have noticed colored spots on your turtle, it could be due to a few reasons.

Firstly, it could be genetic or simply the turtle shell’s natural color pattern. If it looks and feels natural, it probably is. Rub your thumb or finger over the spots. Do you feel anything different? Is the spot raised? Sunken? Have a different texture? If not, it’s probably just natural.

Secondly, it could be fungus or shell rot in the early stages. You can easily identify both of these. If the texture of the spot feels different, it’s not natural and probably one of these.

Treating either of these early often means the difference between a healthy turtle and one that needs an expensive trip to the vet.

Make sure your turtle is dry and apply some silver sulfadiazine cream, betadine or iodine solution to the spots. Keep your turtle dry-docked like this for most of the day. Put your turtle in some water in order to get it re-hydrated for a few hours. Keep up this treatment until the spots have disappeared.

I have seen one other case of a turtle having discoloration on its shell that was not due to nature, shedding scutes, hard water or illness.

It was from burns.

The owner had moved the UV light way too close to the turtle’s basking area. The top of the turtle’s shell had developed several darker spots because it was getting way too hot.

Eventually, the owner realized this, moved the UV light away, and treated it for burns. The turtle soon recovered.


Why is my turtle losing color?

If your turtle’s colors are darkening it’s probably natural. Most species’ go from brighter to darker colors due to aging and the environment. If your turtle’s colors are becoming discolored in particular areas, it may be due to a deficiency in their diet or from lack of UV light. Feed your turtle a variety of foods and give it access to UV light 8-12 hours a day to avoid this. If your turtle’s shell has whitened, it’s most likely due to hard water. You can use water conditioners to treat avoid this. It may also be from scutes about to be shedded.If there are white or discolored spots or parts on your turtle’s shell, it may be from a fungus or shell rot. You’ll need to treat it accordingly.