Malti Explains Redfooted Tortoises: Shell Scratches

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If you look closely along the very bottom edges of Malti’s shell, you can see the semi-translucent keratin scutes developing near her front and back legs. I think this is what makes her shell itch!

The first time I saw Malti back up next to a rock and start rubbing her shell against it, it took me a bit to figure out what was going on.

But then I realized….she is growing! Her shell itches!

My parrot, Pearl, experiences a similar issue when he molts out old feathers and then the new ones start to grow in. The new feathers grow in still attached to a blood supply, and each one is wrapped in its own personalized white sheath made of keratin (the same waxy protein that protects human skin, hair and nails).

But even though I knew Malti’s shell was protected by a hard outer layer of keratin-based plates, or scutes, it had never occurred to me that it could itch as it grew.

So I stepped in and started to scratch.

Malti responded immediately! She dug in her little front feet and even rotated her shell so I could reach the exact area that was itching the most. When the scratching had done its work, she started to walk away from me, and this is how I knew she was feeling better.

Now, I often offer a nice shell scratch without being asked (so to speak) – often, I do this after she has had her meal and is feeling relaxed and full. I do it at other times too – just spontaneously if I haven’t done it in a day or two. She really seems to enjoy it.

Sometimes I scratch in an up-down pattern, scraping my fingernails up and down from the outermost edges of her shell inward.

Other times I scratch in a circular pattern all over her shell from outer to inner and then back again. I can usually see the new keratin scutes as they are developing (they hang down just slightly below the outermost layer of her actual shell, and are semi-translucent) so I try to focus on those areas as well.

She really seems to love having her back shell scratched and often the sides as well. I haven’t seen as much of a reaction when I’ve scratched the front areas of her shell.

And remember….

Watch & Listen: Pearl & his mommy read from “Love & Feathers”

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Published by Shannon Cutts

Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise and box turtle mama. Author, writer, pet & people blogger.

2 thoughts on “Malti Explains Redfooted Tortoises: Shell Scratches

  1. my one is also growing i was worried when she started acting odd when i gently scratched her back ,,she to loves it , i think it helps having a soak and i then scratch her shell with a tooth brush she loves it ,,,

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