Why Does My Turtle Shake Its Butt?

Most Turtle owners have noticed that their turtle does a cute little butt shake dance when someone pets their shell. The vast majority of those that own turtles think this little dance insanely cute. However, why does your turtle shake its butt when you pet its shell?

Fear not, your turtle does a little dance when you pet its shell because it enjoys having its shell pet. So, feel free to continue petting your turtle when it starts wiggling its butt.

With that in mind, this article will go into more detail about what a turtle shell actually does and what causes a turtle to shake its butt.

3 Reasons Your turtle Shakes Its Butt

There are generally three reasons that your turtle will shake its butt. As we mentioned earlier, none of these reasons are anything that you should be concerned about, but we will discuss them because you are probably curious about them.

Scratching Its Shell

Yes, turtles can actually feel when their shell is scratched. And they really like when someone scratches their shell.

Scratching a turtle’s shell is the equivalent of scratching behind a dog’s ear – both animals really like it.

In fact, scratching a turtle’s shell is almost guaranteed to get them to do a little butt shake. Plus, it’s actually good for the shell if you scratch it or scrub it with a toothbrush.

How Your Turtle Moves

Some turtles just move their butt when they walk. Humans all have slightly different gaits and turtles are no different. Some of them walk differently than others.

Now, if you notice your turtle shaking its butt when it walks, then that might also indicate that the turtle has some type of injury. That said, this is fairly rare for a turtle – it’s most likely just a turtle with a weird gait.

In other words, nothing to worry about with this.

Upcoming Bowel Movement

Finally, your turtle might wiggle its butt before a bowel movement. Yes, turtles do defecate and shaking their butt is a good pre-defecation indicator.

Again, not all turtles do this and your turtle won’t wiggle its butt every time before it defecates, but it can happen from time to time.

Keep this in mind if you notice your turtle wiggling its butt – you might have a mess to clean up in the near future!

What a Turtle Shell Does?

tortoise wiggle butt
A tortoise and its shell

Well, a turtle shell protects the turtle. Most everyone probably knows that.

You might not know that turtles can feel when someone (or something) touches their shell. This is because there are a lot of nerve endings underneath a turtle shell.

A lot of nerve endings.

So many nerve endings that your turtle will feel any contact with its shell. The shell is basically like the skin of the turtle. Thought its made out of keratin (same as human hair, fingernails, and toenails) and not actual skin.

How to Safely Care for a Turtle Shell

Safely petting a turtle shell is easy, but important to do. Here are a few things that you should do to ensure that you safely pet your turtle’s shell.

  • Lightly stroke the shell – you don’t need to apply much pressure because the turtle has very sensitive nerves in its shell.
  • Use a toothbrush or other soft brush to clean the shell. Do not use anything very abrasive as it will make the turtle feel extremely uncomfortable.
  • Don’t tap or scratch a turtle shell.
  • Careful having big dogs around a turtle – they may bite the turtle shell, which can damage it. It will also feel uncomfortable for the turtle.
  • Bathe the turtle once or twice a month. A bath will clean the shell and allow the turtle to drink some water.
    • Make sure to use bath water that is 90F-95F. You don’t want to give your turtle a bath in cold water!

Closing Thoughts

That covers it for why your turtle shakes its butt.

Your turtle shakes its butt because you’re petting its shell, it has to defecate, or it wants to mate. Those three reasons should be the answer for 99% of the time you notice your turtle wiggling its butt.

Now, if you are petting your turtle, then make sure not to pet it too hard, nor to use an abrasive material (ie. steel wool or sandpaper), and not to tap or scratch the shell. As for keeping it clean, you can bathe your turtle once or twice a month in 86-96F.

And that about covers it for why your turtle wiggles its butt.


  1. Rosenberg, M.E. (1986), Carapace and plastron sensitivity to touch and vibration in the tortoise (Testudo hermanni and T. graeca). Journal of Zoology, 208: 443-455. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7998.1986.tb01906.x

Leave a Comment