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Removable Shell

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Clothes optional.

In Real Life, a turtle's shell is fused to its spine (It is, after all, a modified rib cage). Removing a shell in real life, if possible at all, will result in Bloody Horror for the poor chelonian, killing it in seconds if the turtle is lucky. But in fiction, it is often treated as a removable article of clothing. Expect the turtle, when out of the shell, to be wearing little more than Goofy Print Underwear (or sometimes even less than that).

Alternately, the shell may be large enough to not only accommodate the resident turtle, but also allow somebody else to hide inside it at the same time. In some cases, the Removable Shell may also be portrayed as having a furnished apartment (and often Bigger on the Inside). Another variant will be for the turtle to withdraw all of its limbs (and its head) to make them pop out so that it does a 180 degree turn without moving from the spot. Slow animals with removed shells may become much faster.

A variant can apply to other shelled animals (e.g. snails), which also — with the exception of hermit crabs — are fused to their shells and cannot "take them off". In fact, the whole idea of "shells being removable" likely stemmed from empty shells found on beaches, which may lead to people believing that their "owners" left them behind. It's also often confused with "shell molting".

Sub-Trope of Artistic License – Biology, Appropriate Animal Attire, and Funny Animal Anatomy.

Compare Fur Is Clothing and Removable Animal Markings (the mammalian equivalents).

Contrast Eggshell Clothing (the shell that is supposed to come off does not).


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The obscure Japanese series Oraa Guzura Dado had one turtle character, for whom this trope was a running gag.
  • Dragon Ball's Master Roshi, though not a turtle, is the turtle hermit, and wears a heavy shell on his back for training purposes which is fully detachable.
  • In Pani Poni Dash!, the cast travels inside Himeko's dreams, wherein the Archangel Michael has a turtle companion who keeps losing her shell.

    Comic Books 
  • The Terrific Whatzit, a DC Comics Golden Age Funny Animal superhero, is a turtle who possessed a costume similar to that of the Golden Age Flash, and powers similar to those of Golden Age speedster Johnny Quick. When in costume, he removed his shell (his superhero name stemmed from the difficulty of telling what species he was without the shell).
  • Brazilian comic Lionel's Kingdom has among its characters a turtle whose shell is not only this, but "customized" so his head comes from the middle of it. One story had him forced to send it to repairs and borrowing some shells\carapaces while he waited: armadillo (curled into a ball, making the turtle become an unwilling child plaything), crab (only walked sideways), snail (too slow), and cockroach (aerodynamic, but given it's a very unpopular bug, made him get crushed).

    Films — Animation 
  • Verne in Over the Hedge often loses his shell. After this happens several times, R.J. asks Verne, "What is the point of this thing again?"
  • In Cats Don't Dance, T.W. Turtle ducks into his shell on one occasion and re-emerges with a scrub brush and soap, as though he'd been cleaning the inside. Then, after the flooding of Mammoth Studios, he can be seen out of his shell, standing on it as it floats in the water and even rows it like a boat.
  • A chipmunk falls inside a turtle's shell in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
  • One scene in Robin Hood (1973) had Toby Tortoise pull his head into his shell and peek out from one of his armholes.
  • A Justified Trope in Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness: Abe is a turtle who reveals late in the film that he was born without a shell, and the one he wears isn't part of his body.

  • Clothahump the turtle wizard in Alan Dean Foster's Spellsinger series doesn't have a removable shell, but he has enchanted his plastron to install transdimensional cabinet drawers in his chest.
  • Opposites by Sandra Boynton is a board book that had the purpose of teaching the reader about opposites. In and out are represented by a turtle getting out of its shell and standing on it to get closer to a turtle that is still in its shell.
  • The Foolish Turtle is a picture book by Eric Carle about a turtle who took off his shell, only to then realize that he's much more vulnerable without it. After narrowly avoiding various hazards, the book ends with the turtle returning to his shell and going to sleep.
  • According to one of Aesop's fables, "Jupiter and the Tortoise," the tortoise's shell used to be his home, which he could leave at will. When he didn't show up to a party thrown by Jupiter, king of the gods, Jupiter came to his house and asked him why. When he said that he would much rather stay home, a furious Jupiter declared that he would forever be condemned to carry his home upon his back, and so that is why tortoises can never leave their shells.
  • The French children's book "Mali et la tourte toute nue" ("Mali and the Naked Turtle") was about a young girl helping a turtle find her lost shell.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: During one of the Gamera movies, the bots decided to make a model of Gamera to show what's inside his shell. As they imagined it, he has a fully furnished apartment, complete with a gym, inside there. As well as another door which should never be opened, because that's where Gamera keeps all his internal organs.
  • Subverted in Red Dwarf: Lister recounted how, when he was a kid, he once opened a turtle's shell with a can opener. Said he, in his defence: "Well, I didn't know!"
  • Subverted in a Noodle Incident mentioned by Darnell on My Name Is Earl. Randy apparently pulled the original Mr. Turtle out of his shell to see what was inside, then crammed him back into it hoping Darnell wouldn't notice. The original Mr. Turtle didn't survive.

  • One Old Master Q strip have the titular character coming across a man-sized tortoise shell with the words "Room for Rent" written on it's back. As Master Q curiously tries taking a closer look, a voice behind him asks, "Would you like a room?" Cue Master Q turning around and seeing a naked, human-sized talking tortoise.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Back in the Eighties, there was a newspaper cartoon (Some Thoughts by Eric Johnson) in the UGA college newspaper, The Red and Black, that featured a series of strips about a turtle jumping out of his carapace (wearing the requisite wife-beater and boxers), later snuggling inside the carapace with a turtle-honey, and finally, about some Georgia Tech students who indignantly wrote in to the cartoonist to complain that they had opened up a real turtle and not found a little animal in boxer shorts.
  • Garfield:
    • The March 15, 2005 strip had Garfield ask a snail if they ever leave their shells. The snail answers that they only leave their shells for fire drills or skinny dipping.
    • In the January 31, 2017 strip, Garfield challenges a snail to a race and the snail manages to outrun Garfield by leaving his shell behind.
    Garfield: Hey! That's cheating!

    Puppet Shows 
  • One episode of The Muppet Show features a turtle who doesn't leave his shell, but is able to stick his head out a hatch at the top like a tank, while a gun emerges from the head hole.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons has the Tojanida; a monster that resembles a cross between a sea turtle and a lobster. It has eight holes in its shell, out of which it can freely stick its flippers, claws, and head in any configuration it desires.

    Video Games 
  • Dub from Die Anstalt: Treating his neuroses required you to literally get him out of his shell.
  • Turtles and other shelled creatures all across the Super Mario Bros. have removable shells.
    • When flipped over from underneath in Mario Bros., the Shellcreeper, clad in white, exits its shell to flip it back before re-entering and continuing on its way. Later replaced with non-deshellable Spinies in many later versions and reboots of the game, though Shellcreepers reappear in Super Smash Bros. Brawl's level based on the arcade classic.
    • Prototype artwork from Super Mario Bros. shows a design for a Koopa-like turtle without a shell that wears boxers and holds a weapon of sorts. It was probably scrapped due to programming limitations.
    • Stomping on the newly-upright Koopas in Super Mario World launches them skidding out the front of it, wearing just a white undershirt and nothing else. Hunched as they are, fortunately the sight is kept clean thanks to SNES pixelation. Taken to extremes in the Super Mario World hack ''SMW YEAHHH', with the blue Elite Koopas. They actually take off and fire their shells at Mario like missiles, even while flying. Seen here.
    • Averted in the Gameboy title Super Mario Land, where it was apparently too graphics-intensive. The equivalent monster has an exploding, non-removable shell, and plays more like a Bob-omb expy. Quite a bombshell, huh?
    • A whole sequence is based around this in Paper Mario; the Fuzzies invade Koopa Village and steal everyone's shells, leaving Mario to recover them.
    • Full-sized Koopas can be punched or stomped out of their shells in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario 64 DS, where they act especially timid around the heroes even with a shell on. You can then jump on the shell and surf around at high speeds until you bump into something, and the shell-less Koopa will desperately try diving back into the shell, no matter the cost. Needless to say, they're even more skittish when just in their white undershirt and blue boxers.
    • Similarly, Koopas in Super Princess Peach, Yoshi's Island DS and a few other 2D Mario sidescrollers are ejected from their shells when stomped. They remain pretty relaxed when this happens, continuing on just the same even though they're shirtless and in their boxers.
    • In Super Mario 3D World, the player can actually briefly slide around inside the shells by crouching when carrying one from a deshelled Koopa. Weirdly, they ditch the boxers for this game after having consistently worn them in the past.
    • When it's still early enough in the game that you won't auto-defeat them in Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, during combat Koopas will occasionally, on their attack, charge in their shells and launch really fast at Mario/Luigi; hammering them at just the right time will stop the shell and eject them for a moment, dazed and vulnerable, so you can hammer the shell back at their heads and kill them automatically. Again, a case of Koopas wearing just a shirt underneath.
    • Stone Buzzy Beetles in Super Paper Mario apparently have super tough shells, though unlike the regular variation these critters' shells can literally get cracked clean off in three stomps. The game's glossary and Tippi both note that you might feel a little guilty breaking it off and killing them as a result, yet it doesn't indicate ''why'' this kills them - after all, for a brief second you can see them in their underwear as though it should be removable, but oh well.
    • Super Mario Bros. Wonder has its Koopas no longer have detachable shells, but it introduces a new snail-like enemy that follows the same mechanic. Stomping it will eject the mollusc from its shell, which gets stunned but is no worse for wear after.
    • The only instance of an important or prominent recurring Koopa getting de-shelled is in home PC ports of Mario Is Missing!, where Bowser gets this treatment in the game's ending. Worth noting that this game also portrayed Bowser's tail as being part of his shell, and that, in a prime example of Giving Up on Logic, Luigi pulled Bowser's carapace off and the latter then appeared in his Goofy Print Underwear, ignoring the plastron as if it's part of him.
  • In American McGee's Alice, Mock Turtle's shell gets stolen by the Duchess, and Alice gets to become a honorary reptile by helping recover it.
  • Carapacion-type enemies in Final Fantasy XIII might qualify, as when "Broken" their carapace vanishes, which removes their Nigh Invulnerability until they restore the carapace.
    • It's only really iffy because even when they actually have the carapace it's not a true shell, but more closely resembles a pangolin or man-made scale/plate mail.
  • The Subspace Emissary in Super Smash Bros. Brawl has a enemy called the Shellpod, which has the appearance of a deep brown stag beetle with green legs and glowing eyes. Dealing significant damage to the heavily-armed beetle-turtle breaks the shell clean off, causing the ridiculous-looking all-green creature to shriek and takes damage WAY quicker until it is defeated.
  • At the end of the third temple in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Link is pitted against Crayk, essentially an enormous hermit crab. The first phase of the battle involves shooting the invisible opponent in the eye using the convenient camera references, and then slashing at the purple orbs supposedly keeping Crayk's shell in place. Once they're all destroyed, Crayk freaks out and the shell explodes, leaving it pretty easy to take down using a few more arrows - not to mention how obvious the game makes Crayk's tail out to be. During the same fight, Link is also able to swing his sword around at the little Crayklings in order to restore health, which in taking two hits each, breaks the little crabs' shells in the process.
  • The Polish puzzle game Zagadki Lwa Leona features a puzzle where you have to help a turtle whose shell apparently was stolen and inexplicably got stranded on a branch.
  • Pokémon: According to its Pokedex entry, Shelmet is a snail-like Pokemon whose helmet-like shell is often removed from its body by a beetle-like Pokemon called Karrablast so it can evolve into Escavalier (which resembles an armored insect who has spears for arms and said armor being made from said shell). Fortunately, Shelmet evolves into Accelgor, a Ninja slug with a whopping 145 base Speed.
  • One of the playable characters in Battle Beast is a turtle who can step out of his shell, which then gains a handle as it turns into a large hammer to pummel his opponents with.
  • Mega Man X
    • Armored Armadillo of the first game can has his armadillo shell be broken with Electric Spark, making him more vulnerable to attacks.
    • The second game has Crystal Snail. If you hit him with the Magnet Mine, his shell flies off, causing him to lose his only method of defence and causing him to focus on trying to reclaim it over attacking you...which you can prolong indefinitely by knocking the shell around. Justified because he's a robot.
    • The sixth game's Shield Sheldon is a clam robot who freely throws his clam shells around like Captain America with his shield.
    • The eighth game's Earthrock Trilobyte will have his shell broken with any weapon acquired from Gravity Antonion.
  • In Aquaria, Naija can remove the shells of small turtles with her Bind song, which would otherwise damage her.
  • The Escarglow Dream Eaters in Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] throw their shells like boomerangs for a number of their attacks. They have a serious flaw in that their shells will be smacked away if they receive a solid hit, which causes them to prioritize getting them back over anything else and being snails, they do this slowly.
  • Turtles in Darkwing Duck for NES sneeze their shells at Darkwing, at which point they are vulnerable (but, interestingly, still really tough, requiring 6 pellets to go down). The shell then comes back like a boomerang, so watch your back while attacking them.
  • In Show by Rock!!, Turtle BIG (a turtle) and Takeppa (a kappa) have shells that are represented as backpacks worn outside their clothing, implying they can put them on and take them off at their leisure like any other fashion accessory.

  • All Terrekin in Cosmic Dash have a shell that attaches to their back, through a hole in their clothes. Word of God mentions genetic engineering.
  • In El Goonish Shive, the implementation of shells as armor in video games is discussed with the visual of Nanase wearing a shell and apparently nothing else implying that it's replaced all her clothing.
  • Kevin & Kell:
    • Todd is a toad who one day happened upon the empty shell of a recently-predated turtle. He heard a snake approach, and jumped into the shell. As it turned out, that snake, Greta Garter,note  was set up on a blind date with the turtle that was eaten. Todd rolled with it, pretending to be the turtle, and ultimately became Greta's boyfriend. A few years later, he would reveal himself after moving unnaturally fast (for a turtle) to save Greta from a falling vent grate. They would remain together, and Todd eventually stopped wearing the shell so another character, Ophelia Stoat, could use it as a disguise.
    • Speaking of Ophelia, since getting the shell, she eventually evaded her pelt hunter pursuers, and was declared dead (taken). Lindesfarne Dewclaw created a new identity for her that set her species as a turtle, an identity she takes seriously.
    • The February 7, 2005 strip had Kell meet a turtle woman without a shell. She explained that her son was in a warzone, and she figured he needed more than one.
    • In the January 29, 2011 strip, a turtle is forced to remove his shell to use Facebook and complains about the violation of privacy.
  • Simonla of Sonichu assures the other Rosechus, and the audience, that her shell is removable so nothing will get in the way of her breasts when she poses nude.

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes:
    • Cecil Turtle is regularly depicted with a removable shell. In one of his races with Bugs, it's shown to be equipped with a jet propulsion engine.
    • Baby Bottleneck shows a baby turtle being removed from his shell in order to be diapered and later opening up his shell to complain about nearly drowning in milk when the babies are being fed prior to delivery.
    • Greetings Bait has a crab chasing a worm around underwater. The worm goads the crab into removing its protective carapace so that the fight will be more even (and revealing the crab's true body to be much smaller than its shell), but the worm still gets the crap beaten out of him regardless.
  • Happens nearly ten years before Cecil's debut in 1941 to a turtle in 1932's Freddie the Freshman.
  • Filbert the turtle in Rocko's Modern Life sometimes has his shell depicted as removable.
  • Gary the snail in SpongeBob SquarePants, depending on the episode. Sometimes the shell lifts up to show something hidden inside; sometimes the shell is Bigger on the Inside and SpongeBob is able to crawl into it; and sometimes cracking the shell exposes Gary's veiny, throbbing innards.
    • Mr. Krabs' shell is also sometimes treated as removable. Its loss tends to result in Naked People Are Funny (although he already wears a full outfit on his shell at the same time, so he can also be portrayed as naked by removing the clothing, but not the shell). Under it is a pink, fleshy body, similarly to real crabs when they molt their shells.
    • The one-shot character Tony from “Shell Games” also has a removable shell which he lives in, as do 2 other sea turtles in the same episode.
  • Franklin and all of his family members have shells that are removable. Played with in a fire safety story in which Mr. Turtle found that he could not evacuate his house by the window unless he first removed his shell.note  In the Franklin and Friends All-CGI Cartoon spin-off, however, Franklin and his family's shells are integral parts of their bodies that they can't remove, averting this trope.
  • Shelby Turtle from Mickey MouseWorks and House of Mouse (which recycled many shorts from the former) was depicted as having a removable shell and wearing a diaper underneath.
  • Br'r Turtle from Br'r Hare fame.
  • Happens in the very first episode of Dink, the Little Dinosaur. Crusty takes off his shell to take a bath. When the resident badguy, Trannor shows up, one of the characters hides in the shell and he carries both the shell and the character off.
  • Sheldon the turtle in Family Guy. Stewie says that his skinny body looks like "a nude Larry David".
  • In Mike, Lu & Og, one of the misfortunes that Lu's pet turtle Lancelot frequently suffered was losing his shell.
  • My Friends Tigger & Pooh:
    • Turtle has this and when he and Rabbit re-create the historic race between their grandparents, ala The Tortoise and the Hare, he removes it and gains a great boost in speed, becoming about the same speed as Rabbit. In the end, after they both end up calling the Super Sleuths to help the other, they end the race in a tie... just as their grandparents did.
    • An entire installment, "Turtle Comes Out of His Shell" is about Turtle taking his shell off, saying he doesn't want to wear it anymore because it slows him down. However, he soon discovers that he can't do things he used to enjoy doing like slide on his back and he also gets cold in the snow, though he didn't before.
  • Big Blue: Freddie, a sea turtle, is shown to be able to remove his shell. He's sometimes seen doing this to polish it, but one episode even has him lend his shell to Phil (a dolphin) to help him get over his fear of getting injured.

    Real Life 
  • The hermit crab. It's quite an oddball in that it's the only arthropod that uses a calcified shell for protection. Except, it doesn't produce its own, it simply looks for an abandoned gastropod shell. As it grows, it needs to look for bigger and bigger shells to accommodate. Quite hilariously, they also use manmade rubbish — like plastic bottlecaps, for instance. This is not a great thing for them, given that their bodies are adapted for using old gastropod shells and not plastic bottlecaps or old soda cans — using human garbage can injure them or leave them vulnerable to predators.
  • The turtle's shell is the last part of the reptile's body to deteriorate.
  • Sadly, this trope is responsible for an awful lot of badly-injured turtles turning up at vet clinics and wildlife rehab centers, after ignorant people's attempts to "take off" their shells to see what they look like without them. Answer: They look dead without them. (To clarify: there is no skin under the shell, only muscles, viscera, bones, fat and blood. Same in snails, minus the bones and blood being different)
  • Myobatrachus gouldii, aka "the tortoise frog" is an Australian frog which looks exactly like what you'd expect a shell-less turtle to look like without knowledge of the above, hence its nickname.
  • The female argonaut octopus secretes a shell-like calcareous eggcase, separate from their body, in which to reside.
  • Shipworms, members of the clam family, have reduced their shells to a pair of opposing rasps with which to burrow into ocean-immersed wood. In effect, they're bivalves that have 'undressed' from their shells.
  • Some types of tube worm can abandon their chitinous or mineralized tubes if their habitat becomes unlivable.


Video Example(s):


Franklin in the Dark

Franklin Turtle is afraid of small, dark places, like his shell, which he sleeps in at night. So his mother, Mrs. Turtle, tells him a story of a young turtle who was also afraid, and who removed his shell, tied up a rope on it and took off a journey, dragging it behind him.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / RemovableShell

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