Do Turtles Have tails? What Is That Projection Actually?

  • By: Kavi Ranjan
  • Date: December 2, 2022
  • Time to read: 5 min.
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Turtles are one of the primitive and oldest kinds of reptiles with a unique appearance and build-up.

As they belong to the family of reptiles, they have many similarities with them. But when it comes to the tail, it is often hard to tell that the turtle has a tail like most other reptiles.

A while ago, when I visited one of my friends, I got a chance to meet his pet red-eared turtle. It was so adorable that I couldn’t stop myself from gazing at it.

While doing so, I noticed a projection at the back edge of its shell. It made me wonder if it is actually a tail.

So, I asked my friend about it. The information he gave me not only cleared my confusion but also made me know about so many other facts related to turtles.

Below I have compiled all the information that I gathered to help you know about the same.

Do turtles have tails?

Turtles do have tails of varying lengths. The length depends on their species and gender. The male ones generally have thicker and longer tails whereas the female turtles have shorter and stouter tails.

Turtles develop their tails by the time of their adulthood. Like any other body part, the tail is an integral part of the turtle’s body. The tails primarily help in the mating process as well as protection.

The reproductive organs of male turtles are present on their tails and thus, tails play an important role for them. However, for female turtles, the use of their tail is just for covering their vent, and therefore, their tails do not contribute much to any important work.

Why does my turtle have a tail? What is the use?

Turtles do not use their tails for purposes like swimming or navigation as other reptiles or animals. Rather, they use tails for more significant purposes. The uses of their tails are different for both male and female turtles.

The uses of the tails in turtles include:

1. Reproduction

The most significant use of the tail in a turtle is in reproduction. In males, the reproductive organs are present at the bottom of their inner tails. When the intercourse occurs, it helps a male turtle to keep its female in an exact position.

Due to their inflexible body, male turtles find it difficult to discover the opening of the cloaca of female turtles. Especially due to the heavy and hard dome shell on their back, the task becomes even more daunting.

Fortunately, they have tails that make the process easier for them. The tail’s tip is a sensitive area in both males and females.

So, this sensitive tip of the male turtle’s tail helps to find the opening of the female turtle’s cloaca through which the sperms are released for fertilizing the eggs.

Whereas, the female turtles use their tail to cover their cloaca. They only pull their tail upwards when the male turtle is ready to mate so that it can penetrate its penis into their cloaca. The tail also plays a role in building a nest for eggs.

2. Protection

The reason why turtles have tails right above their cloaca is that the tails provide protection to it from any injury. The protection of cloaca is necessary as it not only has a role in mating but also serves as an opening to push their eggs out.

Another major function of the cloaca is that it is used for breathing during hibernation. It acts as an orifice that can take oxygen from the water directly, making its protection more important.

Cloaca is the sensitive and delicate part of their body that has soft skin and can easily be torn off by accidents and predators. The tails provide a defensive layer to the cloaca in turtles.

3. Maintaining Balance

In the wild, turtles face different types of terrains. They can be found walking in unusual places such as trees, rocks, ridges, etc. for basking. To reach such spots, the tail in turtles help them to maintain balance by providing grip and performing as an anchor.

Thus, the chances of their fall decrease when they try to reach high spots.  The land turtles when traversing hilly and rocky terrains, the tail act as tier fifth limb providing balance.

4. Act as the fifth flipper

When female turtles lay their eggs in the sand, they move their flippers to fill the holes with sand to hide the eggs from predators. The tail also serves as a fifth flipper which contributes to leveling land and preventing the spot from getting noticed. 

What type of turtles have tails?

The tails are a vital body part in turtles and therefore, are present in all of their species. They may not appear in the early years but can be seen easily when turtles reach adulthood.

Here are some of the turtles that have clearly visible tails.

  • Sea Turtles
  • Red Ear Sliders
  • Snapping Turtles
  • Wood Turtles
  • Yellow Belly sliders
  • Leatherback turtle
  • African Side neck Turtle
  • Western Painted Turtle

Also, not all species of turtles need to have the same kind of tail. The tails may vary in shape, size, and appearance from species to species.

Below are some points that suggest that there are Tail differences between the types of turtles.

  • Snapping turtles have extremely long tails as compared to other species. The length of their tail is equal to the length of their carapace or sometimes even longer. Their tails have a minimum of three rows of osteoderms and are quite fatty.
  • The tails of male box turtles are like a projection that is thicker at the base and pointed at the top. The anus is located quite down the length.
  • The tails of male sea turtles are of medium length, extending more than the length of their rear flippers. Whereas the females have quite shorter tails.

Can turtles regrow their tails?

Even though turtles belong to the reptile’s family, they cannot regrow their tails. If a turtle’s tail is wounded or broken, it can heal with the right medication and nursing but cannot regrow fully.  

The injuries will heal over time and the scars will fade away, making them less noticeable, but the tail will not regrow to its full tip.

Do turtles poop out of their tails?

Underneath the tails, both male and female turtles have cloaca which provides an opening for urinary, digestive, and reproductive tracts.

So, they poop out through the cloaca which is at the base of their tails.

Can turtles pull in their tails inside their shell?

Some turtles can pull their tails inside their shell if confronted by any danger. But many of them may not be able to do so because of the reduced shells that cannot contain their heads, limbs, and tails.


Tails are an integral part of turtles’ bodies just like their limbs. Their usage and length may differ according to gender, species, and habitat.

The tails have evolved through thousands of years. In ancestral times, the tails were used for diverse purposes but now, their uses have become limited. But we cannot deny that they play significant roles for turtles.