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Reptile & Amphibian Center

Abnormal Beak and Skull Growth in Reptiles

Beak Overgrowth in Turtles and Tortoises


Turtles and tortoises do not have teeth, but instead grab and chew their food using the sharp edges of their beaks. If an animal’s beak becomes overgrown or does not wear properly, it may have difficulty eating.




Signs of abnormal beak growth include:


  • Overgrown upper beak
  • Upper and lower beaks that do not meet evenly
  • Difficulty grabbing, chewing and/or swallowing food




Poor beak alignment often begins when a turtle or tortoise is fed an improper diet when it is young and growing. Diets that are high in protein or low in calcium (e.g., dog or monkey foods) cause abnormal bone development that results in malformation of the reptile's skull. A broken jaw that does not heal properly may also cause an individual’s beak to grow abnormally.


Reptiles that are fed primarily soft foods may not have adequate opportunities to chew and wear down its beak. Turtle and tortoise beaks grow continuously, just like fingernails, so unless the underlying problem is addressed, the condition will worsen with time.




A significantly overgrown or abnormally worn beak can usually be diagnosed by simply observing a turtle or tortoise’s facial structure. Watching the reptile attempt to eat can also provide important information. X-rays may be helpful if a traumatic injury is suspected.