[tawr-tuh s-shel]

noun Also tortoise shell.

a horny substance of a mottled brown and yellow coloration, composing the laminae that cover the inner body plates of the carapace of certain tortoises or turtles, especially the hawksbill, used for making combs and ornamental articles, inlaying, etc.
any synthetic substance made to look like natural tortoiseshell.
Also tortoiseshell butterfly. any of several nymphalid butterflies of the genus Nymphalis, as N. californica, having variegated markings of red, yellow, or orange on the wings.

adjective Also tor·toise-shell.

mottled or variegated like tortoiseshell, especially with yellow and brown and sometimes other colors.
made of tortoiseshell.

Origin of tortoiseshell

First recorded in 1595–1605; tortoise + shell Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for tortoiseshell

Historical Examples of tortoiseshell

  • And seeing that the Minister was looking over his tortoiseshell.

    The Burning Spear

    John Galsworthy

  • Lady Harriet took up a tortoiseshell paper-knife and played with it.

    Double Harness

    Anthony Hope

  • But tortoiseshell and white he-cats are occasionally to be seen.

    The Cat

    Philip M. Rule

  • It is usually supposed that a tortoiseshell Tom is an impossibility.

    The Book of Cats

    Charles H. Ross

  • In two hours Nakeesa has filled the tortoiseshell and returns to her man.

British Dictionary definitions for tortoiseshell



a horny translucent yellow-and-brown mottled substance obtained from the outer layer of the shell of the hawksbill turtle: used for making ornaments, jewellery, etc
a similar synthetic substance, esp plastic or celluloid, now more widely used than the natural product
a breed of domestic cat, usually female, having black, cream, and brownish markings
any of several nymphalid butterflies of the genus Nymphalis, and related genera, having orange-brown wings with black markings
tortoiseshell turtle another name for hawksbill turtle
  1. a yellowish-brown mottled colour
  2. (as adjective)a tortoiseshell décor
(modifier) made of tortoiseshella tortoiseshell comb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012