This is something I don't understand. Are they trying to hide their identities? How many turtles are there that can stand on their feet? Is it because they are ninjas? Again the shell is a big give away.

  • 15
    tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/… definitely relates to this.
    – Vogel612
    Aug 11, 2014 at 14:09
  • 4
    YOU see them as giantic humanoid turtles...but I guess they have another self-image( knowyourmeme.com/memes/its-just-a-mask ,what the hell?).
    – teair
    Aug 11, 2014 at 14:14
  • 2
    It's always possible that (in-universe) the masks serve to help prevent sweat/dust/dirt from getting into their eyes. The bands would work to absorb sweat, and any protection near the eyes (even a bit of cloth with eyeholes cut) will reduce the grit that gets into them.
    – Jeff
    Aug 11, 2014 at 17:06
  • 5
    @Jeff - I don't know the details of their mutant biology, but in real life turtles and other reptiles don't sweat. Anyone know if the comics or other media have ever depicted them getting sweaty?
    – Hypnosifl
    Aug 11, 2014 at 18:31
  • 8
    To distinguish them from the cheaper K-mart knock-offs the Adolescent Genetically Altered Fighting Terrapins.
    – Monty129
    Aug 12, 2014 at 10:49

8 Answers 8


If you never heard of this comic and someone were to ask you to draw a "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle" then in all probability you would draw some type of walking turtle wearing a mask and carrying a sword or some other appropriate weapon. You might also draw it in some kind of ninja outfit.

Point is, in the eyes of the general person, there are certain defining characteristics to what can be called a ninja. One of them is most definitely the presence of a mask. Without the mask, it would be "Teenage mutant fighting turtle" or the like that coincidentally might make use of ninja-like weapons.

I doubt the original creator/artist had in mind the practicality of giant turtles masquerading as ninjas. He just drew the concept as he saw it in his head. From there, the characters were pretty much established.

  • 3
    Ehm... no: google.com/search?q=ninja&hl=en&tbm=isch Aug 13, 2014 at 7:41
  • 3
    "I doubt the original creator/artist had in mind the practicality of giant turtles masquerading as ninjas. He just drew the concept as he saw it in his head." -- Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were the creators of the original comics back in the 80's. According to mentalfloss.com/article/30862/… Eastman drew the original sketch as a joke. And, yes, apparently ninjas have masks so... Aug 13, 2014 at 9:53
  • 4
    @DavidMulder Just wondering, what are you disagreeing about with that search? Almost all of the images on that page (searching in global mode) show ninjas with masks. Just wondering what you're pointing out with it.
    – daboross
    Aug 14, 2014 at 7:02
  • 2
    @DaboRoss: As outlined in my answer, all ninja's in the images do not cover the area of the eyes and do cover the rest of the body, the exact opposite of the ninja turtles. Sep 28, 2014 at 10:55

To add a little bit on this. The original TMNT as of the comic book had masks. But they were all red as seen in this cover:

enter image description here

Thus they were only distinguishable by the weapons they carried.
The tvTropes page on the franchise gives us even more information. It seems that the comic was originally in black/white, so the color of the "masks" was not relevant anymore.

But with the first cartoon that changed and the turtles all got their "Color Coded Character" appearance:

Even the special colored issues had the bandana masks they wear all red. The original cartoon gave the turtles different color bandannas (which have since been used in every successive incarnation) and the action figures, different skin colors (ignored until the 2003 cartoon).

And the tvtropes wiki gives even more information:

The Archie comic series Lampshaded this with a "Truth in Television" flashback story about the pre-teenaged Turtles all wearing red headbands and Splinter having difficulty telling them apart until they decide on color coding their masks a la Donald Duck's nephews.

This also seems to be the "in-universe" explanation.

  • 1
    When you say 'This also seems to be the "in-universe" explanation', are there any examples of this being used as an explanation other than the Archie comic?
    – Hypnosifl
    Aug 11, 2014 at 15:43
  • 1
    @Hypnosifl Not to my knowledge. That is also why I put a "seems" there. I think it's up to you to decide whether this even needs an in-universe explanation, or whether you accept this as such. This is just what I found on tvtropes ;)
    – Vogel612
    Aug 11, 2014 at 15:47
  • 4
    This is a good answer...for why their masks have different colors, but not for why they have masks to begin with.
    – Zibbobz
    Aug 11, 2014 at 15:51
  • 2
    @Zibbobz I figured this was already answered with the rethorical question at the end of Liath's answer, which was created sooner than mine and I didn't want to duplicate the information
    – Vogel612
    Aug 11, 2014 at 15:54
  • @Vogel612 Fair enough.
    – Zibbobz
    Aug 11, 2014 at 16:25

To elaborate on part of my comment to Liath's post, the real-world answer is probably just that it was part of the intentional ridiculousness of the "ninja turtle" concept--as described on this page and this one, the idea started as a joke drawing during a sketch-sharing session between creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, you can see that Eastman's first sketch looked even more like a semi-realistic turtle wearing a ninja outfit:

enter image description here

A stubby-legged large-bodied turtle is about the last creature you'd expect to have ninja-like reflexes, hence the humor of giving it a ninja outfit (which naturally includes a mask, since ninjas are known to hide their faces) and a tough-looking expression.

Whether any attempt was ever made to give an in-universe explanation for why they would need masks, I don't know. You could imagine it was an aesthetic choice on Splinter's part, since as mentioned here his original origin story was that he learned martial arts when he was a pet of a real ninja named Hamato Yoshi and practiced mimicking his moves, so he may have felt motivated to imitate the clothing style as well after he mutated and began to train the turtles.

  • 2
    Well that drawing isn't disturbing at all...
    – Monty129
    Aug 13, 2014 at 17:14

So, just to play Devil's advocate here, (fictional) ninja do not wear eye masks. Doing a google image search for ninja shows tens and tens of images looking like:

enter image description here

Their entire body is hidden in black and only the area where the ninja turtles have their masks is visible.

So, how would the ninja turtles have looked like real ninjas? I drew up a quick sketch:

enter image description here

Doubt anybody would have recognized that as turtles rather than oddly fat ninjas. So during the first sketching game one of the creators must have decided to instead inverse the entire outfit, leaving some resemblance of how ninja's look without any parts of the actual ninja outfit thus answering why the ninja turtles wear masks instead of ninja outfits.

  • 6
    THAT specific representation of ninjas is NOT the actual representation as they were in history. the real historical ninjas just wore peasant clothes so they wouldn't stand out. The all-black representation comes from medieval Japanese theater, where stagehands were dressed in full black so they wouldn't attract attention during the play. Some clever playwright came up with the idea to make an assassin ninja dress up as one of the stagehands in one of his plays, and all later representations of ninjas took over that look, even when it made no sense.
    – Nzall
    Aug 13, 2014 at 8:12
  • 3
    @NateKerkhofs: Never said it was how historical ninjas looked, they are an entirely different group who just share the same name. The fact still is that ninjas in modern language refers to the way ninjas look in popular culture, of which the photograph above is a typical representation. + Historical ninjas didn't wear masks either (they went dressed as peasants most likely, even that isn't sure, there are virtually no historical references to go by)... so don't see your point. Aug 13, 2014 at 8:13
  • 1
    My point is that if ninja turtles went around as historical ninjas, they would wear neither masks nor dark clothes, but instead baseball caps, t-shirts with witty markings and jeans pants, as real ninjas would to not stand out in the crowd (what you yourself compared them to).
    – Nzall
    Aug 13, 2014 at 8:29
  • 1
    @NateKerkhofs Real ninjas is a term used to contrast here the ninja turtles vs the popular concept of ninjas. If the text would have been discussing historical ninjas at any point this could have been confusing, but by defining the precedent in the first paragraph there was no ambiguity at all. Aug 13, 2014 at 8:52
  • 2
    I don't think a baseball cap and jeans would make the ninja turtles blend in. I'd go with the classic: the sombrero/poncho combination. Besides, you wear that on the NYC subway and carry a guitar, and people will actually put effort into not noticing you.
    – Misha R
    Aug 15, 2014 at 14:40

Well, let's see. Those guys have no eyebrows, so after a couple of minutes of skipping around all that forehead sweat starts going straight into their eyes. And yes, ok, turtles don't sweat. But after their transformation they became all sorts of active, so there has to be a way to get rid of all the body heat. You don't see them walk around with tongues hanging out, so canine-style heat loss isn't it. They don't roll around in cool mud, so that's out too. Basically, they behave like humans. Most likely they developed an ability to sweat. So, without eyebrows, headbands are basically a must-have accessory for them.

But they don't exactly have many options of where to put headbands. Have you seen their heads? Not a hell of a lot of space up there for a headband. So their only option is to cut eye holes in the headbands and put them over their face. It's basic survival for them. They'd probably gladly take em off, but then they're blind out there.


The only answer I can give is an out of universe one (I'd love someone to answer in-universe!).

The turtles are colour coded:

  • Leonardo - Blue
  • Donatello - Purple
  • Michelangelo - Orange
  • Raphael - Red

In the original comics the characters had no voices (clearly) so their weapons were the only other way to distinguish between the characters, which is no use if they're not fighting or are disarmed. So the original comic book authors needed some clothing.

What's the distinctive clothing of a ninja?

  • 10
    But the original comic book authors weren't using the masks to "distinguish between the characters", because in the comics they all used red masks (or uncolored masks in the original black and white comics), as explained in Vogel612's answer. Probably they just gave them masks to look more "ninja-like"--keep in mind that the idea of "teenage mutant ninja turtles" was originally meant to be a silly joke, as explained here: uproxx.com/gammasquad/2014/08/…
    – Hypnosifl
    Aug 11, 2014 at 14:52
  • @Hypnosifl you're correct - as Vogel pointed out the colours were added later. I don't really want to change my answer stealing V's excellent answer though.
    – Liath
    Aug 11, 2014 at 14:55
  • 2
    The "distinctive clothing of a ninja" didn't exist. Real ninjas disguised themselves as workers or peasants to remain undetected, and were not jumping around in highly visible black pyjamas and colored bandannas shouting "kiaiiii"... :)
    – vsz
    Aug 12, 2014 at 6:11
  • 2
    @vsz ok, "distinctive clothing of the hollywood ninja" ;)
    – jwenting
    Aug 13, 2014 at 11:51

Ninjas wear masks!

Like in the movie 3 ninjas, they wore masks. Its also so we can identify them.

  • 2
    Are we really going to accept 3 Ninjas as an acceptable reference?!? One of the characters was named Tum Tum because his power came from his...wait for it... tummy
    – Monty129
    Aug 13, 2014 at 17:18
  • Well, the tummy is where all the chi comes from. It would be stranger if a group of three ninjas didn't have a character named Tum Tum.
    – Misha R
    Aug 15, 2014 at 3:07

It's actually a much easier answer than any of that. Why does anybody wear a tie? Or cowboy boots in the city? Or a necklace? It means something to us. It signifies title -- style -- personal preference. It's why they chose different colors, and why they wear masks. Why did Wolverine bother getting all dressed-up? Everyone knew he was Logan (James Howlett). The same reason people bother putting on a jersey to play soft ball. It's true ninja in some form wear something to conceal their identity. It's also true that I have to wear a tie to work -- which serves no purpose other than offering my enemies a means to choke me to death -- which I find far more stupid. Occam's Razor my man. - Adam AJ Mader Pittsburgh, PA

  • 1
    Do you have any evidence to support your arguments? Sep 11, 2014 at 5:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.