Although we are starting to understand the molecular basis of shell development based on the study of cryptodires, basic comparative ontogenetic data for the other major clade of living turtle, the pleurodires, are largely missing. Herein, the developmental and phylogenetic relation between the bony shell and endoskeleton of Pleurodira are examined by studying histological serial sections of nine specimens of three different species, including an ontogenetic series of Emydura subglobosa. Emphasis is given to the portion of the carapace in which ribs and vertebral spinous processes become part of the carapace. Central questions are how neurals and costals are formed in pleurodiran turtles, whether costals and neurals are of endoskeletal or exoskeletal origin, and what ontogenetic factors relate to neural reduction of some Pleurodira. The neurals and costals do not develop as independent ossification centers, but they are initial outgrowths of the periosteal collar of endoskeletal ribs and neural arches. Slightly later in development, the ossification of both shell elements continues without a distinct periosteum but by metaplastically ossifying precondensed soft-tissue integumentary structures. Through ontogeny, ribs of the turtles studied are closely associated with the hypaxial intercostalis musculature while epaxial interspinalis musculature connects the neural arches. We here propose an alternative structural hypothesis for the neural reduction and, ultimately, the complete loss of the neural series. The complete reduction of neurals in Emydura spp. may be linked to heterochrony, accompanied by a restricted influence of epaxial musculature and epidermal–dermal interaction in shell bone formation. J. Morphol., 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.