The outer keratin layer (scute) of desert tortoise shells consists of incrementally grown laminae in which various bioaccumulated trace elements are sequestered during scute deposition. Laser ablation ICP-MS examination of laminae in scutes of dead tortoises revealed patterns of trace elemental distribution from which the chronology of elemental uptake can be inferred. These patterns may be of pathologic significance in the case of elemental toxicants such as arsenic, which has been linked to both shell and respiratory diseases. Laser ablation transects, performed along the lateral surfaces of sectioned scutes, offered the most successful means of avoiding exogenous contamination that was present on the scute exterior. Semiquantitative determination of elemental concentrations was achieved using sulfur, a keratin matrix element, as an internal standard. The results presented here highlight the potential of laser ablation ICP-MS as a diagnostic tool for investigating toxic element uptake as it pertains to tortoise morbidity and mortality.