Young Snapper Fixed Up

Erin Newman, VM18

A juvenile snapping turtle was found in a yard and brought into the Wildlife Medical Clinic in August. He had a cut on his neck right where it joined his shell and scrapes all over the top of his shell, along with a couple of shell fractures. The neck wound was very dirty, with maggots living in it, but volunteers thoroughly cleaned it out and sutured it up. Whenever a turtle has a shell fracture, it is at risk for damage to its coelomic membrane, which separates the shell from the body cavity. Radiographs were taken to determine whether the membrane was punctured, but luckily the snapper did not have any injury to his lungs or coelomic membrane.

Snapping turtles prefer to spend their days under water in areas of vegetation, with their nose poking up just above the water surface, as if it were a snorkel. Although they can grow very large and are dangerous when cornered, they would prefer to swim away from trouble. A snapper has a long, flexible neck that can reach all the way to its hind limbs, so the safest way to handle them is just above the tail. Our patient was probably 3-4 years old, only about the size of a hand, and not very threatening. Snapping turtles do not eat very often, and enjoy fish, worms, and greens.

The turtle had a surgery to repair his shell and was placed on antibiotics. After monitoring the wounds for over a month, it was decided that they would heal nicely on their own without further care. The snapper was very excited to be released into a pond at a forest preserve and went into the water without a backward glance!

Shell Shocked: Turtle Shell Repair

by Allie Urbanik (vm17)

One day an eastern box turtle was presented to the Wildlife Medical Clinic after being hit by a car. On examination, the most evident and pressing issue was a large carapacial fracture. The fracture involved multiple parts of the caudal carapace, and it was not evident on examination whether lung fields were exposed. Due to the potentially complicated nature of this fracture, radiographs were taken. The radiographs showed possible lung consolidation, suggesting lung exposure or infection. Our next step after taking radiographs was to fix the most glaring problem: the shell fracture.

A shell fracture can be repaired one of several ways. A very common approach is to drill small screws into the shell on either side of the fracture and then wrap wire around the screws, tightening the shell down almost like opposing tissue during suturing. Another approach, and the one taken with our patient, was to epoxy the shell. Layers of epoxy material can be applied to the shell over the cracks as a sealant of sorts. Over time, the bone of the shell will heal. The trauma of the car accident combined with the shell repair necessitated that our patient received medication to control pain and fluids.

After our turtle shell repair, we turned our attention to the fact that our patient had refused to eat since arriving. The stress of handling and captivity, not to mention the trauma of being hit by a car, can cause our patients to lose their appetites. Additionally, inflammation and infection can also cause patients to lose their appetite. Of course, nutrition is vital to the healing process, so getting our little guy fed is of the utmost importance. At this moment we are at a cross roads of sorts. We have just recently been successful at force feeding our patient mealworms and fruits, but it may be necessary to place an esophagostomy tube if our patient stops eating or seems too stressed by the handling. Additionally, at this time of the year, turtles would be preparing themselves for winter hibernation.

With our patient’s shell fracture, releasing her now so that she could overwinter is not an option. As such, she will be a long-term patient in the clinic. Hopefully, we have crossed our most difficult challenges with this patient. We expect a full recovery of the affected shell. The prognosis is excellent. I am constantly astounded by the tenacity and healing ability of our patients. I have no doubts that our little turtle will make a full recovery, and I look forward to releasing her in the spring.