Figure 1. Injured Snapping Turtle on roadside.
A twenty-three pound female Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra s. serpentina) was presented to Tufts Wildlife Clinic in early June with two large wounds on her carapace (top shell). She had been found by the side of a busy road in Boylston, Mass. and had presumably been run over by a car. She was initially treated with fluids, pain medication, and antibiotics and the wounds were thoroughly cleaned. Radiographs (x-rays) were normal except for the large wounds on her shell, which did not penetrate into her coelom (body cavity)
Turtle shells are comprised of bone covered by a keratin layer (a modified type of skin). There are many nerve endings in turtle shells, so any injury to the shell is very painful. Turtles have slow metabolisms; therefore, healing time in turtles can be much longer than in mammals. While a fractured bone in a mammal can heal in six to eight weeks, a fractured shell in a turtle can take years to completely heal. Given the extent of the wounds on this turtle´s shell, it would take many years for the bone to re-grow.
After many weeks of intense cleaning and bandaging the carapacial wound was ready for closure with an absorbable bone cement. Unlike an acrylic or epoxy, this product acts as a scaffold allowing healthy bone to re-grow while providing a strong, waterproof protective layer over the fractured bone. The bone cement was used to fill the large defects in the carapace of this snapping turtle.
After ensuring that the bone cement was completely dry and all areas were sealed, the snapping turtle was tested in water. Following two more weeks of observation, the areas remained well sealed and the turtle was released back to the wild. In time, her shell will regrow across the bone cement and should be as good as new!
Figure 2 (Left). Snapping turtle carapace with bone cement. Figure 3 (Right). Back off into the wild!
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