Turtle Trials & Triumphs

Bruce Pierce & Vesuvius
NMLC staff , interns and Volunteers at the Red Bellied Cooter Release in Hanson, MA

It has been a busy summer for the turtles at the National Marine Life Center! The staff volunteers and interns have been working hard to treat  our red bellied cooter patients, specifically tackling the questions of metabolic bone disease and shell fungus. It  has been a time of both trials and triumphs for the turtles and we feel we have made strides in understanding and treating these ailments. Here is an update on what has been happening with both our old and new Red Bellied Cooter Patients:

Head-start Hatchlings-

On May 29th 2012 our eight red bellied cooter headstart hatchlings were

Intern Sophie releases a turtle at the Red Bellied Cooter Release Event in May

returned to a pond in Hanson Ma to live out the rest of their lives as wild turtles. They were among about 120 other turtles as part of the state’s program and NMLC’s volunteers joined hundreds of residents to see there turtles off. These turtles were notched with an individual number sequence in their carapace so that if captured at a later date they can be identified. This will allow state biologists to study the life history and the success of the head start program in Massachusetts.

Metabolic Bone Disease Patients-

Bruce, Pierce & Vecuvius- Our three Metabolic Bone disease turtles admitted last May were also released in Hanson on May 29th. They were originally part of the head start program at another facility and somewhere along the line did not receive all of the husbandry requirements for proper growth. They arrived at NMLC with soft deformed shells and we were very worried about their prognosis. At NMLC they received a specific diet, proper

Bruce upon arrival at NMLC in May 2011

UVB lighting, and daily calcium treatments and were able to overcome their calcium deficiencies, and become healthy turtles. Although at the time of release their shells were still slightly flatter than your average turtle Dr. Rogers deemed them fit for release. We hope they are now able to contribute to the species and help increase this endangered population. For more on Bruce Pierce & Vecuvius and how to care for a freshwater turtle please visit Brie’s previous blog post: New Patients admitted to the Center- How to Care For Freshwater Turtles.

Out with the old and in with the new! As soon as Bruce, Pierce & Vesuvius were

Administering oral calcium treatments

ready for release we received a new batch of turtles with metabolic bone disease.  Six Red Bellied Cooters  arrived at the center in poor condition at the end of May, all suffering from different degrees of calcium deficiency. Sadly two of the turtles were in such poor condition the bridge between the carapace and the plastron of their shells was completely collapsed. We started calcium treatments and proper husbandry including lighting and diet immediately but it was too late, both animals scummed to the disease within two weeks.

Pip getting basking time at NMLC

One turtle that arrived was much smaller than the others, just barely bigger than the hatchlings we receive in September. We named him Pipsqueak or Pip for short and gave him his own small habitat where he could receive personal attention from our staff and volunteers. Upon arrival Pip was very soft to the touch, had a lot of edema, and failed to eat on his own. We conducted x-rays and in addition to his poor bone development he had a collapsed lung. We started oral calcium treatments and had to feed him via a gavage tube inserted into his stomach. Pip was taken outside daily to bask in the sun and eventually put with the healthier metabolic bone disease turtles during the day to encourage him to eat, but to no avail. After over two months in rehabilitation Pip was continuing to lose weight and show no improvement in his condition. After consultation with the state biologists Dr. Rogers and the animal care staff had to make the tough decision to humanely euthanize Pip to end his suffering.

Though we can’t save every turtle that comes through our door we do have three additional metabolic bone disease turtles who are showing marked improvement from their arrival in May. Phelps, Spitz, and Thorp named in honor of Olympic swimmers in light of this summer’s games are all doing very well. They also are receiving daily calcium treatments and basking time, in addition to proper lighting and diet. They have recovered very well and will be released at the end of August! Stay tuned for news of the release which will take place in Hanson, MA. These turtles will be released at this location because it is monitored regularly and there is a chance they will be recaptured and their progress can be monitored.

Fungal Infection Patients:

Catch 22 with with his Fungal Infection

The National Marine Life Center has made great strides in the investigation of a shell fungal disease over the past year. Catch 22 who was released after over two years in rehabilitation on July 13th was the first patient we saw with this ailment. Please read our previous posts: Catching up on Catch 22, and Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend for the full run down on Catch’s case. Since successfully treating Catch we have received an additional three animals with the same fungus.

Catch ready for release

Isaac Newton who arrived at the center in February refused to eat on his own and we were starting to give up hope that we would be able to treat his infection. We did not want to add any additional stressers until he has eating on his own and gaining weight. Thankfully of those turtles that arrived at NMLC in May were two more animals with shell fungal infections. Later dubbed Charles Darwin, and Carl Linneaus the two turtles had their shells scraped and DNA analysis confirmed that they suffered from the same infection as Catch and Isaac. Because the diseases were a match we decided to house Isaac with these other two turtles in hopes that

Isaac Newton upon arrival at NMLC

competition would spark his appetite, and IT WORKED!!. Almost immediately Isaac started eating on his own. After he began gaining weight all three turtles started receiving shell treatments with Curanail. Curanail is a medicated nail lacquer designed to treat human toenail fungus and was successful in the treatments of Catch 22’s shell. All three turtles are recovering very quickly and are slated for release at the end of August along with Phelps, Spitz, and Thorp.

It has been a very busy summer filled with Red Bellied Cooters at  NMLC and a big thank you goes out to our summer interns and dedicated volunteers who have made their daily care and treatments possible. Be on the lookout for a release announcement for our six remaining patients! It is now time to get ready for a new batch of Red Belly hatchlings in September.

Bruce just prior to release in May