All hope is not lost should you come across an injured turtle with a cracked shell. But, it may be a horrible thing to see at the side of the road. Turtles are notorious for moving slowly, and their march toward death is no exception. It can take up to four days for a turtle to finally pass away. Meanwhile, they’re suffering in pain whilst being eaten alive by flies. Now, we know that this isn’t a pleasant topic, so let’s move on to the more positive side of this.
Turtles on the Road
Turtles can make their way to a road for a few reasons. April usually marks the time period where all the hibernating turtles will be waking up and getting on the move. Winter is almost over, which means their long sleep is too. Now it’s time for them to shake off their winter snooze to find a mate. They could also be approaching the road to get back to their prized nesting grounds if they’ve already mated. Alternatively, they could just be finding a safe place to call home. Whatever the reason for it, a turtle on the move only has one thing on its mind – get to their destination. (2)
Helping Healthy Turtles
If you come across a healthy turtle on the side of the road or even in the middle of the road, please stop if it is safe to do so. Carefully pick the turtle up and place them on the side of the road they were facing. If you put them back where they came from they will only try to get across the road again after you’re gone. Because turtles tend to live a long time, they could have been taking this exact route for a few decades and will not rest until they reach the location to which they are heading. (2)
In a recent campaign, Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons shared a picture on their Facebook page captioned ‘I’m not dead, please get me help asap’. It showed a turtle with a badly cracked shell and included information on what to do if you come across an injured turtle. Although we joke that their shell is like their house, it’s actually more like their skull. It’s a bone and turtles can feel pain when their shells are broken. Immediate help should be given to turtles with injured shells. To assist, please contact animal control or a wildlife rehabber. A quick internet search should provide you with local assistance. You can also always search on Animal Help Now for lists of local agencies. The alternative to contacting these places is to gently slide the turtle into a box tipped onto its side and take it to the closest 24-hour emergency vet. Please make sure that you contact the vet first to ensure that they treat reptiles, as not all veterinary practices can do so. (1, 3, 4)
Turtles that are rescued and treated for injured or broken shells usually make a full recovery. As long as their shell is kept stable, there are many ways to ensure that the shell fuses back together and the professionals will do their best to provide the highest level of care to let this happen. (2) They may use a special wrap to keep minor breaks in place, or use devices like these:
Turtle Sized Lego Wheelchair
Some rehabilitation centers have come up with creative fixes for injured turtles. In late 2018, the Maryland Zoo shared a story about the ingenious way a veterinary team helped solve a problem one poor turtle had. Because the shell was broken underneath, it was more difficult for them to keep it stable and secure as it needed to be kept off the ground. ‘He had multiple fractures on his plastron, the bottom part of his shell. Because of the unique placement of the fractures, we faced a difficult challenge with maintaining the turtle’s mobility while allowing him to heal properly.’ said Dr. Ellen Bronson, senior director of animal health, conservation, and research at the Zoo.
They had to design a custom wheelchair for the little guy, to allow him to have free range of movement without negatively impacting the healing process. They drew some sketches and sent them off to a Lego enthusiast who brought the designs to life. He received his own custom wheelchair a few weeks after having surgery. ‘He took off and has been doing great. Turtles are really good at healing as long as the shell remains stable.’ said another member of the veterinary team. (5)
While not all turtles require a special wheelchair, any with a broken shell do need a little extra care before being released back into the wild. If you see one, please give them a helping hand!