It’s not often that one gets the opportunity to observe a turtle spa day. Dr. Heather Robertson, DVM and her veterinarian team were kind enough to invite us to observe a behind-the-scenes shell treatment on one of the Zoo’s resident Spot-bellied Side-necked Turtles (Phrynops hilarii), Mrs. Beasley. This isn’t your average turtle shell procedure – in this specific case, it’s known as Mrs. Beasley’s spa day.
Mrs. Beasley has been a part of the Zoo’s animal collection since Unseen New World first opened in 1998. Due to long-term damage to her lower shell that occurred before she arrived at the Zoo, Mrs. Beasley needs to have a protective epoxy and fiberglass patch covering (the same materials used to patch the bottom of a boat) on her plastron (lower shell). Her shell has cracks and deep divots to the bottom portion of her shell leaving open wounds prone to infection. Because this damage is chronic and most of her time is spent in water, it’s necessary for Mrs. Beasley to undergo preventative shell treatments to protect her from infections.
The day begins like any spa day. Soft towels are laid on a raised table, and Mrs. B is placed gently on her back. The old epoxy and fiberglass covering is taken off, and her shell is cleaned with disinfectant. Old scales that built up under the patch are removed, just like flaking off tough, dry skin. When the area is ready, a piece of fiberglass cloth is cut to exact size to cover the damaged area. A layer of epoxy is applied, and smoothed over with tongue depressors to ensure good contact and to remove bubbling. This process is repeated 3 times, until the strength of the patch is deemed adequate to stand up to the rigors of her aquatic environment. Through it all, sweet natured Mrs. Beasley is very patient, and her keeper stays by her side the entire length of the procedure (which is around 90 minutes). After a final 20 minute drying session with a hand-held blow dryer, she is ready to go back to her watery home in the Dwarf Caiman exhibit in Unseen New World.
Mrs. Beasley is one of Dr. Robertson’s best patients and seems to really enjoy the extra attention. She watches everyone in the procedure room as they move about and listens to vet staff conversations. Because of Mrs. Beasley’s great behavior and easiness to work with, her semiannual shell procedure has been renamed “Mrs. B’s Spa Day.”
Removing old scales and shell covering
Sizing the piece of fiberglass cloth to cover damaged area
Securing fiberglass cloth with epoxy
Back in her exhibit, safe and sound!
Smoothing out the epoxy to remove air bubbles
Speeding up the drying process using the "cool" setting on a hair dryer
Mrs. B's keeper, Katie, supports her head throughout the process