One of the things I was most looking forward to about my wildlife rotation was the opportunity to get in some turtle time. I loved owning red-eared sliders in high school, and was sad to give them away before moving into my college dorm. I knew that the wildlife clinic had a few dozen turtles overwintering with them—most were turtles that were hit by a car, but healed too late in the autumn to release and still have a good chance of transitioning into brumation for the winter.
One of my painted turtle patients was just such a turtle: Hit by a vehicle in the fall, he healed up over the winter and was now raring to go. Every time I peeked in on him, he was swim-swim-swimming away. My Blandings turtle had been admitted in the late autumn for cold stunning—for some reason she hadn’t adapted to the cold. Even once warmed up and active, the Blandings refused to eat for months and lost weight, to the point where the staff considered euthanasia. Then one day out of the blue, the Blandings began nibbling on some proffered earthworms and never looked back. She was my favorite turtle to feed, by far. Every day, without fail, she scarfed down whatever insects or dead mice I gave her with unholy enthusiasm.
My Eastern box turtle was a handsome fellow, with bright yellow and brown patterning and rather alarming red eyes and a notched beak. He was recovering from a broken femur, which hadn’t set properly—he couldn’t fully retract that leg and close up his shell like other box turtles. I also gained another painted turtle, this one hit by a car in the spring as he was crossing the road to look for some lady friends. He was one of 5 painted turtles admitted during a rainy weekend, and whose shells were rewired over the course of the next week. Shell wiring was actually easier than I thought and great fun to perform. I actually got rather good at intubating turtles during that week, too!
But my favorite turtle patient was a tiny painted turtle, 2 inches long and missing his left front foot. When I first saw him, his eyes were closed and puffy (a classic sign of vitamin A deficiency) and his shell was soft and malleable, a sign of metabolic bone disease (also known as nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism) which is caused by inadequate amounts of calcium and/or too much phosphorous. This tiny turtle hardly moved or ate the first few days of my rotation. But as soon as I put him outside to bask with other turtles in the first hot sunny day, he perked up and started swimming. By the time I finished up my 2-week rotation, the tiny painted turtle was eating regularly, acting like a normal turtle, and his eyes were open and clear.
Working with these turtles was incredibly fun, and I felt so lucky to have worked with such a variety!