Bruce box turtle shell rot

Day 243: Box Turtle Gets a Microscopic Visitor

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The large shell-less being here….

Being a box turtle rescue mama is an awesome privilege. It is also a daunting responsibility.

I was eight when I rescued my first turtle. He was a baby red-eared slider I named (wait for it) “Red.” He wandered up from the bayou right behind our casa and into the street in front of our house. We saved him from becoming a red pancake and in return he kindled my lifelong love of turtles.

But I won’t lie – Mom did all the heavy lifting in Red’s daily care. My most difficult responsibility after rescuing Red was remembering to sprinkle the turtle flakes on top of his water at dinnertime.

Fast forward a few decades and Bruce comes along. Thinking back to my halcyon days with Red, I think to myself, “how hard could it be?” Oh. so. hard.

I’ve written extensively here and elsewhere about the moral and ethical challenges of choosing to keep any formerly free creature in a captive setting, but that isn’t even what I’m getting at here.

Nope. Here, I’m talking about box turtle health. Specifically, fungus.

Every day we do “box turtle safety checks” and I have previously prided myself on catching even tiny issues before they become big. Not this time. The other day I was playing with Bruce and he flipped himself over and what I saw caused my jaw to drop open in HORROR.

In place of the smooth, clean, light olive plastron (shell underside) I now know and love, I saw striations of white and black emanating out from the hinges in his shell. I picked him up and lightly touched them. They didn’t seem to be causing him any pain or discomfort. I pushed harder. Still no reaction. I scraped at them with my finger nail. He didn’t bat an eye.

Bruce box turtle shell rot
You can see what caused my eyes to pop with horror – what IS that on my baby?!

I snapped pics and sent them to our vet. She returned the verdict: shell rot.

From her, I learned that microscopic microbes love to hide in the grooves of turtle shells and will try their darnedest to infiltrate through the hard keratin and bone into the soft tissues underneath.

Bruce box turtle shell rot 2
You can see the deeper hinge where the microscopic visitors are trying to hide out.

If the turtle shell is doing its job, it will repel the invaders by sloughing off exterior keratin layers in an attempt to remove the fungus along with it.

She told me Bruce’s body is doing a good job of this, which is why I am seeing the white striations.

I am glad to hear this, of course – my boy has a good, strong immune system and doesn’t need to go to the dreaded v.e.t…..at least not yet.

And while I would love to get out my microbe-vanquishing hammer and smush any remaining awful little invaders to smithereens for trying to harm my baby, I can’t see any of them.

So we watch and wait and press and poke and watch and wait some more.

Send Bruce your get-well-soon wishes! <3

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