Lego Wheelchair Helps Injured Turtle Move Around Maryland Zoo

Maryland Zoo

A wounded turtle at the Maryland Zoo is now healing and can now move with the help of a customized Lego wheelchair.

The Maryland Zoo said in a press release that the wild eastern box turtle was found by one the zoo’s workers at the Druid Hill Park in July.

Ellen Bronson, the zoo’s senior director of animal health, conservation, and research, said that the creature had several fractures at the underside of its shell called the plastron.

The turtle had to undergo an operation to stabilize its shells. The zoo’s veterinary team used metal bones, surgical wire and sewing clasps to hold the shell fragments together.

The unique location of the injuries made it difficult for the animal to move while healing.

Garrett Fraess, a veterinary extern at the zoo, explained that it is important to keep the bottom of the shell off the ground so it can properly heal.

A wheelchair may help with the animal’s mobility. The problem is there is no commercially available turtle-sized wheelchairs, so the staff decided to design one made with Lego bricks.

“They don’t make turtle-sized wheelchairs. So, we drew some sketches of a customized wheelchair and I sent them to a friend who is a Lego enthusiast” Fraess said.

Featured image credit: Maryland Zoo

The multicolored wheelchair is finished just a few weeks after the operation. The small Lego frame that sits on four Lego wheels surrounds the turtle’s shells. A plumbers putty attaches the device to the edges of the upper shell allowing the reptile to move.

The turtle uses the strength of its front legs to move around with his specially-made transportation. The wheelchair’s design also allowed the animal to exhibit natural behaviors, which include fully closing its shell when it feels threatened.

Bronson said that turtles heal slower than birds and mammals because of their slow metabolism. This means that the turtle will likely use his Lego wheelchair through the winter and into the spring until such time that all of the fragments have fused together and the shell has fully healed.

The turtle is at least 18 years old. Bronson said that it will be returned to the wild once it is fully healed.

The Smithsonan’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute said that the shell of the eastern box turtle is unique because it can regenerate. It cited the case of a badly burned carapace, or the rounded, hard upper shell of a box turtle, that has completely regenerated.

These creatures generally live between 25 and 35 years but some can survive up to over 100 years.