This RoboTurtle Is the Tiny Superhero the World Needs Right Now

This RoboTurtle Is the Tiny Superhero the World Needs Right Now


Nope, this wasn’t a Halloween costume.


By Kristyn Pomranz

Have you heard about this new superhero movie called RoboTurtle? A supervillain shark named Razortooth Von Deathkill devises an evil plot to propagate the extinction of endangered black-breasted leaf turtles. The tiny reptiles seem to stand no chance against the vicious Razortooth, until one unlikely hero — an injured, yet determined 30-year-old named Patches — rises from the moss. With a 3D-printed face mask and a blue-tinged titanium screw, Patches is unstoppable. And — plot twist! — she’s a female! (Take that, gender norms!)

Alright, so that’s not a real movie, but it is a real plot. (Well, all of it except for Razortooth Von Deathkill.)

A tiny black-breasted leaf turtle named Patches was moved to the Zoo Knoxville 10 years ago to help breed and save her endangered species as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan. But last August, her caretakers found her seriously injured — she had a puncture hole in her right nostril. Even worse, it became infected and grew to cover her face.

Although veterinarians were able to treat the infection, the hole didn’t close up and moss and debris kept getting stuck inside. So they turned to the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, which specializes in 3-D technology. Their solution? A resin mask — made by a 3-D printer — with a bright blue titanium screw that secures the mask on Patches’ face.

The unusual treatment was a success — it keeps her hole covered while also creating a new hard palate on the roof of her mouth — and caretakers confirm it is safe to keep in place permanently. “She’s doing great,” says Zoo Knoxville’s herpetology curator Michael Ogle. “She looks a little odd, but she’s still a good-looking young lady.”

Odd? More like a badass superhero, arewerite?!

Credit: Amy Smotherman Burgess/Zoo Knoxville

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