Oct 19, 2017 | By Tess

Nope, that’s not a tiny Mike Myers you’re seeing, just a small turtle wearing a 3D printed face mask. The turtle, a resident at Zoo Knoxville in Tennessee, was fitted with the 3D printed mask after suffering an injury to her face.

(Image: Michael Patrick / News Sentinel)

Patches is a 30-year-old black-breasted leaf turtle, a species indigenous to northern Vietnam and southeastern China that has been on the endangered animals list for some time.

A tiny specimen, measuring just 5.5 inches in length, Patches is part of an effort by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan to breed her species and move it away from extinction.

Last year, however, zookeepers noticed that the female turtle had suffered an injury to her face: a puncture wound on her right nostril which had become infected. Though the cause of the injury is uncertain, the zoo’s team believes it could have been from a male trying to mate with her.

(Image: Amy Smotherman Burgess / Zoo Knoxville)

Fortunately, the injury wasn’t too severe, and Patches seemed to be living relatively normally with the hole in her face—the main issue was that moss and dirt kept getting lodged inside the crevice, which had to be cleaned out regularly. Seeking a more long-term solution for Patches, the zookeepers eventually turned to 3D printing technology.

Through a collaboration with the zoo and veterinarians from the University of Tennessee (UT), the idea for a small 3D printed mask was born.

Using a micro CT scan of the turtle’s face, the UT team got to work designing a mask that would fit comfortably over Patches’ injury and prevent moss and dirt from getting in without disturbing her breathing or eating.

(Image: Michael Patrick / News Sentinel)

While UT veterinarians are familiar with 3D printing tech—it is often used to create bone models for students and veterinary surgeons to practice on—this was the first time the technology was used to create a wearable mask for an animal.

In making the turtle mask, Dr. Kyle Snowdon first 3D printed a model of Patches’ head and then 3D printed a number of prototypes for the mask, all made from a lightweight resin material. It looks like the researcher had some fun with the process too, designing a mask prototype with a kind of rhino horn on it.

(Image: UT College of Veterinary Medicine)

Patches was fitted with her first mask in June of this year, though it did not stay on for very long because of the adhesive that was used. More recently, she was fitted with a 3D printed resin mask that has been fastened to her face using a tiny screw.

The screw is placed through the puncture hole and fastened to the roof of the turtle’s mouth using a bit of composite resin. According to the vets, this system has a double purpose: the composite resin in the turtle's mouth effectively restores the roof of her mouth which was also damaged by the injury.

“[Patches is] doing great,” said Michael Ogle, the zoo's herpetology curator. “She looks a little odd, but she's still a good-looking young lady.”

(Image: Michael Patrick / News Sentinel)

Within the veterinary field, 3D printing is becoming more commonplace, as experts are using the technology to create bespoke solutions for treating animals and pets who have been injured. Just yesterday, for instance, we wrote about a dog whose owner 3D printed it a custom leg prosthetic.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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