Preserving a 14" found turtle shell (in one piece)

Submitted by Susan Adams on 12/14/04 at 8:18 AM. ( )

Sunday I found a large turtle shell in excellent condition. It must have been laying in the moist bottom land by our creek for yrs, as it was perfectly cleaned out by Nature.

I brought it in to our very dry heated home and within 24 hours the individual sections of the shell began to shrink and separate, and the cellophane like covering began to peel off.

It's now in the shower and is getting wetted down every 12 hrs or so, but I can't do this forever! My experience with found shells has been that the smaller ones stay whole, but the larger ones fall to bits. An 18" snapper shell became an interesting puzzle, but not much else.

What can I do to preserve the whole shell, intact? I'd prefer to keep the "tortoise shell" covering too, but would sacrifice that to keep the shell itself.

Thanks in advance for your assistance, Susan Adams

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This response submitted by wetnwild on 12/14/04 at 8:33 AM. ( )

The moist shell you found is exactly that moist. As the moisture evaporates out of it, I am assuming the plastron or botom is missing, the shell is shrinking . As it does, the scutes are not moving at the same rate and therefor are separating and flaking off. If the botom is missing, covering the inside of the upper shell with fiberglass would reinforce the structure and reduce the shrinking of the shell, prevewnting the scutes from flecking off. After this is done, the scutes can be glued back on with superglue and then sealed with either spar varnish, or polyurethane and then polished. The inside of the shell prior to reinforcing would have to be totally scraped clean, and a good soak in methasnol or a dusting of borax would help in retarding spoilage.

Thanks, but need more info

This response submitted by S Adams on 12/15/04 at 7:33 AM. ( )

The carapice and plastron are (were) intact and attached. The hard bony plates below the marginal scutes are what started to separate, now the vertibral and costal plates/scutes have begun to pull apart. So far the plastron is holding together and is staying attached to the carapice. I've seen shells that stayed together fine after drying, but this one is pulling apart at all the major seams.

Do I just let it fall apart and then attempt to glue it together again? Do I take the plastron off, glass the top and glue the plastron back on? Can I soak the whole thing in glycerine or something to replace the lost moisture and preserve it in one piece?

The longer I wait the worse it's getting, and it's only been 3 days! Any help would be greatly appreciated.

at this point

This response submitted by wetnwild on 12/15/04 at 7:48 AM. ( )

Rewetting it is your biggest enemy. I would just let it do all its setling and shrinking so that future movement andf shrinking will not occur, then start replacing scutes one at a time. If you remove the plastron, the upper carapace will tend to curl and you wont match them up later without some work. You could try blocking the leg holes with foam blocks or wood so as not to let the shape distort during the drying process. Keep us updated


This response submitted by S Adams on 12/18/04 at 5:48 PM. ( )

Will try the above and let you know. Calls to local taxidermists have had no result tho one, a fellow beekeeper, has offered to coat the interior with some kind of rubberized sealent. I think I'll try your way. Thanks and will let you know the result.

S Adams

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