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What's Going on with His Shell?

PostPosted: Thu Jun 17, 2021 5:54 pm
by Lovegasoline
This post concerns diagnosing a possible shell issue.
In the past few weeks the shell’s appearance has changed with lighter colored craquelure and also in the spaces between the scutes. The surface texture of the shell feels different, where previously the shell was hard and shiny like a fingernail it now is duller in sheen and feels a little rubbery or ‘sticky’ on the surface. The shell itself isn’t soft like rubber (you can’t indent it) but the surface feels different. The bottom of his shell looks fine.

The 4th and 5th photo (same photo but with enlarged close up of head) are from about 4 months ago … at that time no shell issues were visible but I was noticing some occasional shedding (and/or mucous?) from the mouth and nose, which I never recall occurring previously.
About 3 months ago I started noticing the beginning of subtle change to the shell … the beginning of the ‘craquelure’ or what looked like tiny flakes appearing as evidenced in the first 3 photos. I figured it was some sort of shedding.
The 1st and last photo are from a few days ago.

Male RES approx. 16 years old, I’ve had him for 15 years.

37 gallons tank filled to the brim with large ATBA the same footprint as the tank (tank is a little small but no space for anything bigger at present). Not sure of basking temp as thermometer was removed long ago, but it’s warm. Ceramic heating element lamp, Reptisun fluorescent 5.0 UVB bulb. Water heater set to 78 Fahrenheit (summer time now in NYC). Tank placed on north facing window’s sill. Rena/Filstar XP3 canister filter with 4 sponges in various PPI + tray of ceramic rings. Tiny bit of water conditioner goes in with addition of fresh water during water changes. I’ve fallen behind schedule for some of the water changes in recent months.

ZooMed Maintenance Turtle food. He would typically eat 16-20 pellets (but I note that my recent tub of the same product, the pellets are larger in volume) plus a piece of lettuce and a little bit of veggie like red pepper or carrot. Occasionally mix alternate with dried shrimp to mix it up. Live rosie reds or goldfish every week or two. Very occasionally a few crickets. Every feeding or every other feeding a little piece of fresh strawberry treat. Sometimes a treat of smoked salmon or fresh salmon. Little cuttlebone pieces always in the tank. Vitamin dusting isn’t very regular, I have something called National Geographic Reptile Multivitamin Suppliment Powder (I dislike it as it turns deep orange upon contact with water and stains stuff).

Turtle behavior:
A few months ago the ramp to the basking area came off … it’s a piece of glass spanning the tanks width affixed with caulk … the caulk gave way. I need to purchase some new pieces of cut glass to bracket and support the ramp and redo it (which will require shutting down the tank for a week while the caulk cures/off gases) but in the interim I placed a piece of pine (wood I believe that’s the wood species) supported by some nylon webbing and a little clamp…. a jerry rigged temporary ramp solution. The wood ramp is longer than the glass one and at a more relaxed angle … the turtle now spends a good chunk of his time on the ramp 2/3 submerged in water and for several weeks only rarely completely left the water onto the basking platform proper ... part off the reason perhaps was the little clamp was above the ramp and he'd have to climb over it (3/4" tall) ... was he just being lazy? However in the last couple of weeks he does go on his basking platform proper with some regularity.

About the time the temp ramp was put in I noticed shedding of skin but with a new twist, some shedding from the mouth and even nose. These bits of shedding looked like little ‘blobs’ a little more liquid (mucous? See 4th photo) than the gossamer skin shedding. I never recalled that from the mouth or nose. This comes and goes. It irritates him and he’d try to rub it off. I noticed the shell was looking a little different as if it was forming some lighter colored areas between scutes and also some ‘crackled’ sort of surface. When handling him recently or touching the shell I noticed it wasn’t the typical firm, hard, surface but felt a little ‘sticky’ or gummy, or rubbery on the surface … not to the point where a fingernail could depress into it, but the otuter surface wasn’t hard.

During the past several weeks he refused to eat his turtle pellets. This happens occasionally …. phases where he boycotts the turtle food. Wouldn’t eat dried shrimp or lettuce either. Would however gobble up human food, red pepper, strawberries, salmon, etc. little pieces of chicken or anything else that was like ‘treat’ food. Thankfully, in the past few days has he resumed eating his pellets.

I’m not familiar with shell rot but was thinking this could be an instance of it?
Any ideas of what’s happening and how to treat it?

Thanks a bunch!


Re: What's Going on with His Shell?

PostPosted: Thu Jun 17, 2021 8:59 pm
by steve
I'm not sure about the sticky residue, he might just need a shell cleaning. The mucous does need further investigation. Does it show up after he basks for long periods? I would sometimes see it expelled from the mouth if they are out of the tank for awhile.

Re: What's Going on with His Shell?

PostPosted: Fri Jun 18, 2021 7:26 pm
by Lovegasoline
Thanks for the reply.

The pic shown there is about the worst mucous I'd noticed ... it only occurred like that for a brief spell and that's the only time I'd seen mucous when he was out of the water. This was amidst a period which also included 'shedding' from around the corners of his mouth, like little blobs of 'ectoplasm' hanging off the corners of his mouth. Also lots of general skin shedding. As of a couple weeks ago he was still getting some of the shedding - coming and going - from the corners of his mouth. This moth shedding was a more liquidity 'blob' than typical skin shedding. He has in general been skin shedding more than usual in the past months despite not being fed a whole lot.
He has also has been very frequently closing his eyes, one or both - more than usual - in the past few months.

I don't have any knowledge of a pattern of behavior associated with the mucous phase. I only saw mucous from the nose a handful of times ... a little blob at the entrance of one nostril. None now.

I've cleaned his shell before a few times but it never had the feeling it has currently. Those cleanings were just water under a faucet and a toothbrush. What sort of cleaning do you recommend?

Water Test Results done today (API Freshwater Master Kit, chemicals still fresh):
pH = 6.0
High Range pH = 7.6
Ammonia = 0.50- ppm
Nitrite = 0 ppm
Nitrate = 40 ppm.

Re: What's Going on with His Shell?

PostPosted: Sat Jun 19, 2021 8:40 am
by steve
Either Betadine or Hibiclens (Chlorhexidine) are good for cleaning. Betadine might stain your clothes, Hibiclens is soapy so it can make your turtle slippery when you are cleaning him. Whats the basking temperature?

Re: What's Going on with His Shell?

PostPosted: Sat Jun 19, 2021 3:41 pm
by Lovegasoline
Basking temp is 88-89˚F.
I lowered the heat lamp just a little to it's lowest position without redoing the mounting support and it's now 90˚F.

I'll get some Hibiclens and clean the shell. How to do this properly for this scenario? A toothbrush? Apply and let sit, or scrub? Rinse off or leave on? Put turtle back in the water or leave him in a dry area?

Re: What's Going on with His Shell?

PostPosted: Sun Jun 20, 2021 1:19 am
by steve
I would dry dock after for a bit after either treatment. Hibiclens I would rinse off after a few minutes. Betadine could probably be left on after it dries. A toothbrush would be fine.

Re: What's Going on with His Shell?

PostPosted: Tue Jun 22, 2021 1:57 am
by Lovegasoline
I gave the shell a good cleaning. (I've only ever cleaned his shell a handful of times - in a decade and a half - and only with water).

I cleaned the shell with a couple drops of dish soap and soft toothbrush. Then I used a little diluted apple cider. Finally I used Chlorhexidine and left it on for 10 minutes. Afterwards the shell was clear and hard, like a fingernail. The rubbery/gummy texture must have been superficial. I'm relieved it wasn't a disease or infection of the shell.

I left him out of the water for about an hour, including taking him outside and letting him walk around a little in a landscaped area. He parked himself under thick undergrowth in the shade. He often has a tendency to seek shadowy solitude. I only took him out once or twice before (inside an open box to bask in the sun) but never in nature ... dirt and plants.

The only other thing is the skin shedding (esp. the shedding around beak). Maybe he's just going through an active shedding phase. I'll keep an eye to see if any mucous develops.

Thanks a bunch for all the info and recommendations.