Herons admitted due to toxicosis and snapping turtles face car strikes

October 7, 2021

Two great blue herons and a Florida snapping turtle were among the sixty-two animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a Florida box turtle, a sanderling, a red-bellied woodpecker, a red-eyed vireo, a belted kingfisher and three grey squirrels.

Great Blue Herons Suffer From Toxicosis

Two great blue herons were admitted on the same day after each were found in distress at two different locations on the south end of Marco Island. One heron has the typical blue gray coloring familiar to most people, while the other heron is all white. The pure white great blue heron, considered a subspecies by birding experts, is found in coastal areas of Southern Florida.

Both herons showed signs of suffering from toxicosis. The white great blue heron was alert yet its mentation was dull when handled. The heron had lost its ability to blink due to the toxins and the bird was unable to stand.

Staff applies eye ointment to a great blue heron suffering from toxicosis

The blue gray colored heron was responsive and its mentation was dull as well. The heron was also unable to stand fully upright. While the heron had a full blink in both eyes when admitted, the heron’s condition worsened by the second day and lost its ability to blink.

The two herons required very similar treatments plans that included application of eye ointment several times throughout the day and evening to prevent ulcers, electrolytes, Chinese herbs, a milk thistle and dandelion root formula to help detoxify the liver, a vitamin supplement and an antifungal. The blue gray colored heron also required an antibiotic.

Each day an animal care team consisting of a rehabber, a volunteer and our staff vet performs physical therapy on each heron since neither heron is able to stand upright. The team supports each heron by stretching the herons’ wings and legs, while allowing the herons’ to bear their own weight while standing. One person supports the head (and may need to stand on a step stool during physical therapy because the herons are so tall when their head, necks and legs are fully extended), one person supports the chest and the vet performs physical therapy. After several days of treatment, the white great blue heron showed signs of improvement and was able to start eating fish. The blue gray heron’s condition is still guarded.

Physical therapy for great blue heron
Physical therapy for “white morph” great blue heron

Thankfully, the people who noticed the herons took action and called the staff at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital for guidance. Both the herons received immediate medical attention that mitigated their suffering and increased their odds of making a full recovery. Often times, people will delay seeking guidance for several days and that significantly decreases an animal’s odds of making a full recovery.

Snapping Turtles and Car Strikes

A twenty pound Florida snapping turtle is admitted after being injured by a vehicle. The staff covered the turtle’s head to calm the animal as they tended to its wounds.

This snapping turtle was hit by a car near Collier Seminole State Park. The turtle weighed just under twenty pounds. Upon arrival to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital the snapping turtle lived up to the reputation often attributed to a snapping turtle – he was strong, bitey and incredibly defensive. The turtle suffered two large wounds on the right side of its carapace which was bleeding and he was holding his hind right leg outward at an odd angle.

The snapping turtle’s size and demeanor made him difficult to handle. Initially, the turtle was placed in an intensive care unit to rest and settle down. Once calm, staff administered an antibiotic and pain medication.

The turtle was restless in the intensive care unit so a ‘habitat’ was created in a tub in the water therapy room in the hospital that replicated a natural outdoor setting. The ‘habitat’ has shallow water with one end covered in palm fronds for the snapping turtle to hide under, a haul out and a heat lamp for basking. Minimizing stress is always our goal and the tub set up allows staff to change the turtle’s bandages daily without having to handle the turtle, therefore he stays calm.

A young Florida snapping turtle has its wounds cleaned while recovering at the hospital. The turtle was found on the side of Tamiami Trail near Highway 29.

Currently there is a second Florida snapping turtle at the hospital. The two turtles are wonderful representatives of their species; both cases are similar in that they were found on the side of the road. The second snapping turtle was admitted two weeks ago after being found on Highway 41 near the intersection of Highway 29 and weighed in at only fifteen grams (about the size of a large Sharpie marker).

The young snapper is recovering from neurological trauma. When admitted the young turtle was inactive, its head was laying outstretched on the towel, blood was noted near the mouth, its left eye was sunken in and although it could use all four legs, the turtle walked in circles. The young snapping turtle has been housed in a ten gallon aquarium with vegetation to hide in, a haul out area and a heat lamp for basking.

The turtle has shown slight improvement in its mentation, yet the neurological deficits are still significant. If you hit a turtle or see a turtle that’s been hit by a car, safely pull over and offer assistance. It can be extremely difficult to tell if a turtle has passed away from its injuries or is still alive and suffering. Call the wildlife hospital for handling advice and bring the turtle directly to the wildlife hospital for assistance. It is inhumane to leave an animal to die slowly on the side of the road. If you see a turtle that isn’t injured, help it to safety and always place it in the direction it was headed.

Recent Releases

A black racer, an eastern cottontail, a loggerhead shrike, a glossy ibis, a striped mud turtle, two Florida red-bellied turtles, four grey squirrels, a gopher tortoise, a Florida snapping turtle and two raccoons were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Currently we are in need of volunteers for Critter Couriers to transport injured, sick and orphaned wildlife to our facility and especially need volunteers from Marco Island and Bonita Springs. Please consider getting involved and supporting our efforts.

Your volunteer time, donations, and memberships are vital in helping us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. Please visit the Conservancy website at www.conservancy.org to view all of the amazing work done at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Joanna Fitzgerald is Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239-262-2273 or see conservancy.org.