A few months ago, a turtle in Thailand was grievously injured when it was run over by a truck. The animal hardly seemed to have any chance of survival. However, with the immediate help of the Thai Animal Guardians Association, it did survive. The Association admitted the turtle to Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University for medical treatment.

High-tech Turtle
High-tech Turtle [Illustration by Anup Singh]

The plucky little survivor was named Jikko and the Bangkok Post (a local newspaper) kept readers updated on the animal’s progress. According to veterinarian Nantarika Chansue, Jikko is now quite fit and a fibre-glass shell has been placed over its broken outer shell to speed up the healing process.

This means that Jikko is the only turtle in Thailand (and possibly in the world) to have a fibre-glass shell! This artificial shell is made from denture plate material and would crack and fall off when the natural shell is fully restored.

More about turtle and tortoise shells

Turtles and tortoises are reptiles, both easily identifiable by their shells. The fossils of these animals date back to the Triassic period (about 245 million years ago). This means that these reptiles existed even before the first dinosaur groups emerged (the oldest one dates back to 200 million years ago). Turtle (and tortoise) shell is made up of a series of bony plates covered with a horny shield. Although the shell is hard, it is a surprisingly sensitive structure because of the many nerves embedded in it.

Contrary to popular belief, it is impossible for the animals to crawl out of their shells. This is so because their vertebrae and ribs are attached firmly to the inside of their shells, providing additional support.

So what is the difference between turtles and tortoises? Well, turtles have a relatively flattened shell and live in water, whereas tortoises have a dome-shaped shell and live on land.

Turtles found in freshwater are called terrapins. They are quite different from marine turtles (like the leatherback and the Olive Ridley) as their legs have webbing and claws. (Marine turtles have limbs that are modified as flippers). The leatherback is the largest living turtle that can attain a weight of about 540 kilograms! The giant tortoise, Geochelone elephantopus (found on the Galápagos Islands, Ecuador) is the largest species of tortoise.