A rescue tortoise in Golden, Colorado has been given a new prosthetic 3D printed shell in order to protect her from being injured when playing with other tortoises.
Cleopatra, a rescue tortoise at the Canyon Critters Reptile Rescue, suffers from a condition whereby her shell does not grow smoothly in a curved formation, but grows in raised sections, which is known as "pyramiding" or "peaking".
Tortoises routinely climb on top of each other when they play and mate, and this usually doesn't cause other tortoises harm as their weight is distributed evenly, but with Cleopatra, the deformities of her shell have led to parts of it becoming worn away from interactions with other tortoises.
Holes have formed in parts of Cleopatra's shell, which puts her tortoise at risk of infections from bacteria, so Colorado Technical University Information Technology student and US Air Force veteran Roger Henry spent 600 hours designing a new shell to fit on top of the deformed shell, according to the Denver Post.
"It's fantastic to know this tortoise is going to be able to recover from its malnutrition," Henry said.
The special prosthetic shell was 3D printed out of biodegradable corn-based plastic and doesn't need to be worn by the tortoise all the time – only when she is interacting with others of her kind, and the plan is to keep the shell attached to her actual shell using Velcro.
Canyon Critters Reptile Rescue owner Nico Novelli said that the reason Cleopatra's shell had become deformed is because her previous owner had fed her a diet that was too high in protein, and she cautions all new pet owners to make sure they are informed about the correct way to take care of tortoises before they get them as pets.
Novelli expects that Cleopatra's shell can heal, but it will take several years, a proper diet and a home in the correct temperature to achieve.
3D Printing is now being used in a wide number of industries, including the healthcare industry, where the technology is used to create implants of jaw and hip bones, to help doctors to rehearse incredibly intricate, complex life-saving surgeries, as well as to make sure that implants will fit and work properly with the patient's body.