LEGO Builders on the half shell: a history of helping turtles and tortoises [Feature]

Last month, a story on LEGO bricks being used to help an injured turtle went viral. An Eastern box turtle was found with multiple fractures on its plastron (the name for the underside of a turtle/tortoise shell). Veterinary staff at the Maryland Zoo of Baltimore performed surgery, but they were concerned about allowing the turtle to move freely while healing properly. According to zoo employee Dr. Ellen Bronson, turtles take much longer to recover than mammals and birds due to a slower metabolism.

To help the turtle move without injuring itself again, Garrett Fraess (the Zoo’s veterinarian extern) and his colleagues sketched out some plans for a wheelchair…

Fraess shared the sketches with a LEGO-loving friend in Denmark, who developed a wheelchair constructed out of LEGO Technic elements. Thanks to this innovative solution, the turtle is doing great and there are plans to release it back into the wild once fully recovered.

Building a LEGO wheelchair for a turtle is a wonderful example of an unconventional use of LEGO bricks. However, this is not the first time LEGO bricks have been used to help a turtle in need. In fact, LEGO wheelchairs for injured turtles have been a thing since at least the 1980s, with stories having even appeared in official LEGO publications. Join us, as we dig through the archives to share you a few of these turtle tales!

1981 – Aiding an arthritic tortoise

A story on an arthritic tortoise appeared in the Autumn 1981 issue of UK LEGO Club magazine, Bricks ‘n Pieces. The picture’s accompanying caption read.

“When vet N. J. Mills of Staplehurst was brought a tortoise suffering from arthritis, he created this wheeled trolley to help the poor animal to move around until treatment took effect. There is something amusing about the idea of a tortoise on wheels but undoubtedly the tortoise was very grateful for Mr. Mills’ clever idea.”

Looking at the picture, it appears as though Mills built a base out of plates turned upside down, which were in turn connected to the older brick, modified 2×4 with wheels holder of the 1960s through 1970s.

1986 – Tires for Tommy the tortoise

Back in 1986, another LEGO tortoise tale was broadcast on British televised news and soon reached the LEGO Group. LEGO shared the story of Tommy the tortoise in the Summer 1986 issue of Bricks ‘n Pieces and the September 1986 issue of LEGO Review, a magazine issued to LEGO employees. Tommy’s right hind leg was accidentally crushed in a door, and his owner objected the idea of having to put him to sleep. The tortoise was twenty-six years old and had been loved by Tracey Binmore ever since she received him for her 7th birthday.

Fortunately, Binmore’s vet didn’t give up on Tommy and used a LEGO wheelset to replace his amputated limb. Thanks to his new wheels, Tommy was reportedly able to scuttle about faster than ever before. While this fix saved Tommy’s life, it came at the expense of his love life. Binmore owned another tortoise named Mork and claimed that Tommy had become, “….extremely frustrated at not being able to honour his marital commitments towards Mork, the light of his life.”

1993 – Wheelie the tortoise

When Robert Wilcott’s 70 year old tortoise lost its leg in a cat attack he took the injured reptile to John Parkinson, a veterinarian in Plymouth, England. Fortunately, Parkinson was resourceful and raided his son’s toy box for a brick-built solution. After receiving a set of LEGO wheels, Wilcott changed the tortoise’s name to Wheelie. He remarked, “Wheelie runs like crazy, which is why her turns are a bit difficult.” The story spread throughout England and eventually reached LEGO headquarters, with Wheelie’s mugshot appearing in the April 1993 issue of LEGO Revue.

2014 – Blade on wheels

Back in 2014, a story emerged from Germany regarding LEGO wheels being used to help a Greek tortoise with a metabolic bone disease. The little reptile’s name was Blade, and he was having trouble supporting the weight of his shell as the muscles in his legs continued to deteriorate. The LEGO wheels were intended to help the tortoise walk and gradually regain strength in his legs.

Of all the stories from this list, Blade’s story probably became one of the most widely read examples of LEGO wheels being used to help an injured tortoise. Articles on Blade went viral, and you will still occasionally find people sharing his story on social media to this day. As long as there are aquatic reptiles in need like Blade, there is a LEGO solution waiting to be made.

1 comment on “LEGO Builders on the half shell: a history of helping turtles and tortoises [Feature]

  1. Purple Dave

    That’s pretty cool…but is it wrong of me that I would have been tempted to dye the gauze in a bright color and attach weapons to the sides of the frame? I probably would have drawn the line at adding a bandana.

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