CLAIM

A turtle grew into an odd shape after being trapped in a rubber band for years.

MOSTLY TRUE

RATING

MOSTLY TRUE

WHAT'S TRUE

The pictured turtle was rescued after she was discovered with a plastic milk jug ring around her midsection.

WHAT'S FALSE

The turtle's deformity was not caused by a rubber band.

ORIGIN

Since at least 2008, a troubling image of a turtle with a drastically deformed shell has been circulating online, with multiple web sites employing it to illustrate posts about the dangers of plastic pollution in the oceans. The image shows a brown-colored turtle with a shell constricted in the middle, giving her a figure-eight shape:

This image captures a snapping turtle named Mae West who currently resides at the STAR Eco Station in Los Angeles, California, where she is in good health. A representative from the station, which operates a wildlife rescue and environmental science museum, told us Mae West was rescued nearly two decades ago after she was discovered with a plastic milk jug ring around her midsection, although though it was unclear exactly how long the ring had been in place:

In 2000, she was discovered in Louisiana with a plastic milk jug ring around the width of her shell. In addition to having an extremely narrow midsection, she was also found to be carrying several eggs at the time. The handler in Louisiana decided that she was no longer able to care for her and arranged to have Mae placed at the Eco Station.

Some of the blogs posting this image in early 2017 incorrectly claimed the turtle had been caught in a rubber band from an early age, causing her to grow abnormally.

Mae West was brought to her current home after being cared for by an anti-pollution non-profit called The 5 Gyers Institute, also based in Los Angeles. The image shown above was used in a 2009 Earth Day report by Oprah Winfrey discussing the effects of plastic pollution on marine life:

Sadly, the type of deformity afflicting Mae West isn’t unique. Another famous turtle is living with a similar human-caused deformity: Peanut, a red-eared slider turtle who was rescued and nursed to health after being discovered entrapped in a plastic six-pack ring, has often been misidentified as Mae West (and vice-versa) in photographs.

Peanut was found in Missouri in 1993 and taken to a zoo, where the plastic ring was removed from his midsection. The turtle (who was for years mistakenly believed to be female) is currently under the care of the Missouri Department of Conservation. Photographs provided by the department show he does indeed resemble a peanut:

peanut

Despite his deformation, Peanut has also managed to live a long and healthy life and is now believed to be a senior terrapin at 32 or 33 years old, said Dan Zarlenga, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Conservation. Had he not been found and cared for by humans, Peanut probably would not have survived for long in the wild.

Sources:

Eriksen, Marcus. “Meet the Famous Turtle With a Serious Plastic Problem.”
Planet Experts. 6 July 2015.

Missouri Department of Conservation. “The Story of Peanut the Turtle.”

Monks, Kieron. “The Plastic Plague: Can Our Oceans Be Saved From Environmental Ruin?
CNN. 2 September 2016.

Moore, Charles. “Choking the Oceans With Plastic.”
The New York Times. 25 August 2015.