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Green sea turtle patient Venus undergoes leech therapy

Green sea turtle patient Venus waits patiently while the leeches do their job!

Our Sea Turtle Healing Center is always keeping up with both new and time-honored medical research and implementing cutting-edge, science-based treatments—like using raw honey from our beehives to encourage wound healing—to aid our patients on their rehabilitation journeys. A few months ago, our veterinary staff decided to try leech therapy on patients who come in with fishing-line entanglement wounds on their flippers.

Leeches have been used in human medicine for thousands of years, although the treatments in which they were used typically deviated from what is now considered safe and effective.

After cleaning the area, a veterinarian uses a small needle to prick the flipper and draw blood, then carefully places a leech over the area. The leeches remove pooled blood in the areas of the flippers that have poor circulation.

Additionally, the worms secrete over 100 types of protein from their saliva into the sea turtles, which have benefits ranging from reducing inflammation to preventing blood clots, which continue to help our patients even after the leeches have detached.


Container of leeches

The leeches’ “home” when they are not working.

Two juvenile green sea turtles have received leech therapy at the Zoo so far: Venus (a current patient) and Murphy (who was unfortunately euthanized earlier this year due to the severity of their injuries). The leeches, which are sourced from a medical supplier, are fed a steady diet of chicken liver when they’re not “working.”

Because we’ve only recently begun leech therapy, so we have yet to see its full benefits, though this treatment did seem to help Venus’s flippers. Keep an eye on the Meet the Patients section of our blog to see how our patients are progressing!