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Turtle Teaches Important Environmental Lesson

Photo Credit: Michele Skalicky

The 29-year-old red-eared slider is named Peanut because, well, she’s shaped like a peanut.  She was found two decades ago near downtown St. Louis with a six-pack ring cinched around her shell.

"An individual just found her in a ditch, a creek nearby and saw that it was unusual and had this ring around her, so they took her to the St. Louis Zoo," said John Miller.

John Miller is manager of the visitors center at Shepard of the Hills Fish Hatchery in Branson.  He says zoo staff removed the ring but couldn’t keep the turtle because of its misshapen shell.  They decided to give her to the Conservation Department.  Miller learned about the unusual turtle and the plans to donate her to the department during a meeting of the St. Louis Herpetological Society.  He immediately became excited about the educational opportunities that the turtle would provide.

20 years later, Peanut is still being seen by thousands of people across Missouri each year—at Powder Valley Nature Center in Kirkwood where she lives and during her travels to other facilities and large events like the Ozark Empire Fair.

Miller says it’s estimated that Peanut lived with the six pack ring wrapped around her for four to six years.

"The best analogy I tell parents and kids is I say, 'imagine talking little brother or sister who's maybe two or three-years-old, tying a belt around their waist as tight as it will get and not take it off for twenty years, what would they look like?'  Well, they'd look like the same thing--they would grow around that belt.  In this case, the turtle grew around the ring," he said.

X-rays of the turtle show, except for the structure of the shell, the only thing altered is the shape of her lungs, which gives her decreased lung capacity.

Miller hopes Peanut teaches anyone who sees her a valuable lesson.

"We hope they learn that pollution can take on  many problems for wildlife, again here's one totally unexpected, but also let people know--our message to folks is, if they have the rings, cut them up before they recycle or throw them away because if it's just thrown away, which is OK, if the trash can blows over, it's back out in the environment, so we have the potential to stop more pollution and more harm to animals by just taking one simple step--cutting those up," he said.

Peanut is famous even beyond Missouri.  She’s had her photo on Good Morning America.  And an artist in the Netherlands is working on a replica of the turtle out of plastic to show the harm plastic can do to animals if people aren’t careful.

Miller says Peanut was lucky to survive with the ring around her, which could have snagged on a rock and caused her to drown.  Or she could have been caught by a predator that couldn’t reach her but could grab the ring.

Her survival meant she would go on to teach people all over the world the importance of caring for the environment.

For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.