Rescued Alligator Receives 3D-Printed Tail Prosthesis

When Mr. Stubbs was found tail-less, he was in danger of starvation. However, scientists from Midwestern University created a tail prosthesis made using a 3D printer.

Printing enhances our lives enormously in a plethora of ways. And not just ours. Animals can benefit from printing just as well. In the past, we have covered a story in which a secretarybird received a new artificial leg, courtesy of 3D printing. It was only a matter of time that a similar story broke and this time it’s not about Söckchen, the bird, but Mr. Stubbs, the alligator.

Alligators without Tails Are in Danger of Starvation

Mr. Stubbs was found wounded about ten years ago. The thing about him is that he was missing his tail which was supposedly lost while being illegally transported by animal smugglers. Although he was brought over to a veterinary clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, lacking his tail made him a slower swimmer than his conspecifics. That is crucial for any alligator because swimming speed is directly linked to his chance of feeding.

Luckily for him, that’s when scientists from Midwestern University stepped in. As early as 2013, they started developing a prosthesis for his tail made of silicon. But since alligators basically grow for as long as they live, Mr. Stubbs quickly outgrew his tail attachment.

Since the then 7-foot large alligator was a little too big (and dangerous) to be taken care of, they decided to go a different, more experimental path: 3D printing.

3D-Printed Tail Is a Big Success

“We contacted the 3D-scanning and -printing company Stax3D to find out what they could do to help us,” says Dr. Justin Georgi who is an associate professor of anatomy at Midwestern University. Using an Artec 3D scanner, they created a high resolution model of the tail and were able to make slight corrections as well as create a bespoke fit on Mr. Stubbs’ stump.

The model was then used to create multiple silicon tail prostheses for the disabled alligator.

“He is doing very well,” said Georgi.

“Whenever he is wearing one of his tails, he continues to show improvement. We are now in the process of building a new tail for him, based on what we have learned from the recent experiments. We expect that as his growth slows with age, and we build him a tail that he can grow into, he should soon have one that will benefit him for many years, not just the next two or three.”

We surely love uplifting stories like this one. Do you know of any other instances in which 3D printing has helped animals in need? Share them with us in the comment section!