For the past year, doctors in Arizona have been preparing to provide a prosthetic tail for an alligator who lost his to a bigger, hungry alligator years ago. The nine-year-old alligator, named Mr. Stubs, is one of the most iconic alligators at the Phoenix Herpetological Society, since his body is nearly half the size of any other alligator his age.
Since he is missing a tail, Mr. Stubs has difficulty swimming and competing with other alligators for prey. “His body just spins around in the water so he just churns up a lot of water, doesn’t go anywhere forward,” Phoenix Herpetological Society Curator Daniel Marchand told CBS 5 in Phoenix. “If there are other alligators with him, of course without a tail, he’d be the last one to the dinner table,” he said.
Alligators also store fat in their tail and along their back, putting Mr. Stubs at a significant disadvantage if he already has to compete with more agile alligators for food. “We have to be careful that he doesn’t basically starve to death in a sense because that tail only supplies obviously very little food,” Marchand said.
For years, life went on without a tail for Mr. Stubs, and it wasn’t until workers were inspired by the movie Dolphin Tale, a true story of a dolphin that lost its tail when it became entangled in a crab trap and was fitted with a prosthetic one, that hope came long for the tail-less gator.
Russ Johnson, spokesperson for the Herpetological Society, said doctors have already measured Mr. Stubs and have made models of prosthetic tails, they are just working on finding the best material to do the job. “They are trying to determine what is flexible enough so it’s not just a rudder,” Johnson said in a phone interview. “So it will move life-like for an alligator.”
Once the adequate materials are chosen and the tail is manufactured, the date of surgery will be announced. With the help of donations, the society hopes to affix the tail next year. Johnson said it will be mounted in a way so that the tail is able to grow with him.
An alligator’s life expectancy varies from 50 to 60 years. At nine years old, Mr. Stubs still has his better years ahead of him–not to mention that he may become famous as the first reptile in the world to have a prosthetic limb.
Image courtesy of Phoenix Herpetological Society