How to Save an Animal's Life With Tape and Glue

With a few cable ties and a little glue, this turtle's broken shell will soon heal. Wisconsin Humane Society

We reach for tape and glue to repair a variety of items — wobbly table legs, broken picture frames, homework assignments the dog took a bite out of — but these common adhesives can also be used to mend some of Mother Nature’s creations.

With a little creativity and resourcefulness, wildlife rehabilitators and pet owners have found a variety of ways to fix everything from cracked shells to broken wings.

If only broken bones were this easy

Nearly a billion monarch butterflies have vanished since 1990, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Conservationists are pushing to have the insects protected under the Endangered Species Act, and in the meantime, groups like the Live Monarch Foundation (LMF) are doing their part to save the species, one by one.

In a step-by-step video released in 2007, the LMF demonstrates how to replace a butterfly’s broken wing.

By securing the insect with a wire hanger, the rehabilitator is able to either painlessly clip a butterfly's wing so it matches the other (in cases where there’s little damage) or attach part of a new wing.

repairing monarch butterfly wing
A coat hanger is a critical tool in the Monarch rehab project. livemonarch/YouTube

With wings from deceased butterflies on hand, it’s possible to clip off the part the live butterfly needs and attach it with a little bit of glue. Baby powder is then sprinkled onto the mended wing to prevent the two wings from sticking together.

repairing butterfly wing
A close-up of a trimmed wing. livemonarch/YouTube

Watch the full how-to video below.

Putting the egg together again

With only 150 kakapos remaining in the world, kakapo conservationists know all of the parrots by name and go to great lengths to protect them.

So when a mother kakapo named Lisa accidentally crushed her egg last year, conservationists turned to the office-supply cabinet. They glued cracks in the egg and wrapped a large portion of it in tape, hoping the adhesives would protect the tiny chick incubating inside.

crushed kakapo egg
The cracked kakapo egg. KakapoRecovery/Facebook
kakapo egg taped together
The egg with a little masking tape. KakapoRecovery/Facebook

Their efforts paid off when the bird eventually hatched from its resourcefully repaired egg and was perfectly healthy.

kakapo chick hatching
The kakapo emerges from the egg. KakapoRecovery/Facebook
kakapo chick
The healthy baby kakapo!. KakapoRecovery/Facebook

Turtle in a cracked shell

During the summer months, female turtles go in search of soft soil to lay their eggs. Their quests often bring them to busy roads, meaning wildlife rehabilitators frequently have their hands full with turtles suffering from broken or shattered shells.

To a turtle, a broken shell is much like a broken bone to us, and the animal may not survive without medical attention, which often involves a little glue and some cable ties.

By gluing tie mounts to a turtle’s broken shell, wildlife experts can attach cable ties and gently tighten them over several weeks, bringing the shell together so it can heal.

turtle with broken shell and zip ties
A turtle sports cable ties, which can be tightened over time. Wisconsin Humane Society

Replacing bird feathers

When a snowy owl was hit by a bus last year, rehabilitators at the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center discovered that the bird also had 18 singed wing and tail feathers, making it difficult for the animal to fly.

Once the owl recovered from its injuries, they replaced the bird’s burned feathers with new ones through a procedure known as imping.

replacing owl feathers
The owl preps for surgery. National Geographic

After selecting the best match from feathers she had on hand, avian physiologist Lori Arent carefully sheared off the owl’s singed feathers. Then she whittled pieces of lightweight bamboo so that one end would fit into the shaft of a new feather and the other would fit the shaft on the bird’s wing.

snowy owl getting new feathers
snowy owl getting new feathers. National Geographic

Once the new feather and bamboo shaft were in place, she secured them with fast-drying glue.

According to Arent, replacement feathers work just as well as natural ones, but they eventually fall out when the bird molts.

DIY shell repair

People with pet snails and hermit crabs have repaired cracked shells with everything from plaster to melted wax, but one of the most common DIY shell repair methods involves simply attaching a piece of paper or thin plastic with glue or tape.

Watch one pet owner conduct such a repair on a snail shell in the video below.