An Alligator Named Mr. Stubbs Now Sports A 3D-Printed Tail04:36
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Mr. Stubbs and his 3D-printed tail. (Courtesy Phoenix Herpetological Society)
Mr. Stubbs and his 3D-printed tail. (Courtesy Phoenix Herpetological Society)
This article is more than 1 year old.

What happens to an alligator that loses its tail?

For most, it's game over. But not for Mr. Stubbs.

The alligator has a new lease on life thanks in part to 3D-printing technology. It took a team effort by researchers at the CORE Institute in Phoenix and Midwestern University to design a better kind of replacement tail. Before, that required making a mold of an actual alligator's tail, which was expensive. But 3D technology has made it more practical.

Mr. Stubbs lost his posterior when he was owned by a man who had an illegal alligator facility, says Dan Marchand, executive curator of the nonprofit Phoenix Herpetological Society.

"He basically had purchased a new alligator and it was smaller than his others, and he had placed it into an enclosure where the other alligators thought they were being fed something, and they actually bit off his original tail," Marchand tells Here & Now's Lisa Mullins.

Interview Highlights

On how researchers are tweaking the tail's design over time

"They actually made three different versions of it — one was short and stubby, one was what they believe the correct length was and one was actually made a little bit longer, so it gave them the ability to try different things with the tail to see what the reaction would be and the things that would happen by changing some of the dimensions.

"Based on his size and his weight, they basically took the dimensions from alligators similar in size. So they had a really good idea of what it should have been. So they created a tail exactly, based off those dimensions, what they thought it should be. But then they wanted to play with the concept of, what happens if the tail was a little bit shorter? What would it do, and if the tail is a little longer what would it do?"

"We save animals every day. This is a very special one to us. We've been able to do something that no one else has ever done."

Dan Marchand

On what the tail is made out of

"The material is called Dragon Skin, and they use it again in prosthetics with humans ... It could be on the skin, against the skin, for very long periods of time and not cause irritation or uncomfortable feeling."

Mr. Stubbs climbing out of a pool, new tail in tow. (Courtesy Phoenix Herpetological Society)
Mr. Stubbs climbing out of a pool, new tail in tow. (Courtesy Phoenix Herpetological Society)

On how Mr. Stubbs has adjusted to the new tail

"We were concerned that when we put something on him that now had weight behind it, that maybe he felt that he was being pulled on and he would want to turn around and basically bite his own tail, because he didn't know what it was. So what we had to do is we had to see if he would know how to swim, so we actually would put him in our swimming pool and we would hold him down under water, and then at the point where he needed a breath of air, he would basically wiggle his body, if you want to call it that, and he would make his way to the surface. So we basically gave him swimming lessons."

On why researchers took on the challenge of helping the alligator

"We save animals every day. This is a very special one to us. We've been able to do something that no one else has ever done. With a lot of things that we learn through medical procedures and things today, animals are where we get some of our basic information. Alligators, for example, are resistant to a lot of bacterias that humans are not, and there's a lot of research being done today to find out why alligators are resistant to bacteria that are very harmful to humans."

This segment aired on August 17, 2018.

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