Looking over the past blogs I noticed we never really covered what fibropapilloma is. Fibropapilloma is type of herpes virus that inflicts sea turtles. It mostly affects green sea turtles, but there are cases in loggerhead, olive ridley, and flatback sea turtles as well. There is also anectdotal evidence in kemp's ridley, hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles. The virus occurs globally.

The majority of the tumors are benign meaning that the tumor themselves will not kill the animal. However, tumors of the eyes, mouth and internal tumors can hinder the animal's ability to forage for food. Large tumors can also add drag to the turtles which, can slow the animal, making it easy prey.

Smooth small paps to the left, a large bulbous "cauliflower" pap to the right (the reddish color is iodine).

There are varieties of tumors. Some are smooth and some are cauliflower. They range in colors from pink to black. There is speculation about different stages of the disease causing these outward appearances.

The paps on the left are slightly necrotic. The one to the right was large extremely dense and would adversely affect the animal's ability to swim.

Tumors are most prevalent on intermediate size turtles, which would be why we have not had any tumors on our cold-stun turtles. All of our animals are juveniles approximately 2-5 years of age. It is very rare to see these tumors on adults. Also, the majority of FP cases come out of areas with high levels of pollution, such as lagoons, estuaries, shallow areas and, from what I have been told, Florida's Intercoastal Waterway.

You can see on the turtle above how the large tumors would weigh the animal down and limit it's ability to escape predation.

Currently there is no cure or treatment for fibropapilloma the only way to clear it up is to surgically remove the tumors. Researchers are still unsure as to how the tumors are triggered and how the virus is transmitted. There is still a lot of research to be done.

We went to Florida because of our expertise in cold-stunned animals, but I learned a lot about FP. This was just some information I learned while helping out, and by reading some journal articles upon our return to Boston (you, too, can read them here, here, here and here).



  1. thanks for the background to go with those disturbing images, Adam.

    I feel much more informed.

  2. you can read about paps in a great book called "fire in the turtle house"....VERY good read!

  3. Are paps not found on adult turtles because the tumors kill the turtles before they reach adulthood?

  4. Fire in the turtle house is a great book. It definately delves into the begining of this pandemic.

    From what I found out in Florida and by doing some research,as long as the turtles do not get any of the paps in their mouth, internally or covering both corneas the tumors typically regress by the time they become adults. Otherwise, yes unfortunately the animals will die. But not from the tumor actually it is the inability to forage for food or other physiological issues from internal tumors.

    In the Pacific green population there has been a big dropoff in papilloma sightings on those turtles. There is also great photo documentation of regression of the tumors by a couple who dive at the Turtle House here: http://www.turtles.org/regress.htm

  5. In my comment I noted the dropoff in Pacific greens. That would be the Hawaiin green sea turtles and the dropoff would be from the late 80's early 90's.