Snake and reptile scanning with ultrasound


I had to rehome William Snakespeare, a 10 year old amelanistic cornsnake, this week. After one last mouse we took him to the amazing team at the National Centre for Reptile Welfare in Hadlow who will rehome him after quarantine, and it occurred to me that I’d love to do something in return (as well as donation), so I had a stupid idea and unfortunately not one person attempted to talk me out of it.

Cue two days later, when Catherine and I arrive, armed with linear probes and absolutely no clue. Chris welcomed us in and introduced us to Monty and the team, who kindly and enthusiastically wrestled pythons as Catherine performed heart scans and I… attempted to locate follicles to see if any of our unimpressed subjects (Orion’s eyeroll is on our Instagram) were gravid.

Unfortunately none of the snakes were, but we believe we located two eggs in a tiny little gecko whose abdomen was the length of the linear probe! I can’t speak for Catherine, but I learned that once again, the microconvex is king (none of the snakes stayed straight long enough to use the linear transducer), and that snake livers are really long. The visit gave us a chance to experiment and work out a rough working area to scan from the cloaca when looking for follicles/eggs, as well as a look at urates on their way through the excretory system. Armed with this experience, it should shorten the learning curve next time.

cornsnake ultrasound

Catherine, of course, produced a beautiful loop of the Carpet Python’s heart (which is when I learned that snakes technically have a three-chambered heart, which functions as a four-chambered heart!), and you can read her brilliant piece about snake echocardiography here.


After ruling out ovulation in any of the snakes, and getting lucky with the little gecko, we attempted something a bit silly; a tortoise, who may have been egg-bound and was due veterinary attention. This was a real experiment, as of course, the skin is not only difficult to get to, but very wrinkled, coarse and dry, so very difficult to keep contact when trying to can via the hip.

Gecko ultrasound scan

A breakthrough came when we realised that we could actually get decent penetration through the plastron! The microconvex transducer again gave better images than the linear, quite surprisingly. Perhaps something like an endocavity transducer would make it possible to get under the shell more, for a small tortoise, but I think the micro would be fine on a larger tortoise which has more of a physical gap under the shell.

We had a brilliant time, albeit (having stupidly worn my work sweater after coming from a bitch scan) a humid one. Thank you to the wonderful folks at the NCRW for sliding around on a gel covered floor with big snakes, or to give them their correct name, Noodlei Dangerus Maximus. Thank you also to the beautiful snakes, gecko and tortoise for getting covered in goop and being very patient. We are really looking forward to our next visit when we should be able to scan a gravid cornsnake. Just going to read up on snake anatomy in the meantime!

snake ultrasound


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