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Keywords:

  • blue-tongued skink;
  • gestation;
  • palpation;
  • reproductive status;
  • radiology;
  • ultrasound

Abstract

We compared the diagnostic value of three noninvasive methods (radiography, ultrasound, and palpation) of evaluating reproductive status in females of a large viviparous skink, the blotched blue-tongued lizard (Tiliqua nigrolutea). Radiography could be used to identify postovulatory females during the periovulatory period. However, in early to mid-gestation, radiography did not allow differentiation of the relatively homogenous structures within the abdomen. In late gestation, once calcification of the embryonic skeleton had occurred, gestation could be diagnosed and embryos counted. Ultrasound allowed differentiation between preovulatory, postovulatory, and nonreproductive females during the periovulatory period. Ultrasound also allowed visualisation of follicles during the early and middle stages of gestation. However, the level of operator experience, and the misdiagnosis of artefacts limited the accuracy of diagnosis. In the later stages of gestation, ultrasound did allow the detection of identifiable features of the developing foetal unit (fluid-filled foetal membranes, independent movement of the embryo, and visualisation of the heartbeat). Colour Doppler imaging could be used to visualise embryonic blood flow. Ultrasonography was not useful in detecting the number of embryos present. Palpation during the periovulatory period could be used to detect follicles and determine whether ovulation had occurred. However, during the remainder of the gestation period, palpation was unable to differentiate reproductive condition. This study provides a basis for the diagnosis of reproductive condition and problems in viviparous reptiles. Each of the diagnostic techniques is useful at different stages of gestation, and the use of a combined approach will give the most information throughout the reproductive cycle. Zoo Biol 21:253–268, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.