Today marks the beginning of the Chinese year of the snake. When it comes to the ways in which ultrasound can be used by breeders, snakes must surely be one of the most obvious examples. Many snake breeders swear by their ultrasound machine and say that it is something they would find it very difficult to live without.

Whether you are looking to perform early sexing, watch the growth of follicles, or diagnose pregnancy, the right ultrasound machine and probe are of huge benefit to snake owners when planning and managing their breeding programmes or monitoring overall health.

Today, in celebration of the year of the snake, we will focus purely on the ultrasound transducer or probe. It goes without saying that higher quality machines, with a greater number of channels and higher resolution, will give you better images. But with snakes more than almost any other animal, the type and quality of the probe is absolutely essential. Get it wrong, and your machine will be worthless to you.


How to choose the right ultrasound probe for snake scanning:

    Your probe must be linear. This cannot be stressed enough. Some companies which do not know much about snake work might try to sell you a machine with a convex probe. Snakes a long and thin, and as such, you absolutely have to use a linear probe which is designed for surface scanning.
    The probe frequency must be high - preferably, 7.5MHz and above. Higher frequency means greater image quality and detail, but on the down side, it means a loss of penetration - however, as snakes (even the largest ones!) are long and thin relative to a human being or a dog, you do not need much penetration to scan them. You are also looking for very minute structures and changes, particularly if performing very early sexing work, so the more detail your probe can give you, the easier your job will be.
    It is also important to find out at what depth imaging begins. Some probes will have a 'blind spot' of a few mm close to the probe head. This is normal and absolutely fine for most animals which have a thick skin and fat layer before. For snake scanning, however, this can mean missing the most important information. You can get around this by using a standoff (this material allows the passage of ultrasound waves with minimal information loss, whilst distancing your probe from the surface of the animal), but these are expensive and need replacing - so if you can find a probe without a large blind spot, this is preferable.

Cardiac scan of a female Boa, using SonoScape S6v: