Applications of X-Ray Microscopy for Snake Studies

Micro-CT imaging is highly effective for the comprehensive study of internal structures and skeletal elements of snakes, and can facilitate morphometric studies, phylogenetics analysis, and biomechanics modeling. In addition to skeletal studies, including research on the head, jaw, and tail, current research also focuses on studying venomous snake fangs for inspiration in developing new microneedle drug delivery systems; identifying the internal features and material composition of mummified snakes from ancient Egypt; and studying snake dental apparatus and the functional morphology of snake teeth.

Micro-CT analysis of internal structure of snake fang. The venom canal is displayed in green and the pulp canal in orange in 3D view. “Snake fangs: 3D morphological and mechanical analysis by microCT, simulation and physical compression testing,” Du Plessis, Anton & Broeckhoven, Chris & Le Roux, Stephan. (2017). GigaScience. 7. 10.1093/gigascience/gix126.

Snake fangs: 3D morphological and mechanical analysis by microCT, simulation and physical compression testing

Micro-CT provides a deeper understanding of the detailed internal and external morphology and mechanical properties of venomous snake fangs. “The aim of the experimental campaign was to investigate the evolutionary development of three fang phenotypes and investigate their mechanical behaviour.” Venomous snake fangs are modified to pierce the skin and eject venom into their prey; this study focuses on the types of venom-producing fangs and how they are biomechanically optimized.



The cutting-edge morphology of the molesnake’s dental apparatus

This study utilizes micro-CT to demonstrate a complex dental morphology in mole snakes and suggests the need for further studies on the functional morphology of snake teeth, specifically on snake dentition, prey capture, and sexual dimorphism. “The sexual dimorphism in the teeth, as well as in the higher incidence of lacerations present on male specimens, indicates that male mole snakes have specialised dentition that aids in combat.” The study explores whether diet and hunting environment may have driven the development of the mole snake’s unusual bite.



Unique Snapshot of Ancient Animal Mummification Through Advanced X-ray Imaging

“Three mummified animals from ancient Egypt have been digitally unwrapped and dissected by researchers using high-resolution 3D scans that give unprecedented detail about the animals’ lives — and deaths — over 2000 years ago.” A snake, a bird and a cat are from the collection held by the Egypt Centre at Swansea University. The imaging of the tightly coiled snake suggests that the remains belong to a juvenile cobra that was probably killed by spinal fracture, consistent with tail capture and whipping methods commonly used to kill snakes. Micro-CT imaging identified items within the mouth of the mummified snake to be hardened resin. Studies such as this provide insights into complex ritualistic behaviors.



X-ray microtomography in herpetological research: a review

This study looks at uses of micro-CT for the herpetological research for the study of anatomy and developmental biology; taxonomy; ecology and evolution; biomechanics; and paleobiology; as well as micro-CT techniques for herpetological research. Studies using dissection or excision of tissues are limited by the destruction of the sample or specimen, while micro-CT provides morphological information non-destructively. In herpetological studies, micro-CT  is used to describe skeletal morphology, particularly cranial anatomy, and to investigate skeletal and extra-skeletal elements that have no reliable proxies that can be measured externally. This study provides an overview of research, finding that almost half of the herpetological studies that use micro-CT at this time encompass a purely anatomical and/or developmental component.



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X-Ray Microcopic Examination of a Rattlesnake

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