Teeth come in a huge array of designs and forms, and looking at species-specific variations can tell you alot about an animal’s lifestyle and diet. In the boa above several rows of small sharp, rear-facing teeth allow the snake to grab it’s fast-moving prey and hold onto it as it struggles in the split-seconds before it coils around the prey to constrict and suffocate it before swallowing whole. On the other hand, the lizard mouth below shows a highly specialised dentition designed for crushing snails and other hard-shelled molluscs. This is a specialist snail feeder, a South American Caiman Lizard (Draceana guianensis), possessing small rounded bead-like teeth and incredibly strong jaws for crushing it’s rather more slow-moving prey.
Both animals were brought to clinic recently, unfortunately the lizard was found dead and came for a post mortem which revealed head trauma with secondary infection as the cause of death. Interestingly though, the post mortem exam also showed a condition known as hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver, associated with a captive diet of dog food. These lizards are difficult to provide for in captivity, getting them to eat in the first place and then maintaining a snail-only diet in the long term both being tricky. Because dog food contains much higher carbohydrate and fat content than their wild diet, and their relative inactivity compared to wild conditions, the liver converts excess food into fat which can lead to fatal complications. I am currently working on providing a better alternative animal protein based diet to prevent such complications in the remaining lizards in the collection. This problem is commonly seen in large carnivorous reptiles in captivity, specifically monitors and tegus which have evolved to range over very wide areas in the wild in search of food items of relatively low nutritional value.
Look away now if you’re squeamish, but here is the liver removed form the above specimen. It is grossly enlarged, has rounded rather than sharp edges to each lobe, is light yellowish brown in colour instaed of dark red/brown as normal, and has a marbled appearance in closer detail. When removed it was extremely friable, splitting easily and when sectioned the scalpel blade sliced through it extremely easily almost peeling the organ apart. These are all pathological signs of hepatic lipidosis which we would have missed had the owner not agreed to a post mortem examination. Hopefully we can reverse these changes through a modified diet in the remaining lizards.