Entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear is a common cause of morbidity and mortality in chelonians. Commercial and recreational fishing activities exert bycatch pressures sufficient to cause population declines in the common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) and the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys spp.). Gastrotomy for the removal of fish hook foreign bodies from the stomach of freshwater turtles typically requires a plastron osteotomy but in sea turtles has been successfully accomplished via soft tissue approaches. This study compared the anatomy and feasibility of soft tissue surgical approaches to the stomach in the common snapping turtle in both the prefemoral and the axillary regions. Anatomical dissections were performed on cadavers of five adult common snapping turtles, and the surgical anatomy of the left axillary and left prefemoral regions was characterized. The left axillary approach required extensive transection of musculature and provided poor exposure of the coelomic cavity and stomach. In contrast, the left prefemoral approach was simple to perform and provided sufficient access to the stomach for gastrotomy. The prefemoral celiotomy has significant advantages over the axillary celiotomy in the common snapping turtle and should be considered the surgical approach of choice for gastrotomy in this species.
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