Analysis of Fatty Acid Profiles in Eastern Box (Terrapene carolina carolina) and Common Snapping (Chelydra serpentine) Turtles for Wild and In-Human Care Environments

Diets of wild animals are often more diverse and offer higher concentrations of nutrients than those of animals’ in-human care (zoos, rehabilitation facilities, etc.). Managing wild animals within human care facilities is often necessary, and we hypothesized that chelonian dietary differences within circulating fatty acid profiles would be reflected in wild vs human care data. The current study examined the...

Gut-Loading Diet Evaluation for Crickets (Acheta domesticus), Mealworms (Tenebrio molitor), and Superworms (Zophobas morio) for the Purposes of Optimizing Institutional Protocols

For captive insectivorous birds, reptiles, and amphibians, gut-loading has become an essential part of a balanced diet when feeding commercial feeder insects. The captive bred crickets, mealworms, and superworms being fed have inadequate Ca and vitamin A to meet the nutritional needs of these animals. The trials conducted for this study were to determine which gut-loading diet would be the...

Practical Investigation of Cricket Dust Supplements Commonly Used to Enhance Diets Provided to Insectivore Species under Human Care

Amphibians and reptiles commonly managed under human care are commonly fed farmed feeder crickets (Acheta domesticus) that are deficient in calcium. Calcium deficiency can lead to the development of nutritional metabolic bone disease in animals consuming the crickets; therefore, feeder crickets are commonly supplemented with calcium by either dusting the crickets’ exoskeleton or by providing crickets with a calcium enriched...

Body Condition Scoring Resource Center

  The following body condition scoring (BCS) scales have been obtained from a variety of sources.  We have credited the authors where we can, and encourage you to submit newly developed or modified scales or corrections to attributions.

The following body condition scoring (BCS) scales have been obtained from a variety of sources.  We have credited the authors where we can, and encourage you to submit newly developed or modified scales or corrections to attributions.

Click to expand

Pangolins, Aardvarks, & Xenarthrans (Sloths, Anteaters, Armadillos)

About BCS Scales

Body condition scoring (BCS) is a subjective measurement of an animal’s muscle definition and superficial fatty tissue.

BCS for Zoo Animals

BCS has been used for many years in the livestock industry to evaluate and improve the productivity, health, reproduction and longevity of herds.  BCS has become increasingly common in zoological settings for many of the same reasons.  Our greatest challenge in zoos is to develop practical systems or scales for the diverse species with which we work.  Some scales have been well-developed and validated, while others remain works in progress.  The NAG encourages the careful and thoughtful development of new scales, the refinement of those that already exist, and the diligent attention to their implementation for the good of the animals in our care.

About BCS Scales

Body condition scoring scales are numerical, and they typically range from 1 (emaciated) to either 5 or 9 (obese).  When using a 5-point scale, many people will assign half points (2.5 or 4.5 out of 5), which effectively turns the 5 point scale into a 9 point scale.  Whenever possible, we recommend the use of a 9 point scale.


Implications of BCS Scores


Low BCS scores have been associated with lowered reproductive success, poor recovery from illness, and may be a sign of disease or age.  High BCS scores have been associated with an increased risk of dystocia (difficulty giving birth), reproductive disorders, arthritis, diabetes, and other chronic conditions (Chan-McLeod et al. 1994; Burkholder 2000; Aeberhard et al. 2001; Busato et al. 2002; Berry et al. 2007; Boudreau 2012).  Despite the known risks of being too far at either end of the BCS spectrum, a BCS score should be non-judgmental.  You may be pleased that an animal recovering from a serious illness has moved from a 2 to a 3 (on a 9-pt scale), yet worry that a healthy animal has dropped from a 4 to a 3.  You may be glad that an obese animal has dropped from an 8 to a 5, yet endeavor to raise an animal preparing for hibernation from a 5 to an 8 or 9 (which may be “normal,” physiologically, for the species in question).  Keep in mind that just because it may be “normal” for a species to be over-conditioned at a specific time of year or life stage, this does not impact the BCS scale (a score of 8/9 remains 8/9, even if declared “appropriate” in terms of animal management; the scale does not “slide” to make that over-conditioned animal a 5/9). In addition, the scale is does not slide for growing, geriatric, or pregnant animals (regardless of stage of life, metabolic status, etc, the scale is designed to assess condition as objectively as possible).

Tips for Body Condition Scoring

  • BCS is best learned and implemented through consistent practice.  Often, it helps to have multiple staff involved at the start (animal managers, keepers, veterinarians, nutritionists, etc.) to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding terminology, anatomy, and the scoring system being used.  In the end, however, it is often best to have a limited number of scorers so that consistency can be maintained.  In addition, having someone who does not see the animals every day perform the scoring can be helpful.
  • Scorers should be familiar with the anatomy of each species.  If multiple scorers are utilized, they should be objectively evaluated for consistency with the same animals.  It can be helpful to note the initials of the scorer when a BCS is performed and recorded.
  • Although there are many different systems/scales (even for a single species), it is a good idea to pick one scoring system for each species and stick with it.  This allows for increased familiarity and proficiency, over time.
  • BCS is a particularly useful tool for animals that aren’t very tractable or for those who are unable to be weighed regularly.  If body weights are available, BCS acts as a complementary assessment for management purposes.  Ensure that the interval between BCS is reasonable and practical.
  • For growing animals, body weights can be paired with appropriate growth curves to assess development. However, body weights in growing individuals often vary, even within species, and may not be the best assessment of growth. In these cases, BCS can be used not only to assess appropriate growth, but also to establish target weights for individuals.

Developing BCS Scales

If your species of interest does not have a scale established, please consider developing one.  If you do, look at those that have already been thoughtfully developed.

Ideal BCS scales are easy to use, distinguish biologically relevant changes in status, provide enough description that multiple observers will obtain similar results, and, ideally, have been validated through other means (ultrasound, TOBEC, necropsy).  Photographs and drawings should clearly show points of interest and be coupled with clear written descriptions.   The NAG encourages you to share your systems by presenting a poster or presentation at our conference, or publishing in another format that can be accessed by the zoo community.

    • Aeberhard K, Bruckmaier RM, Kuepfer U, and Blum JW. 2001. Milk Yield and Composition, Nutrition, Body Conformation Traits, Body Condition Scores, Fertility and Diseases in High-Yielding Dairy Cows – Part 1. Journal of Veterinary Medicine Series A 48:97–110.
    • Berry DP, Lee JM, Macdonald KA, and Roche JR. 2007. Body Condition Score and Body Weight Effects on Dystocia and Stillbirths and Consequent Effects on Postcalving Performance. Journal of Dairy Science 90:4201–4211.
    • Boudreau L. 2012. Effect of Moderate Diet Restriction on Body Condition, Health, and Reproductive Performance in Female Mink (Neovison vison).
    • Burkholder WJ. 2000. Use of body condition scores in clinical assessment of the provision of optimal nutrition. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 217:650–654.
    • Busato A, Faissler D, Küpfer U, and Blum JW. 2002. Body condition scores in dairy cows: associations with metabolic and endocrine changes in healthy dairy cows. Journal of Veterinary Medicine Series A 49:455–460.
  • Chan-McLeod ACA, White RG, and Holleman DF. 1994. Effects of protein and energy intake, body condition, and season on nutrient partitioning and milk production in caribou and reindeer. Canadian Journal of Zoology 72:938–947.

If you know of additional published resources for this page, we encourage you to submit them for potential inclusion:

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    Hypovitaminosis A: influence of three diets or topical treatment on hepatic, adipose, and plasma retinoid concentrations and presence of squamous metaplasia in Mississippi gopher frogs (Rana capito servosa)

    Hypovitaminosis A has been linked to health concerns in amphibians causing squamous metaplasia of the tongue, bladder, kidneys and other organs. Juvenile Mississippi Gopher Frogs (Rana capito servosa) at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium (n = 32) were randomly assigned to one of four vitamin A treatment groups including three dietary feeder cricket treatments and one topical vitamin A...

    Ex situ amphibian nutrition: recent findings and future directions

    In 2013 a workshop was hosted to evaluate the current understanding of amphibian medicine and nutrition, in order to further our progress in establishment of successful breeding programs to promote amphibian conservation (Olea-Popelka et al., 2014). The Nutrition Working Group identified a number of challenges and opportunities for advancement in this field (Ferrie et al., 2014). First, an overarching theme...

    Evaluation of the nutritional status of rehabilitated green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) utilizing nutritional markers, stable isotopes, and metagenomics

    Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) are unique because hatchlings and pelagic juveniles are carnivorous, while later life history stages are primarily herbivorous. Dietary requirements at each life stage are poorly understood, making diet selection during rehabilitation of injured and sick animals challenging. Although turtles are typically transitioned to an herbivorous diet before release, food items high in animal protein (e.g.,...

    Body weight changes of leopard tortoises (Stigmochelys pardalis) fed two isoenergetic diets

    Growth patterns of captive leopard tortoises (Stigmochelys pardalis) have been compared with those of free-ranging individuals (Hailey and Coulson, 1999; Rall, 1988; Ritz et al., 2010). Although useful comparative references for captive animal management, the lack of quantified food intake and opportunistic morphometric sampling associated with wild specimens limits their application. Average daily gain (ADG) of 17 female leopard tortoises...

    Understanding the interactions of diet and lighting on frogs and their symbiotic bacteria to improve ex situ husbandry of amphibians

    Amphibians are undergoing massive population declines in the wild, in part due to infectious diseases including chytridiomycosis, caused by the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd). In response, amphibian populations are being maintained in ex situ breeding programs while viable treatments for chytridiomycosis are developed. One potential action involves the use of symbiotic bacteria from the skin of amphibians; however multiple...

    Evaluation of vitamin A status and diagnosis of hypovitaminosis A in amphibians

    Without supplementation, insect-based diets for amphibians and reptiles are known to be deficient in nutrients such as calcium and vitamin A (Livingston et al., 2014). In the last decade, hypovitaminosis A has been recognized as a limiting factor for amphibian conservation programs that must successfully maintain and breed endangered species for ex situ rescue, survival assurance, and reintroduction programs (Pessier,...

    Comparison between two methods for measuring pigmentation of frog’s skin

    Tomato frogs belong to the family Mycrohylidae with three recognized species: D. antongilli, D. guineti and D. insularis. All are endemic to Madagascar, and only found in the northern part of the island. These reddish-colored frogs earned their name due their appearance, being similar to tomatoes, especially when they inflate. True colors, however, can vary a great deal, presenting with...

    Monoozygenase conversion in two anura species

    It is unknown whether pro-vitamin A supplements used in captive diets of amphibian insectivores provide the animals with nutrients they can convert for their vitamin A needs. This research sought to evaluate if activity of ?–carotene 15,15’-monooxygenase was present in the liver and small intestine of two anura species, as gauged by the conversion of ?–carotene to retinal. Liver and...

    Intake apparent digestibility and digesta passage in leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis) fed a complete, extruded feed

    The influence of feeding juvenile female leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis, n=18) a commercially available, complete, extruded feed on two commonly used feeding schedules was evaluated. When fed seven (compared to three) days per week, dry matter and digestible energy intakes were greater (P<0.05). Tortoises gained more body weight, kilogram (BWkg), but not when adjusted per initial BWkg, grew more in...

    Energetics and food needs of free-ranging wild mammals, birds, and reptiles

    The minimum metabolic rates (“basal” for endotherms and “standard” for ectotherms) of birds, mammals and reptiles are determined mainly by body size (mass), but that explanation may not work for field metabolic rates (FMR, or total daily energy requirement), which include additional energetic costs of activity, temperature regulation, foraging and food digestion, growth and reproduction, and social interactions, along with...

    Application of body condition indices for leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis)

    Indirect methods of assessing chelonian body condition using combinations of body mass and shell measurements have been explored: however, there is little published data on tracking captive chelonian health and growth using a body condition index (BCI). Two published BCI formulas were compared for application with a captive colony of leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis).

    Assessment of leopard tortoise (Geochelone pardalis) scent preference

    It is suggested tortoises are attracted to certain ingredient scents. The preference for scent of ginger, anise, rose, and a control (water) among leopard tortoises was evaluated. Sixteen leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis) participated in a series of trials exposing them to pair-wise combinations of the three scents and control. Response criteria evaluated include position (left, right, no decision) and scent...

    Comparing body condition estimates of zoo Brother’s Island Tuatara (Sphenodon guntheri) to that of the wild, a clinical case

    Brother’s Island tuataras (Sphenodon guntheri) housed at the San Diego Zoo were measured and weighed routinely as part of the preventative medicine procedure. From June 2000 through April 2009, snout-vent length and mass were used from that data and compared to Brother’s Island tuataras that were sampled by Hoare et al., in the wild from 1957 to 2001. Along with...

    Application of allometric field metabolic rate equations to predict energy and food requirements of leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis)

    In the absence of species specific energy requirements, allometric formulas are one method to predict practical diet quantities. The objective of this study was to quantify individual voluntary dry matter (DMI), metabolizable energy (MEI) intake and body weight (BW) in 18 juvenile leopard tortoises (Geochelone pardalis). Over two 15-day periods (A, B), each animal was offered a nutritionally complete, extruded...

    A survey of the nutrient content and intake of the dry season diet consumed by captive Grand Cayman iguanas (Cyclura lewisi)

    Nutrient concentrations were determined in foods consumed by both free ranging and captive Grand Cayman iguanas (Cyclura lewisi). Plant collection and nutrient intake was measured during the dry season, when mating is known to occur. Fourteen species of plants known to be consumed by free ranging iguanas, or thought to be historically consumed when their distribution was not limited, were...

    Preliminary report on the quantification of ultraviolet-B radiation from artificial light sources over time

    The term “metabolic bone disease” encompasses a variety of bone-related diseases, including rickets, osteomalacia, osteopenia, and osteoporosis, all of which are associated with a weakening of bone structure. Metabolic bone disease is considered a serious health problem among certain species of captive reptiles. The occurrence of metabolic bone disease is believed to be due to insufficient concentrations of circulating vitamin...


    In the normal animal, the homeostasic level of blood glucose is mantained by the equilibrium between glucose supply and removal, as a result of a finely balance system of hormonal interactions.1 Reference glucose values can vary depending of the sex, weight, management and feeding systems, among others.3 Several studies have analyzed blood parameters for frogs, however, no previous studies have...

    Nutrient composition of whole crayfish eaten by hellbender salamanders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis spp.)

    Four species of native Missouri crayfish identified as foods of the Ozark hellbender salamander (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi), were analyzed for nutrient content including water, proximate composition (crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, and ash), as well as vitamin A, vitamin E, total carotenoids, and select mineral concentrations. Additionally, fatty acids in crayfish were examined and compared with krill as a...

    Nutritional diseases of amphibians

    Basic knowledge of amphibian nutrition lags far behind that of reptiles and even fish. Recent documentation of worldwide declines and extinctions of amphibian populations and subsequent development of a variety of ex-situ and in-situ captive propagation programs will almost certainly increase the demand for scientifically based programs for nutritional management of these animals. Because the class Amphibia has such rich...

    A survey of the nutrient content of foods consumed by free ranging and captive Anegada iguanas (Cyclura pinguis)

    Nutrient concentrations were determined in foods consumed by both free ranging and captive Anegada iguanas (Cyclura pinguis). Twenty-two species of plants, known to be consumed by free ranging iguanas during the dry season, were collected and analyzed. The plant parts were separated and categorized for analysis as flowers, fruits, or leaves. Mean nutrient concentrations and standard errors (SEM), on a...

    A comparison of dietary intake in captive, Jamaican Iguanas (Cyclura collei) at four United States zoos

    The dietary intake of captive, Jamaican iguanas (Cyclura collei) was measured at four institutions including four U.S. zoos, Indianapolis Zoo (n = 1, 1.2 iguanas), Fort Worth Zoo (n = 2, 2.2 iguanas), Sedgwick County Zoo (n = 3, 1.2 iguanas), and San Diego Zoo – CRES (n = 3, 3.3 iguanas). The diets offered at all four zoos consisted...

    Metabolic Bone Disease in lizards: Prevalence and potential for monitoring bone health

    A consensus that metabolic bone disease (MBD) is the nutritional pathology (NP) most likely to occur in captive lizards was apparent in a study at the Ontario Veterinary College Teaching Hospital (OVCTH) and in two surveys on NP in accredited zoos in Canada and the United States. The prevalence, pathogensis and diagnosis of MBD relative to the OVCTH and zoological...

    Survey of circulating retinol (Vitamin A) and tocopheral (Vitamin E) concentrations in nesting marine turtles

    Although marine turtles are relatively well-studied endangered and threatened species, critical discontinuities exist in the literature regarding numerous significant blood values, especially those of free-ranging populations. Gaining a better understanding of marine turtle ecological physiology is an urgent priority, considering the impact such information could have on conservation management plans and population health assessments [Bolten and Bjorndal, 1992; Raphael et...

    Routine dietary husbandry influences sensory evaluation in leopard tortoises (Stigomochelys pardalis)

    Controlled sensory evaluations objectively assess physical and/or chemical characteristics that may influence food preference. Such evaluations are valuable to determine food properties that may encourage, or discourage food intake. Multiple factors influence animal behavior and subsequent choice. These must be strictly controlled so specific treatments can be considered in relative isolation. Six, subadult female leopard tortoises (Stigmochelys pardalis) participated in...