Continuous measurements of the instantaneous rate of blood flow to individual glomeruli in a normal vertebrate kidney were made in the garter snake Thamnophis sirtalis. Epifluorescence video microscopy was used to visualize and record blood flow in the afferent arterioles of superficial nephrons. The dual-slit method was used for the determination of red blood cell (RBC) velocity from the video replay. Simultaneous measurements of the vessel diameter allowed the continuous determination of the instantaneous rate of blood flow. A total of 100 glomeruli was surveyed in 12 animals. These glomeruli displayed both constant and highly variable rates of blood flow, with 21% of all nephrons displaying intermittent glomerular perfusion. The mean single-nephron blood flow rate (SNBFR) for all individuals was 23.9 +/- 10.3 (SD) nl/min (n = 12). The percentage of nephrons with intermittent flow for an individual animal increased significantly with increasing plasma osmolality. Intermittency was associated with low SNBFR values; SNBFR averaged 13.5 +/- 10.2 (SD) nl/min (n = 21) in intermittent nephrons and 29.2 +/- 19.0 (SD) nl/min (n = 79) in continuous flow nephrons, the difference being significant (P less than 0.001). Nephrons with continuous perfusion displayed a much greater range of SNBFR values than intermittent nephrons. This suggests that, although changes in whole kidney glomerular filtration rate (GFR) in reptiles need not involve glomerular intermittency, intermittency may lower GFR.