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Mar. 21, 2012

See-Through Ichthyology

by Annette Heist

Click to enlarge images
The National Museum of Natural History’s fish collection includes an estimated four million specimens. Most of those are stored in jars, floating in formaldehyde or alcohol. Many of them have also been X-rayed. According to museum research scientist and curator of fishes Lynne Parenti, X-rays can be useful in sorting out evolutionary relationships and describing fish species. They also look cool.
 
You can see for yourself in the new exhibition X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out, a collection of 40 images of X-rayed underwater creatures–including a seahorse, a crisscross prickleback and a viper moray eel–now open at the museum in Washington, D.C. (The NMNH is part of the Smithsonian.)
 
Viper moray (Enchelynassa canina); National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
 
Parenti says most of the new fish species they collect are now routinely X-rayed. (The museum switched from film to digital X-rays about ten years ago.) X-raying is a fast, fairly simple, and non-destructive way to learn about a fish’s internal anatomy, such as how many vertebrae it has. “It would be a shame to dissect a fish for that answer,” Parenti says.
 
All the X-rays and fish photographs in the exhibition were taken by Sandra Raredon, museum specialist in the Division of Fishes and co-curator of the exhibition, along with Parenti.
 
X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out is on display at the museum until August 5, 2012. After that it will travel to 8 other cities. The exhibition can also be viewed online at the Encyclopedia of Life website. Click on the images below to learn more about the creatures pictured.
 
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About Annette Heist

Annette Heist is a former senior producer for Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.

 

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