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.