November 9, 2012

Image of the Week: How to Look Inside a Fish

by Christine Hoekenga

Lookdown fish x-ray

Scientists Sandra Raredon and Lynne Parenti at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History use x-rays to get an inside look at fishes like these Lookdowns (Selene vome).
Image courtesy: Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History

Scientists use all sorts of visuals to study the natural world, including graphs, maps and photographs. But some of the most beautiful scientific visuals have to be the fish x-rays taken by Sandra Raredon and Lynne Parenti, ichthyologists (scientists who study fish) at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.  Our image of the week is an x-ray showing three lookdowns (Selene vomer), silvery fish with a permanent “scowl” found mainly in warm waters of the western Atlantic.

The Smithsonian’s fish collection contains about four million specimens, representing approximately 70 percent of the world’s fish diversity, and Raredon and Parenti can study these specimens without having to dissect or otherwise damage them.  Their images help unravel the long history of fish evolution using clues, such as the number of vertebrae and positioning of fins, that are easily visible in x-rays.

Learn about how scientists use this technique and what they are learning from it on the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s exhibit page X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out.

Browse more of these beautiful x-rays on the NMNH Flickr page.

Learn about how visual data, whether x-rays or topographic maps, help scientists explore all kinds of topics in our module Data: Using Graphs and Visual Data.

Christine Hoekenga

Written by

Christine is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist, specializing in science and nature. She holds an Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and Media Studies and a Master's of Science Writing. She has been working in science communication and education for nearly a decade as a journalist, an organizer for conservation groups, and a museum educator. Before joining the Visionlearning team, she served as the New Media and Online Community Manager for the Webby award-winning Smithsonian Ocean Portal. Christine is assisting Visionlearning with developing new modules and glossary terms, managing the blog, and outreach through social media.