What You See When You Turn a Fish Inside Out
Smithsonian scientists use X-rays to classify different species, but when viewed outside the lab, the images provide stunning art
- By Megan Gambino
- Smithsonian.com, February 07, 2012
The striped bass (Morone saxatilis) is native to eastern North America but has been introduced to salt and freshwater across the United States. The sportfish typically grows to about four feet in length. (Sandra J. Raredon, Division of Fishes, NMNH)
For ichthyologists, or scientists who study fish, having access to the bony skeletons of fish is particularly important. When scientists find what they think might be a new species, for instance, they count the specimen’s vertebrae and fin spines and examine its teeth and the structure of its caudal fin, or tail. Then they compare those numbers and observations with known species in fish collections. “One species may have 34 vertebrae and one may have 36,” says Lynne Parenti, a systematic ichthyologist at the museum. That number can be a defining characteristic. Comparing skeletons can also help scientists figure out how groups of fish are related and how fish evolved over time.