X-Ray of a scorpion fish

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has a new exhibit up dedicated to x-ray portraiture of fish. All the shots were taken by Sandra Raredon, a museum specialist in the Division of Fishes (which is kind of a wonderful title, yes?)

I dig this because, on verbal description, this sounds rather dull. X-rays of fishes. Great. But when you actually see the images you remember two very important facts: First, fishes have tons of little, teeny bones packed into a relatively small body; Second, fishes come in a wide variety of frequently crazy shapes. That all adds up to fish x-rays being way more interesting than you might initially guess.

Take the scorpionfish. In real life, this family tends to look a bit like a bunch of Muppet trolls—runaway cast members from "Labyrinth" or something. In x-ray, you can see past the wild colors and stubbly, camouflage skin to spot the spines these fish use for delivering a numbing, toxic poison.

Check out all the fish x-rays at the Encyclopedia of Life.


  1. The California Academy of Sciences has a great book and exhibit on fish x-rays as well:


    If you want to see something even cooler, though, you should look for an exhibition of “cleared and stained” fish.  This is a process in which the flesh of the fish is made transparent via the application of special chemicals while their bones and connective tissue are dyed.  Just do a Google image search for “cleared and stained fish” and you’ll be blown away.

    1. Very interesting . . . but when they’re X-rayed, even the tiniest fibrils of bone are perfectly preserved in exact position, whereas I’d imagine by removing the underlying structures, ie. muscle, fat, cartilage etc. some of the smaller structures would become deformed by gravity.

      Now I’d like to see a human being cleared and stained!

  2. I’m fascinated by the fact that if you somehow persuade yourself that you’re not necessarily looking at a fish, you can see the underlying structure of mammals, reptiles, even (you have to stretch it) insects. Things are yes, elongated, skewed, bent, feathered, but still, there’s that “all non-vegetative life on Earth” paradigm going on in this lowly fish . . . I’d like to see one of those neat morphing videos turning this fish skeleton into, say, a cheetah skeleton. I’ll bet it could be done without too much removal/addition.

  3. I like the Solenostomus cyanopterus x-rays, you can see the skeletons of what their last meals were.    Here’s a higher-res photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nmnh/6721868695/lightbox/

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