What happens inside a caterpillar's cocoon? Scientists got to watch the whole process with the help of X-ray 3D scanning technology. In the video above, you can watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly. Over the course of 16 days its breathing tubes (shown in blue) and its digestive system (shown in red) change shape and position within the body, while other structures grow from scratch.
Ed Yong has a great story to go with this, too. All about why it's important to actually watch the process happening in a single caterpillar, instead of just relying on the data scientists have collected from years of dissecting different caterpillars at different stages in the transformation.
X-Ray Specs — the cheap glasses that ostensibly allow you to see the bones in your own hand and/or ladies' undergarments — are instantly familiar to anybody who read comic books in the 20th century. Last week, The Onion AV Club shared a fascinating video showing that immature gags about x-ray vision began long before the Marvel Comics' advertising department was even a glimmer in somebody's eye.
"The X-Ray Fiend" was a short film produced in 1897 — just two years after William Rontgen gave x-rays their name. It's basically an X-Ray Specs gag writ large, with the aforementioned fiend checking out the insides of a necking couple. You can watch it at The Onion.
That video sent me toodling around through some of the fascinating history surrounding x-rays in pop culture. Rontgen wasn't the first to discovery x-rays, but he was the first person to really study them in depth and his x-ray photograph of his wife's hand kicked off a public sensation. To give you an idea of how into x-rays everybody was for a while, the AV Club story actually includes a link to a 19th century Scientific American how-to that promised to teach the reader to make their own x-ray machine at home. You know. For funsies.
It's kind of crazy how popular x-rays became, considering how dangerous they can be. The Scientific American piece, for instance, now comes with a 21st century disclaimer warning that "Many operators of the early x-ray systems experienced severe damage to hands over time, often necessitating amputations or other surgery." Which brings us to Clarence Dally ...
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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.