X-ray image of a fish

Opening June 17: Dinosaurs Among Us from the American Museum of Natural History 

X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out

“X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out” features the X-ray images Smithsonian scientists use to better understand Earth’s underwater ecosystems. Visitors will be able to share in the beauty, biology and diversity of breathtaking images.

Specimens include such marvels as the winghead shark, a pancake batfish, a bulbous deep sea angler and an ox-eyed oreo as well as the mysterious coelacanth, a prehistoric fish thought to have gone extinct alongside the dinosaurs until it was rediscovered in 1938. This exhibit is part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.

A year after the first X-ray machine was invented in 1895, the new technology was already being used in the medical field. This tool is imperative to the medical profession and archaeology, as well as many other research fields, because it helps scientists gather important information about the internal biology of the specimens they study. For example, an X-ray of a fish can illuminate essential aspects of their lives such as food preferences, growth patterns and evolutionary variations among species. Differences in habitat, size and adaptations can be observed through the skeleton, helping scientists determine how species survive in different environmental circumstances. These features are crucial in a world with increasing environmental changes. Before the discovery of the X-ray, scientists could only obtain these insights through dissection, which took time, energy and was ultimately destructive to the specimen. X-rays give fish experts, also known as ichthyologists, a fast, easy and nondestructive way to enhance their research. All X-rays and fish photographs were taken by Sandra Raredon, museum specialist in the Division of Fishes at the National Museum of Natural History.

“The comparative study of fish skeletons tells the story of fish evolution and diversity,” said Lynne Parenti, curator of fishes and research scientist at the museum. “Sandra Raredon and I did this exhibition in part so that others could experience some of the beautiful and biologically complex images that Smithsonian ichthyologists and their colleagues worldwide are privileged to work with every day.”

In addition to this temporary exhibit, the Fairbanks Museum created a unique display with x-ray images of several taxidermy mounts. The images were taken at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital, and they reveal the internal structures of a few of our earliest specimens. “It’s really important for us to support and collaborate with community institutions such as the Fairbanks Museum,” NVRH Director of Diagnostic Imaging Jackie Zaun said. “These kinds of community partnerships are what make the Northeast Kingdom, and St. Johnsbury in particular, so unique. Plus, it was just really fun to see what was inside of a platypus from 1890!”