X Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out
X-Ray Vision - Fish Inside Out - Smithsonian
Lookdown fish x-ray
Viper Moray X-Ray


Smithsonian Institution


MetLife Foundation

This exhibition features 40 black-and-white digital prints of several different specimens of fish. Arranged in evolutionary sequence, these X-rays give a tour through the long stream of fish evolution. The X-rays have allowed Smithsonian and other scientists to study the skeleton of a fish without altering the sampling, making it easier for scientists to build a comprehensive picture of fish diversity.


Curators of the exhibition, Lynne Parenti and Sandra Raredon, have worked in the Division of Fishes at the National Museum of Natural History collecting thousands of X-rays of fish specimens to help ichthyologists understand and document the diversity of fishes. Rare or unique specimens make particularly interesting and informative images. X-rays may also reveal other details of natural history: undigested food or prey in the gut might reveal to an ichthyologist what a fish had for its last meal. To make comparisons easier, radiographers X-ray one fish per frame—with each one facing left—but they will prepare shots of several fish if a scientist wants to compare a group.


Interpretive panels describe how the study of fish skeletons, fin spines, and teeth helps scientists differentiate one species from another and examine fish anatomy and evolutionary development. Other panels document the process of scientific digital image preparation and explore the critical role of such collection data in understanding the long-term effects of climate and planetary change on diverse species.


Ichthyology has a distinguished history at Yale, dating from the founding of the Peabody through to current research being carried out by our curator, Tom Near. Specimens from these worldwide collections will tell this story as well as illustrating the wonderful diversity of fish.


X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out is organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES).