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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
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Notopogon fernandezianus, Orange Bellowsfish

Notopogon fernandezianus (Delfin, 1899)
size of specimen: 19 centimeters (7.5 inches)

What do you see when you look inside a fish? Like ichthyologists, the scientists who study fish, you can see the beauty, diversity, and intricate patterns of nature.

Fish are vertebrates—animals with backbones—and have bodies supported by a bony skeleton. Variations in the skeleton, such as the number of vertebrae or the position of fins, tell the story of fish evolution, and x-rays capture that story. Before the discovery of x-rays in 1895, the only way to study fish skeletons was by slow, careful dissection, one fish at a time. But with x-ray technology, details of specimens can be recorded quickly, easily, and economically—while the specimens remain intact.

X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out explores the diversity and evolution of fish through x-ray images produced by Smithsonian scientists. Although the x-rays featured in this exhibit were made for research purposes, the strikingly elegant images demonstrate the natural union of science and art. Arranged in evolutionary sequence—from fishes such as sharks and skates, which have cartilage instead of bone, to bony, spiny-finned species—these x-rays will lead you on a tour through the long stream of evolution.

Click the image of the fish below to peer through it with x-ray vision

Rhinecanthus rectangulus (Bloch & Schneider, 1801)
size of specimen: 15 centimeters (6 inches)

This exhibit was originallydeveloped by the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service. X-ray Vision: Fish Inside Out is a national traveling exhibition that may be coming to a city near you. Visit the traveling exhibition website to find out where X-ray Vision will be next or explore how your institution might host this exhibition.

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Learn More

Encyclopedia of Life Logo

Learn more about the fishes featured in this exhibit. Visit the Encyclopedia of Life website's online collection.

Screenshot of National Fish Collection online database

Explore information about fishes from the National Fish Collection online database.

Purchase the Book

Ichthyo: The Architecture of Fish - X-Rays from the Smithsonian Institution Love the images in this exhibit? Buy the book!

Ichthyo: The Architecture of Fish. X-Rays from The Smithsonian Institution

is available for purchase in the museum gift shop. The book features an essay and stunning x-ray images from the curators of the exhibit.

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