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Photo by L. Smith, © 2018 American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists

Scientists Just Found a New Way to Photograph Sea-Creature Skeletons & the Results Are Wild

The images are more complex and accurate than the older type of images, but they're also kind of incredible just to look at. And a little terrifying, too.


When looking at complex images of animals and their anatomies, it's sometimes easy to assume that getting those photos is easy, too. But when it comes to animals' skeletons in particular, it's anything but simple.

While the usual technique for getting high-resolution, super-sharp images of sea creature skeletons has involved staining the bones and cartilage with contrasting dyes, now scientists are adding something a little different to the mix: gelatin.

According to a new study published in the journal Copeia, a group of researchers at the University of Kansas came up with the gelatin method as a way to enhance the staging of the skeletons when they are placed under fluorescent light for imaging. By using gelatin, the skeletons are able to be embedded in the substance for the photos, photographed and then cleaned off afterward with no residue left behind.

The images are more complex and accurate than the older type of images, but they're also kind of incredible just to look at. And a little terrifying, too.

The brightly colored creatures' bone and cartilage against the pitch-black background is quite a sight.

The gelatin allows researchers to heighten the effect of the image even further by posing them in particular positions — some of which look pretty life-like.

One tweet about the images reads, "Hello I am a cleared-and-stained North American Least Shrew (Cryptotis parvus)! I've been imaged under fluorescent light and I'm here to slide into your nightmares!" And doesn't that really just say it all?

In the scientific community, the new method seemed to have caused a bit of excitement, with one user tweeting, "Has anyone tried the methods for imaging vertebrate skeletons that came out in @ASIHCopeia last week?"

The published study discusses the main scientific benefit of the imaging technique (and, no, it's not just the result of super creepy photos). According to the research, the real benefit of this imaging technique is seeing minuscule differences in the anatomy of vertebrates — something that makes a world of difference when identifying different types of species and whether or not creatures are related. This explains why scientists would be eager to try out the imaging technique.

But, you know, when all is said and done, the "really creepy photos of exotic animals" part is kind of fun, too.

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