Thursday, June 24, 2010

The inside of a legend

Well, a legend among birders anyway. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker and its status among the extant bids of the world still is debated, although without any definitive proof (ie a good, clear, un-doctored, acceptable, photograph of a live bird) in the several years of searching since Cornell Lab of O. initially announced that the bird had been re-found, the debate has quieted down a bit.  For many of us, the closest we will ever come to seeing this bird is in museum specimens (I'm lucky to live so close to Boston where there are specimens on display in the Museum of Science as well as close to Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology) or seeing older pics on-line.

There is a page I stumbled across years ago, and revisit every now and again, but I don't believe I ever shared it with my readers.  The Digimorph page contains a "library is a dynamic archive of information on digital morphology and high-resolution X-ray computed tomography of biological specimens."
(Anyone remember that line from the classic 80's song "Turning Japanese" by the Vapors - "I want the doctor to take your picture, so I can look at you from inside as well - well these folks are doing it for us on specimens from nature)

Of course, one of the first things I did was search on woodpeckers, and they have not one, not two, but three CT scans of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker specimen.
Head shot with skin and feathering 
Full body with skin and feathering 
Head shot of skeleton only

(They also have one of a Golden-fronted Woodpecker as well)

There are a few things I'd like to point out about this - they are not just photos but movies of the CT scans that can be shown from several different views and can be "scrubbed" so you can stop and examine the views.  My personal favorites are the "3d Volume Rendered movies" and if you don't look at anything else, check out the ones of the skeletal head shot which show the "hyoid apparatus" and the horns wrapping around the back of the head and into the eye socket.
(For those of you that wish to learn a bit more about these terms which refer to the tongue, here is a fantastic article about the Anatomy and Evolution of the Woodpecker's Tongue.)