Also In This Issue


Under the Sea in 3D

CT scan of the lined seahorse Hippocampus erectus

This colorful and captivating CT scan of a seahorse is part of a multimillion-dollar National Science Foundation project that seeks to provide free, digital 3D vertebrate anatomy models and data to researchers, educators, students and the public.

Texas A&M University is one of 16 institutions nationally participating in the effort, known as “Open Vertebrate Exploration in 3D,” or oVert. By 2021, the project seeks to scan 20,000 preserved specimens from U.S. museum collections, producing high-resolution anatomical data that can be used for biodiversity research and aid in the discovery and conservation of species. At Texas A&M, students are utilizing the scans in courses covering vertebrate diversity.

This particular seahorse specimen is housed in Texas A&M’s Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections, one of the nation’s largest university-based natural history collections with more than 1.3 million preserved specimens ranging from fishes and amphibians to reptiles, birds, mammals, parasites and marine invertebrates. The collection is maintained by the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “Natural history collections are a priceless and infinite source of information on the natural world that enrich all of our lives,” said Dr. Kevin Conway, associate professor and curator of fishes. “We cannot predict the value of these specimens to future generations, which is why they must be maintained in perpetuity.”

The lined seahorse Hippocampus erectus belongs to the seahorse family Syngnathidae. This species can be found as far north as Canada or as south as Uruguay. The specimen was sent to The University of Florida as part of the oVert project, where it was scanned and visualized by Zach Randall, a collection technician at the Florida Museum.

Elf Owl

CT scanned Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi, TCWC 7578) collected in 1968 in the Guadalupe Mountains in west Texas. Animation showcases different color schemes that can be used to highlight density of bone and cartilage captured in the 3D scans. Fluid preserved specimens of birds are not common in collections because in the past they were viewed as having limited utility. The oVert project is changing curators' minds and opening these specimens up to a myriad of new user groups.


CT scanned Solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus, TCWC 28881) collected in 1996 in the Dominican Republic. Solenodon are strange venomous mammals that are related to hedgehogs, moles and shrews. This animation illustrates how CT scanning can simultaneously capture both soft and dense (skeletal) elements of a specimen.

You can give a gift of $25 or more online to support Texas A&M’s biodiversity collections. Additionally, endowed gifts to the collections can support field expeditions, biodiversity research, collections management, student training or long-term plans to build a West Campus museum to display the collections for the public. To learn more, contact Collin Arledge using the form below.