Myrtle Under the Microscope

A guest post from Lisbeth Bornhofft
Lisbeth is a Senior Aquarium Educator who has also contributed to the Rescue Blog and the Exhibits Blog. You may have seen her around the building answering visitors' questions or offering up an interesting bit of information about a particular animal or exhibit. Hear what she has to say about some of the animals in the Giant Ocean Tank! 

I’ve become quite attached to Myrtle in the last 20 years, but she’s been around a lot longer than that. She was already about 30 years-old when she first came to the Aquarium in 1970! I’ve never been diving in the Giant Ocean Tank where she lives, but just like visitors who come to see her, I’ve had plenty of quality one-on-one time with her through the glass.

Recently I got a view of Myrtle I had never imagined! Thanks to the generosity of a company called ASPEX, a supplier of electron microscopy tools to researchers, developers and manufacturers, we now have the opportunity to see what Myrtle looks like super-up-close.

A while back, part of one of Myrtle’s scutes, (the plates that make up her shell), was removed for medical reasons. She healed just fine and the piece of shell became part of our Education collection. When the opportunity arose, we sent off a fragment of the shell, along with some of our other precious biofacts, for electron microscope analysis.

The results were stunning! Check out these four close-up views of Myrtle’s shell, then see if you can identify two other Giant Ocean Tank residents from the scans below. Hints: They're both large fish. One is very shiny and the other is related to the animals in our new touch tank. Answers at the end of the blog. Enjoy!

Here are the other scans, two for each animal, close and closer…

If you guessed tarpon skin and sand tiger shark skin, you are correct! The arrow-like points on the sand tiger skin are dermal denticles, or "skin teeth." These specialized scales cause the skin to feel like sandpaper.

Here’s a photo of the actual biofact samples that were sent out for scanning.

Samples from other animals at the Aquarium were also sent for scanning, so stay tuned for more electron microscope trivia in a later post on the Exhibits Blog!