This single surviving species of a 200-million-year-old lineage is a very rare relative to lizards and snakes. Museum specimens are even rarer, and not well studied for fear of destroying the object. CT scanning allows scientists to study and share anatomy without harming the specimen.
This is a Tuatara, a rare and very unusual reptile from New Zealand. The species is the sole living descendant of a lineage of animals that has existed since the Triassic— over 225 million years ago. Like many collections, the herpetology department at the Florida Museum of Natural History contains very little Tuatara material: only one skull and one whole preserved specimen. Because they are so rare, and so important, these specimens are never loaned out, and so, until recently, access to them has been limited to those researchers that could visit our collections. It’s a Catch-22 that all collections face: the more rare and important a specimen is, the fewer researchers there are that will have access to it. But new technology is rapidly changing this.
X-ray microcomputed tomography is an imaging technique that produces very high resolution, three-dimensional representations of nonliving objects, essentially 3-D X-rays. By scanning our Tuatara specimens at the University of Florida we have been able to create digital versions of their skeletons, which can be viewed on a computer or turned back into physical objects using 3-D printing. We have made these and many other scans available online, meaning that previously inaccessible specimens are now freely and instantaneously available to view and download all over the world by researchers, educators and anyone interested in finding out more about these remarkable animals. Feel free to check them out for yourself!
Postdoctoral Researcher, Herpetology
Florida Museum of Natural History
Tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus)
From New Zealand