I opened up an emu egg that had failed to hatch to find a late stage chick inside, and unfortunate individual in a large and otherwise healthy clutch. 

It’s hard to tell what’s going on in the last photo, so I drew a diagram. He’s positioned with his head cradled between his feet. See no evil in a world that never came to be. 

286 notes | posted 2 months ago | Reblog |


These are fins from a 500lb Bluefin Tuna

Tuna are members of the Scrombrid family, a group of fast swimming, partially warm-blooded apex predators, with highly streamlined bodies and retractable fins. 

In the image above, the large dorsal fin, with its rigid bony rays, can disappear completely into a deep groove on the body.This gives the fish its distinctive bullet shape, as it charges forward in the water. The fin is pulled out when the fish is slowing down, or turning to keep its cylindrical body from rolling over.

The distinctive little fins, or finlets in the last image are only found in this group of fish. Muscles beneath the skin allows them to move independently. There’s a few people out there researching this, but at the current time their exact function is unknown. 

1587 notes | posted 2 months ago | Reblog |


The skull of the Chinese Water Deer is one of the most iconic skulls out there. 

Like many small Asian deer species, it does not have antlers. Instead the males fight each other with their extremely sharp tusks, slashing at rivals with downward head swings. 

When not actively shanking others, the tusks can be folded back slightly., so they don’t interfere with eating. 

I was given a ostrich egg that had failed to hatch. I cut it open to see what was inside. 

The embryo inside had died early during development. Although he was only about 3 inches long, he was perfectly formed. You can even see feather buds on him. 

The inside of the egg looks odd when first opened, but is nothing out of the ordinary:

Incidentally, the way the embryo eventually sinks to the bottom and breaks down, is the reason why many fossilized dinosaur embryos appear to be a jumble of bones concentrated in one area of the egg. 

I recently had the opportunity to observe a harbor porpoise necropsy. 

This little guy was only a few days old when he was found stranded and separated from his mother, with his umbilical cord still attached. He wasn’t breathing properly and was euthanized. 

Despite looking perfect, he was a mess on the inside. His lungs and bladder had filled with blood from severe repeated blows. Porpicide claims another victim. 

Hair is trait common to all mammals. While I’ve always read that newborn cetaceans have hair, this was my first time seeing them. One either side of the snout (or rostrum) there is small, curly, whisker-like hair (called Rostral hair), that the babies lose after a few days. 

A great debt of gratitude is owed to the marine mammal center for allowing me the opportunity to observe the necropsy on these animals. 

Anonymous asked:
Hello!! My name is Denise and I have found you as a completely amazing, intelligent, and extremely brave person. Knowing that you are one of the few who would dare to do this is, is extremely amazing, and I truly support you. I believe also in morphology as the backbone in Biology, mostly in the study of medicine. But is just outstandingly awesome to know about someone like you who is not horrify by Death. Instead, is looked as a way of life, and that's how it is. Thank you for doing what you do

Thank you!

On a personal level, morphology, anatomy, and doing these dissections irreversibly changed my outlook on life.

Life has this je ne sais quoi, this quality that immediately departs with death, so much so that dead things don’t feel alive, and feel as though they have never been alive. 

Beneath my hands, the muscle and bone, that I carved away were the same materials that made me. As the scalpel blade whittles away chips of cartilage, like brittle pine, it’s hard to visualize these tattered remains as once having been a life……with joy and conflict, and light no different from any of us.

And when life is gone; its inner workings laid bare, there is no ghost in the machine, no entrails parted to reveal some great and shining secret hidden inside.

All along, they were nothing more assemblages of muscle and bone……..in the same way that we are…….and will be. 

Life is precious, fragile, impossibly perfect and shockingly miraculous…….. and there’s no time to waste.


Also… look at how amazing this is !!!!

How about some sketches? 

1. Portrait of the artist as a young sea bass

2. This is a skinned zebra head that was lent to me by a taxidermist. This image is pretty graphic, and I’ve waffled around posting this for a while. For all intents and purposes it looks like the drawing. If you’re still interesting in seeing the full image, it’s available here. Be warned it’s rather bloody.

3. Some sketches of dinosaur skulls. In 2013, new research revealed that the horn on Tsintaosaurus’s head is part of a larger crest. I dotted the old crest in for old times sake. To relive the glory, yes. 

4. Drawing an alligator foot. It’s kind of really neat how alligators have 3 toes with these large powerful claws, and then one toe that’s just a fleshy finger. (On the front foot, they have 5 toes total, 3 clawed and 2 fleshy) I wonder why the outer toes/finger don’t have claws.

Given how different these skulls look, it’s hard to believe they’re the same species. They’re cats. 

The one on the left is your normal garden-variety cat, and the one on the left is a Persian cat. The capability of selective breeding to mold muscle and bone, is absolutely phenomenal.  

Artificial selective breeding is creature design in practice, bringing to life creatures, in ways designers for games and movies can only envy.

(I posted these photos on my twitter account, challenging followers to identify them. They were correctly identified by User Deadly Beloved)

Whale Necropsy

Recently, I had the opportunity to observe and help out with a whale necropsy. 


This young female humpback whale was less two years old, when it died and floated ashore. A necropsy was performed in attempt to determine the cause of death.


A large cut is made to the throat to free gases trapped in the throat pouch, and allow it to deflate. In life, the pleated throat pouch in baleen whales can expand enormously to accommodate sea water.  In death, it often fills with gas as the body decomposes. 


These are Humpback Whale Barnacles (Coronula diadema). They are only found on the throats and bellies of humpback whales, image

A series of cuts penetrate the thick blubber layer, and allow it to be peeled back to reveal the underlying tissue. 


The tissue beneath the blubber on the pectoral area, or shoulder area, is abnormally dark. This hemorrhaging, or bruising, is indicative of blunt force trauma in that area. 

Large animal necropsies are tricky. Often, the exact cause of death is difficult to pinpointed because the animal is too large to manipulated for a detailed look on all areas. Some ribs and vertebrae were removed, but without any fractures, It’s difficult to say what caused the trauma. Ships and other whales are both possibilities. 

I’ve never touched a whale. I always thought whales felt hard like rubber tires, and was surprised to find that they’re fleshy and somewhat soft, and feel a little like thick gel mousepads, or those keyboard wrist support strips that you find in offices.

Well, 2013 has come to a close, and it’s the beginning of a new year. 

A lot of stuff has happened for me last year. I went to a number of conferences and began outdooring more actively.

I also took a position at a university, teaching anatomy.

  • Unexpectedly, my cat lung demo really took off, and was featured on a number of sites. The overwhelming response was pretty surprising for me. It’s inspiring to see the public at large take an interest in anatomy.    
  • Alexis Madrigal from the Atlantic wrote an article on my bird foot article! It’s such an incredible honor to have my blog featured.

Some short term plans are in order for ArsAnatomica:

  • I’m going to work on a new and better layout that is more user friendly. Coding isn’t my forte, so it’s been slow going. But I think I have most of it, and will continue tweaking to make it better.  
  • Next week, I’m going to do a small giveaway and sell a few things to finance some current and future projects, and possibly save for a new and better camera.   

Stay tuned!

Inflating a set of cat lungs

Lungs are by most accounts mundane. Everybody has them, few give it much thought. But sequestered within darkness of the chest cavity, enveloping the fluttering heart, there’s an incredible wonder to this oddly inflatable organ.

Dissection is a destructive process. Rudely excised from membranous mooring and nourishing vessels, the deflated lungs appear little more than bloodied meat; amorphous and exposed…….until a breath of air unfurls its secret glory. 

Here, a set of cat lungs is inflated with a straw. Comprised of hundreds of millions of microscopic air sacks called alveoli, mammalian lungs harbor air capacity that is difficult to believe unless seen. The color of the entire organ lightens into a soft pink, as each microscopic sac fills with air.

A debt of gratitude is owed to cyborgraptor for her assistance in creating these gifs, as well as the students that helped me film this demo. 

Making drawings of an otter. This little girl died at a sanctuary and was borrowed from a friend for the day.

Photo of the day: Sketching an Elephant Seal

Outside of anatomy stuff, I also enjoy exploring. I met this nice young man on a walk a few months back. 


He’s a Northern Elephant Seal.

On the pacific coast, elephant seals gather by the hundreds to breed on the beaches during winter. The males fight viciously for the coveted title of “Beachmaster”, the winners gathering large harems of females. Many will enter, but few win. Only the largest and most aggressive bulls have a chance, and the lesser bulls are driven to the edge of the colony or off the beach altogether. 


This guy’s resting alone on a remote beach, evidently he lost. Although he’s not very large, he’s already got a nice collection of battle scars on his neck and chest (see 3rd photo). Impressive effort for a little guy…. He’ll make a fine beachmaster someday…. 

I take the opportunity to make some sketches. 


Adventures in Teaching: A collection of student errors


I taught human anatomy for about two years at a college. Most of my students were just out of high school, bound for a pre-med or pre-nursing track.

 After every arduous exam, I’d collect the notable answers to circulate, part humor, part cautionary tale. 

Below is a selection of student errors collected from one such exam, copied from my email, as circulated to students: 

Read More

914 notes | posted 1 year ago | Reblog |




Hey there! Thanks so much for your continued patronage. To be honest, I’m surprised that anyone still reads my blog after my year long hiatus.

A lot of things happened. I graduated from my program, losing access to my lab. After my brother passed away, I moved across the country and went to China several times. Right now, I’m having a hard time finding a job related to biology, so I’m working an office job in the meantime.

But all that’s irrelevant. The primary reason I stopped posting, was that, I lost sight of where I was going with this blog.

When I originally started, I was just posting random pictures from my life, interspersed with stuff like drawings, memes…etc. My life just happened to include  a lot of morphology.  

As time went on, the blog became more and more involved and “educational”, gaining “science outreach” status and thus drawing the attention of the academic and professional community. While this is a good thing, it also prompted a certain level of professionalism and quality, which I felt like I had a hard time living up to. 

Now that my audience included not only tumblr users, but also government institutions, university professors and museum curators, etc, what do I write? How do I keep it interesting for both science professionals and general audience alike, and still have it be accessible? Should I strive for tumblr virality to reach more people, or write longer indepth articles that impart more information with less viral impact? Should I strive to educate at all? How much should I interact with the audience? Is it still appropriate to post interesting non-biology things or personal things?  

These questions (and more),have kept me silent and conflicted for the past year.  And throughout all this, I continued doing hundreds of dissections and skeletal prep, everything from chameleons, to tigers to sharks….etc.

I’m back. I don’t have any good answers, but not trying isn’t helping me. Moving forward, I’m going to try to strike a balance, between accessibility, audience, and purpose, and hopefully, I can still keep it MY blog, rather than a generalized anatomy/morphology infodump blog. 

In the end, what I really want to do, is to reveal, acknowledge, and appreciate, this hidden world, that exists inside all living things. So beautifully alien, so intimately close and so breathtaking in its ingenuity. 

Thanks again for your continued patronage…… lets go for a ride. 

- Helen (ArsAnatomica)

48 notes | posted 1 year ago | Reblog |