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Zombie Fish Invades Naturalist Center

July 28, 2014

Meet “George”, the Bowfin.  Bowfins are bony, freshwater fish found throughout most of the eastern United States.  Often called a prehistoric or primitive fish, Bowfins are the only living species in the Family Amiidae.  This ancient group of fishes lived millions of years ago and are represented in fossils found both in Europe and the United States.

This particular Bowfin has had an interesting afterlife.  George was well-preserved and stored in a glass jar in the Museum’s collection for a long time–just waiting for his chance to be noticed.  We were going through some old specimens with Gabriela Hogue, Collections Manager of Fishes when she saw George and suggested we show off this fish’s great skeletal system.  Instead of scales, the entire head of a Bowfin is covered with bony, plate-like armor.  Underneath the lower jaw is a unique, large bony plate called the gular plate.  And, don’t forget those rows of gnarly, sharp teeth!

George, the Bowfin, in the beetle tank.

George the Bowfin in the beetle tank. Photo by Cindy Lincoln.

Our collections staff is often faced with the grisly process of removing flesh from bones.  Luckily, there’s an insect perfectly designed for this task: the Dermestid Beetle.   You can learn more about these bone-cleaning beetles from a display in the Biodiversity lab on the second floor of the Nature Research Center.  The display features a tank where you can watch live beetles as they pick carcasses clean.  Our Bowfin, George, was placed in this tank and, in a little over a week, his skeleton was revealed.

Dermestid Beetle Tank in the Biodiversity Lab

Dermestid Beetle tank in the Biodiversity Lab. Photo by Cindy Lincoln.

Our summer intern, Missy Chernick, has taken on George as her project and we will soon have this Bowfin skeleton on display in the Naturalist Center.   You will be able to learn more about Bowfin biology and see photos of the entire process used to clean and preserve his skeleton.

George getting picked clean by beetles.

George getting picked clean by beetles. Photo by Cindy Lincoln.

Thanks to the following staff for help with this project: Steve Turner, Curator of the Naturalist Center; Gabriela Hogue, Collections Manager of Fishes; Ben Hess, Collections Manager of Mammals; Sara Webb and Mitchell Feldman, Interns in Mammal Collections.  Missy Chernick is finishing up her internship before returning to NC State University as an undergraduate in Wildlife Biology.


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