The World's First Look Inside an Intact Brittle Star

By Esther Inglis-Arkell on at

Brittle stars have a bit more in common with starfish that giant, luminous balls of gas. These organisms look like starfish but with tentacles, and they’re dubbed “brittle” because they’re so delicate—when they’re dissected, scientists can document what they find, but they can’t preserve the sample. It’s a one-time event.

Well, until now.

Micro X-ray computed tomography lets us take a peek for the very first time inside a brittle star, then using computers to integrate the data —without tearing the star apart first.

This is probably cold comfort to the brittle star, which dies either way. Before scoping out the inside of the brittle star, scientists need to fix it in ethanol. So it’s the sample that is preserved, not the brittle star’s life. However, a preserved specimen lets scientists check an experiment’s original specimen, without always having to produce one of their own, which is probably good news for the brittle star population overall. At least we get some amazing footage out of the bargain.

[Source: A dataset describing brooding in three species of South African brittle stars, comprising seven high-resolution, micro X-ray computed tomography scans]

Image: Landschoff J, Du Plessis A, Griffiths CL. 2015a. A dataset describing brooding in three species of South African brittle stars, comprising seven high-resolution, X-ray micro tomography scans. GigaScience 2015


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