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Natural History Highlight
     Coelacanths at the National Museum of Natural History (May 2003) [Page 2 of 2]
Figure 1
Preserved specimen of Latimeria chalumnae, USNM 205871, from the Fish Division specimen collection. Also shown are (left to right) Lynne Parenti, Curator, Harry Grier, visiting scientist, Susan Jewett, Collection Manager and Jeffrey Clayton, Museum Specialist. Photograph by Sandra J. Raredon. (Click here for larger image.)

The Smithsonian’s Division of Fishes, which includes the world’s largest research collection of preserved fish specimens, contains one coelacanth. It was collected in the Comoros Islands in the mid-1960s and purchased in 1968 by Dr. H. N. Schnitzlein, then of the University of Alabama Medical Center, for use in his neuroanatomy studies.

After removing the brain, the specimen was donated by Dr. Schnitzlein to the Smithsonian Institution. In 1998 we acquired Dr. Schnitzlein’s massive collection of histological slides of fish brains, including those made from the brain of our coelacanth, along with letters, photographs and other documents pertaining to the purchase of the specimen. When captured, the specimen weighed approximately 160 pounds and measured slightly less than 5 ½ feet in total length. The specimen is identified as Latimeria chalumnae and bears the catalog number USNM 205871.

Figure 3
Figure 2
Closeup of USNM 205871. Note the limb-like second dorsal and anal fins, the unusual 3-part caudal fin, and the raised profile of the notochord extending out onto the tail. Photograph by Sandra J. Raredon. (Click here for larger image.)
Closeup of USNM 205871. Note the limb-like pectoral fin, large eye and teeth. Photograph by Sandra J. Raredon. (Click here for larger image.)
 
Although the research collection is not accessible to the general public, a life-like model of a coelacanth can be seen in the Living Fossils gallery on the mezzanine of the dinosaur hall in the National Museum of Natural History.
Figure 4
Model of Latimeria chalumnae which can be seen in the Dinosaur Hall of the NMNH. Photograph by Susan L. Jewett. (Click here for larger image.) 
Figure 5
Closeup of head of model of Latimeria chalumnae in the NMNH. Photograph by Susan L. Jewett. (Click here for larger image.)
 

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"Natural History Highlight" features interesting and exciting activities and objects from the Museum. We will frequently introduce new highlights that come from our research, collections, exhibits, and projects.      
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