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Micro-CT of an Household Ant

The discipline of taxonomy has been transformed from the traditional morphology-based approach, using written descriptions and line drawings, to a complementary mixture of several types of data, including micro-CT scanning. Micro-CT provides the detail and resolution necessary to enhance species descriptions or enable species identifications. Detailed assessments of both external and internal morphology is noninvasive and doesn’t damage rare specimens. In addition, more data is available from micro-CT scans because of volumetric data that can be extracted. Volumetric models can be generated that can be rotated, sectioned, and measured to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the anatomy and morphology of a specimen.

For our study this month, we utilized our high resolution SkyScan 1272 desktop scanner to examine a household ant.

Figure 1: Cross sectional views of an ant

Micro-CT Scan of an Ant

Utilizing the reconstructed X-ray attenuation data, two-dimensional views through the ant were generated (Figure 1). Examining the images, we can see the body parts of the ant along with the wooden pick used to mount the ant and the epoxy used to adhere the ant to the pick.

Figure 2: Reconstructed three-dimensional maximum intensity projection view

For a broader qualitative view of the ant than is available in the planar two-dimensional views, the reconstructed images also provide a full three-dimensional rendering of the sample using CTVox, which was used to generate the cover image for this article. CTVox provides researchers with the ability to orient a sample in a desired position in 3D space to allow visualization of features of interest. We also have the ability to modify how we view the results. For instance, we can utilize a maximum intensity projection view of the sample to highlight the densest regions of the scan (Figure 2). This view highlights the hardened edge of the incisors on the ant jaw in white in comparison to the rest of the exoskeleton density. This leads us to a conclusions that the incisors are of similar density to the rest of the ant exoskeleton except at the cutting edge. The extra density at the cutting edge would lead to enhanced cutting strength and durability for the ant.


Micro-CT is being rapidly adopted in fields ranging from structural biology and material science to geology, odontology, and many other manufacturing industries. We hope you found this Image of the Month informative. If you have an Image of the Month sample that you would like us to scan, please contact us by calling Seth Hogg at 610-366-7103 or e-mailing

Scan Specifications

Sample Ant
Voltage (kV) 50
Current (µA) 200
Pixel Size (µm) 3
Rotation Step 0.2
Scan Time (HH:MM:SS) 02:47:28

This scan was completed on our high resolution SkyScan 1272 micro-CT system at the Micro Photonics Imaging Laboratory in Allentown, PA. Reconstructions were completed using NRecon and visualization of 2D and 3D results were completed using DataViewer and CTVox.


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