MicroCT of a Leopard Skull

Image of the Month: Leopard Skull


It is time to say goodbye to snow and hello to spring!  While this is something we look forward to, our friend the snow leopard prefers to live in extreme high-altitude snow environments1. The snow leopard (Panthera uncia) is also known as the “Ghost of the Mountain” by Himalayan villagers, because they are rarely seen.  Although they share taxonomic classification with other Felidae such as lions, tigers, and panthers, the snow leopard stands apart from them due to its mysterious nature, isolated behavior, and inability to roar2.  Using microCT and 3D printing, we can exhibit the distinctive skull features that set them apart from other mid-size cats3.

Micro Photonics is excited to offer you the addition of 3D printing technology for your samples! We are now able to take the microCT image (picture on right) and print exact replicas in 3D model (as shown below). A 3D model not only makes the article of interest easier to view, this tool can be utilized to display far more complex systems, such as intricate structural features4. 3D representations compliment and elucidate works of microCT imaging.


Figure 1. 3D Printed Leopard Skull

Nicknamed as “sabu”, “once” and “irbis” the snow leopard is a mystical wild cat that prefers to live alone; unless mating or nursing cubs. They weigh between 25-75 kg and typically have a three foot tail, the longest of the Felidae family. The tail and long hind legs allow the “once” to be as “agile as a monkey”, jumping as high as 20 feet. Blue sheep and mountain goats are the standard prey; however, they are also known to hunt deer, boars, marmots, and pika’s. Perhaps their most characteristic feature is that snow leopards do not roar. They express themselves with a soft grunting or puffing sound known as “Prusten”5.


Figure 2. MicroCT Slices of Snow Leopard Skull

Why is it important to study snow leopards?
Aside from their elusive nature, snow leopards have remained a mystery because of their recent decline in numbers. They are an endangered species primarily due to humans hunting them for their fur and bones. Snow leopard fur is used for coats and hats and the bones are used in traditional medicine. In certain parts of Asia, the bones are believed to alleviate arthritis and aches when crushed and ingested.

Using the SkyScan 1173 microCT scanner, we took a deeper look into this majestic species. The skull shown above is from a deceased zoo animal and comes to us from Ms. Giar-Ann Kung at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Mammology collection. We at Micro Photonics used our nondestructive 3D microCT scanner to view the snow leopard skull at axial, coronal and sagittal cross-sections. These exhibit a distinct concave nasal profile and canine grooves, specific to the snow leopard. The short broadened skull along with an enlarged nasal cavity depicts an evolutionary adaptation for colder climates3. Continuing comparative studies of Felidae can be an essential means to protect snow leopards from endangerment. What’s more, cranial morphological information can serve to develop identification aids for wildlife law enforcement officers3.

We hope you enjoyed learning about the snow leopard and the benefits in using microCT imaging and 3D printing to study them. Our scanners can measure a slew of parameters for bone analysis, as well as soft tissue analysis, materials and more. If you have an interesting life sciences application that you would like showcased as the next image of the month or if you would like to try the 3D printer, feel free to email: Brandon@microphotonics.com. We would love to include your work!

Snow Leopard Skull Courtesy of:
Giar-Ann Kung
Entomology Section
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90007

April 2015 – Examining the Endangered Written by:
Kaamna C. Mirchandani, MS

Works Cited
1. McCarthy, T. M.; Chapron, G. (eds.) (2003). Snow Leopard Survival Strategy. Seattle, USA: International Snow Leopard Trust and Snow Leopard Network.
2. “International Year of the Snow Leopard”, Saving Snow Leopards Report (2015-02-06). Retrieved 2015-02-27.
3. Sims, M. “Cranial morphology of five felids: Acinonyx jubatus. Panthera onca. Panthera pardus. Puma concolor. Uncia uncia.” Russ J. Theriol 11 (2012): 157-70.
4. Jones, Nicola. “Science in three dimensions: the print revolution.” Nature487.7405 (2012): 22-23.
5. Hemmer, Helmut (1972). “Uncia uncia”. Mammalian Species 20 (20): 1-5. doi:10.2307/3503882
6. Dexel, Birga. The illegal trade in snow leopards: a global perspective. Berlin, Germany:: German Society for Nature Conservation, 2002.


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