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'Animal Inside Out' Exhibition Brings 'Body Worlds' Plastination To Elephant, Gorilla, More (PHOTOS)

Posted: 04/ 5/2012 2:57 pm Updated: 04/ 5/2012 4:15 pm

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  • Animal Inside Out exhibition is an anatomical safari under the skin of some of nature's most impressive creatures. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • During the plastination process coloured liquid resin is injected in the main arterial network. When the surrounding tissue is removed a perfect highway of vessels is revealed. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • All the animals in the exhibition have been plastinated by the Body Worlds team. Gunther von Hagens invented the process at Heidelberg University in 1977. There are, however, always new challenges such as plastinating this powerful bull, which can weigh up to 1,200 kilograms. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • A colossal network of blood vessels exists inside animal bodies. The arteries in this rabbit help deliver blood from the heart, repeatedly branching into smaller and smaller vessels to reach every extremity until they become hair-like capillaries. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • A tiny shrew lives for just a few years. Its heart races at 1,000 beats a minute while it is alive, while the slow- beating heart of an elephant can beat for up to 70 years. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • The towering giraffe has an exceptionally long neck, but the same number of cervical vertebrae as a human: seven. Each is just much longer, helping to make the giraffe the tallest living land mammal. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • Primates are the nearest mirror we have in the animal world, key similarities and differences can be observed morphology. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • This blood vessel model of a horse's head shows the complex network of arteries and capillaries that help deliver oxygen and energy to the surrounding tissue. © Gunther von Hagens_Institute for Plastination, © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • A rabbit's skeleton is adapted to jumping. The bones are fine and the spine flexible, enabling rabbits to leap powerfully. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • A reindeer's body shape not only helps them cope with the harsh arctic conditions, they have also evolved to survive attacks from predators. The muscles that power the legs are mounted close to the trunk, keeping the end of the legs nice and light. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • Sheep and goats may look completely different on the surface but under the skin the internal structures of their organs, muscles and bones are very similar. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • This specimen demonstrates that sharks have two kinds of muscle. Red muscle for endured activity and white muscle for short bursts of energy. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • Goats' bodies are designed to cope with the uneven and rocky terrain that they often inhabit. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • The ostrich is a bird that's too heavy to fly. An adult can weigh up to 160 kilogrammes - about twice the weight of a large man. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

  • Despite being a bird, an ostrich's body shape reflects its ability to run as fast as 50km an hour, instead of its ability (or lack of ability) to fly. © Gunther von Hagens, Institute for Plastination, Heidelberg, Germany

Do the 'plasticized' cadavers in German anatomist Gunther von Hagens' "Body Worlds exhibitions take your breath away, or get under your skin? Whatever your feelings, a new museum installation promises an even wilder spectacle. Animal Inside Out, a collaboration between the team behind Body Worlds and London's Natural History Museum, applies Hagens' preservation techniques to animals--with specimens ranging from a tough-looking gorilla to a towering elephant.

The show, which opens April 6, showcases specific aspects of the animals' anatomy. There's a rabbit stripped down to its intricate network of blood vessels and an ostrich with exposed leg muscles that give the bird its powerful stride.

Museum visitors will see evolution in action in the nearly 100 creatures that comprise the show. Dr. Angelina Whalley, exhibition curator from the Institute for Plastination, noted in a written statement that "It is fascinating to see the anatomical similarities between different animal groups, like the muscles and bones of the primate five-digit hand, which we share with a gorilla."

How do they preserve specific parts of the animals? It's a complicated process called plastination, patented in the 1980s by Dr. Hagens. After embalming stops the bodies' decay, body tissues that won't be on display are removed, and the specimen is placed in an acetone bath to remove water and fat. Then, the animal is immersed in a liquid plastic and placed in a vacuum chamber, which forces out the acetone and causes the plastic to replace it. The specimen is then put into position and then hardened with gas, heat or light.

But no matter how complicated the science behind it, the end product is simple theater—there's nothing quite like standing underneath an Asian elephant in the flesh (more or less).

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Filed by Travis Korte  |