When asked why I wanted to attend vet school and why I was drawn to veterinary medicine, I almost always answered with, “…because comparative anatomy is fascinating!” As an undergraduate animal science major, I was blown away by the anatomy course I took my senior year. I was fascinated to see striated muscle cells under the microscope, taken from the frog leg we had just performed fasciculation experiments on, and to feel and explore the weirdness that is a ruminant’s four-chambered stomach.
After two semesters of anatomy, my fascination had dimmed a bit under the onslaught of thousands of textbook pages, dozens of dissection videos, and hundreds of strange, sometimes illogical anatomical terms. But when we began our introductory comparative anatomy class, I was immediately reminded of why I had initially come to vet school. I was fascinated to learn that many fish can detect nearby movement by specialized organs in their lateral lines (which are grossly visible) called neuromasts. The hair cells of the neuromasts respond to mechanical deformation caused by water waves, just like how hair cells of the organ of Corti in the ears respond to mechanical deformation by sound waves. I loved seeing photos of transparent tadpoles, the radiograph of a python, and a slow-motion video of a great blue heron flying in a flight barn to the tune of “I Believe I can Fly.” But I have to admit, I was most surprised to learn that venomous mammals existed—slow lorises and northern short-tailed shrews, for starters!