Scientists Say: Autopsy and Necropsy

These two words describe examinations of animals after they die

This photo shows scientists performing a necropsy — an investigation to determine the cause of death — on a beached whale. 

Rogers Cadenhead/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Autopsy and Necropsy (nouns, “AWE-top-see” and “NEH-crop-see”)

These words describe examinations of a dead body to find the cause of death. Autopsy is the term for examining dead people. Necropsy refers to such probes in other animals. Both types try to find out how an individual died. These examinations also may be used to find out if the deceased had been sick or injured before death.

In a sentence

When they find a dead whale or other endangered species, scientists will often perform a necropsy  to try to figure out how it died. In people, an autopsy can determine how a virus might have entered the brain.

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Power Words

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autopsy   Examination of body tissues after a person dies, typically performed to determine the cause of death.

endangered   An adjective used to describe species at risk of going extinct.

necropsy  An examination of an animal’s body to establish how it died.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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