We’re surrounded by natural works of art that would make Picasso weep, but we usually can’t see them—because they’re microscopic. Thankfully, the photographers that entered Nikon’s Small World photomicrography competition have brought these tiny wonders up to our scale to be appreciated. Here’s our favorite snapshots from this year’s contest:
Jumping spiders are a top contender for best vision among the arachnids. Good eyesight is a key adaptation for the jumping spiders, which don’t have webs to rely upon to catch prey—they have to go out and hunt their food. Noah Fram-Schwartz captures two jumping spider eyes up close in this third-place photo from the Nikon contest.
Dr. Paul Joseph Rigby captures a fungal infection attacking the petal of a daisy in this 10x magnified snapshot. You can also see bright yellow grains of pollen on the petal’s surface.
A larval stage of the acorn worm Balanoglossus misakiensis becomes a psychedelic ball of string when seen 10 times closer than normal.
First place winner and Panamanian photographer Rogelio Moreno peered into the mouth of this rotifer, a type of microscopic animal that swims in freshwater bodies across the world. The heart-shaped wall seen here is the corona, a structure studded with hair-like structures called cilia that sweep food into the mouth.
The average mouse brains weighs just .4 grams (less than half a paperclip) but is an essential tool in neuroscience research. This fluorescent portrait traces the mouse’s neural vasculature in red.
Magnified 100 times, the appendages of a common brine shrimp become as pretty as peacock feathers. Brine shrimp are some of the most classic examples of “living fossils,” having changed little in appearance since the Triassic era. You may be more familiar with them as mail-order “Sea-Monkeys.”
A caterpillar has six true legs that will become the legs of the butterfly or moth that it will transform into, but it also sports additional pairs of limbs called prolegs. The prolegs terminate in tiny hooks called crochets that help the caterpillar keep a firm grip on surfaces. Karin Panser zooms in with a 20x magnification to capture a proleg in this fourth-place photo.
The tiny algae Pleurotaenium ovatum looks like it’s made up of two cells, but it’s actually a single cell with a ring-like thickening in the middle.
Unpolished Montana dryhead agate becomes otherworldly when seen up close. Most agates are found inside volcanic rocks or in ancient lava flows.
When magnified 10 times, the mineral calcite starts to resemble an otherworldly complex of pipes, ducts, and struts. This snapshot by Alessandro Da Mommio earned second place in the competition.
Three transgenic kidneys grown in a laboratory form a forest of branching ducts.
Image: Igor Siwanowicz, Noah Fram-Schwartz, Dr. Paul Joseph Rigby , Dr. Sabrina Kaul, Rogelio Moreno, Dr. Ali Erturk, Dr. Igor Robert Siwanowicz, Karin Panser, Douglas L. Moore, Alessandro Da Mommio, Dr. Nils Lindstrom