Unless they were under a microscope, it would be difficult to see the shimmery barbs of a louse claw or cracks running through a single piece of table salt. The winning entries of the 47th annual Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition unveil these otherwise imperceptible features, showing the unique textures, colors, and shapes in stunning detail. We’ve chosen some of our favorite images below—these include the crystal-like webbing of a slime mold captured by Allison Pollack (previously), the first-prize winning glimpse of an oak leaf by Jason Kirk, and the kaleidoscopic head of a tick revealed by doctors Tong Zhang and Paul Stoodley—and you can find more from this year’s competition on the contest’s site and Instagram.
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In collaboration with master beekeeper Mylee Nordin and swarms of the honey-producing insects, artist Ava Roth develops elaborate encaustic works that literally visualize the interaction between humans and the environment. The Toronto-based artist stitches small collages with leaves, twigs, rose quartz, porcupine quills, and other organic matter before handing control over to her six-legged counterparts, who faithfully build hexagonal cells around the original piece. Once complete, the waxy inter-species works are brimming with texture and color variances that highlight the inherent beauty and unpredictability of nature.
Whereas previous iterations of Roth’s embroideries used stock hoops at the center, she now enlists the help of woodworker Bernoel Dela Vega, who custom-makes inner and outer frames in the same dimensions that are typical in Langstroth hives. “Each piece requires some kind of border that separates my work from the bees’ work,” she says. “This (change) has allowed me to experiment with different sizes and shapes and has helped to make every aspect of my work hand (or bee) crafted.”
Roth tells Colossal that although it’s possible to manipulate the hive conditions to produce a 3D honeycomb or work with artificial elements, she creates self-imposed limits to use only organic materials and engender environments that mimic those bees would gravitate toward naturally. She explains:
I recognize that Langstroth hives are not a natural habitat for bees, but neither are most of the spaces that humans find themselves occupying right now. Ultimately, this project is about exploring the ways in which humans collide with the natural environment today and finding ways to make making something beautiful from this specific time and place. This means working in cities, in manufactured hives, in the midst of enormous environmental and political despair.
Roth will be pulling multiple pieces from her hives in the next few weeks, and you can follow that progress on Instagram. She also has a few works on paper currently available at Wallspace Gallery in Ottawa.
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We shared footage of the mesmerizing mycelium networks pulsing underneath our feet back in 2019 to mark the opening of Louie Schwartzberg’s Fantastic Fungi, and now the dedicated director takes viewers behind the scenes to show his painstaking process. Filmed throughout a 15-year period in his home studio, Schwartzberg’s timelapses zero in on myriad spores as they burst open, sprawl in every direction, and morph in color and texture. They’re a compelling visual representation of time and nature’s cyclical processes, which he explores in a new short film produced by WIRED.
Most of the challenges in capturing the footage center around predicting where an organism will grow to keep it within the shot and understanding the frame rates of different lifeforms. Schwartzberg explains:
For example, a mosquito on your arm, having a little drop of blood, takes a look at that hand coming towards it in ultra slow motion and has plenty of time to take off because its metabolic rate, its lifespan, is way shorter than our lifespan. And our lifespan is way shorter than a Redwood tree’s lifespan. This reality of real-time human point of view is not the only point of view, and that’s really the beauty of cameras and time-lapse cinematography. It’s actually a time machine.
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The diverse taxonomic order of spiders is brimming with strange biological phenomena: black widows have been known to cannibalize their mates, tarantulas are covered in barbed urticating hairs that they fling in defense similar to porcupines, and others have evolved to mimic the shape and pheromones of an ant to avoid predators.
On a recent trip to a wooded area in Santa Claus, Indiana, photographer Kevin Wiener uncovered one of the latter species, the tutelina similis, and snapped a few macro shots of the 6-millimeter creature. Each of the striking photos catches the arthropod’s iridescent exoskeleton in a manner that highlights its rainbow luster and reveals its ant-like appearance. Similar gleaming color schemes are widespread in the world of insects, including on the microscopic scales that cover butterflies.
The radiant jumping spider is part of Wiener’s vast archive of insect images, which he shares on Instagram and in his online group called All Bugs Go to Kevin. He launched the resource in the spring of 2019 as a way to offer insight into the micro-world of insects, and it now boasts more than 42,000 members, including scientists, macro photographers, and other arthropod enthusiasts.
Currently based in Evansville, Indiana, Wiener fuses his background in both wedding photography and pest management into a practice that highlights striking and bizarre organisms. “I try to photograph my subjects in a way that gives the appearance of a personality which makes them appear less scary and helps those with fears to see them differently. I want to showcase the beauty of arthropods and show people the things they don’t see with the naked eye,” he tells Colossal. “Basically, if it’s little and moving, it’s probably gonna have a photoshoot.”
In addition to uncovering the diverse world of insects, Wiener also teaches an Indiana Master Naturalist course and has presented to the Entomological Society of America as part of a symposium. You can follow his work that falls at the intersection of science and photography on Instagram and Twitter.
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Within the vast collections of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a trove of dried specimens that once were juicy seeds and fruits primed for reproduction. Now gnarled, fractured, and blanketed in tiny, dehydrated bristles, the individual pods have been preserved as part of the carpological archive at the Scottish institution, a resource photographer Levon Biss (previously) spent hours sifting through in preparation for a stunning new series of macro images.
Spanning from the rampant clusters of the Ko Phuang to endangered rarities like the Coco de Mer, the photographs reveal the inner details otherwise enclosed within the specimens’ shells. Texture and subtle color differences are the basis for most of the shots, which frame a cracked or sliced pod in a manner that centers on their unique components.
The botanic garden’s collection is global in scope and boasts about 100 individual pieces per species, meaning Biss sorted through hundreds of thousands to choose the final 117 that have culminated in his new book The Hidden Beauty of Seeds & Fruits. Initially culled based on aesthetics, the resulting selection encompasses all processes of seed dispersal, along with information about morphology, location, and history. “I tried to make sure all methods were included in the overall edit so that the work becomes an educational tool, not just pretty pictures,” Biss tells Colossal, further explaining the research process:
Each specimen is contained within a small box, and sometimes, you would find a handwritten note on a scrap of paper where the botanist provided a visual description of the surroundings where the specimen was found. Some of these specimens are over 100 years old, and reading these very personal notes made me wonder what the botanist had to go through to find that specimen. What were their traveling conditions like? What did they have to endure to bring the specimen back to Edinburgh? Reading these notes gave me a connection with the botanist and was certainly one of my personal highlights of the project.
On view in the same space as the original specimens, Biss’s photos are up at the Royal Botanic Gardens through October 31. The Hidden Beauty of Seeds & Fruits, which is published by Abrams, is available now on Bookshop, and you can find prints from the series on the photographer’s site. Keep up with his biological snapshots, which include a striking collection of iridescent beetles, on Instagram.
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Considering eighty percent of the earth’s oceans have yet to be explored, it’s not surprising that their mysterious depths continue to turn up new discoveries. A July 2021 expedition into the Hydrographer Canyon off the New England coast was no exception when a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stumbled upon a striking red jellyfish. Spotted at 2,297 feet, the pulsing creature is presumed part of the genus Poralia, which until now, was comprised of a single species.
Scientists say the unfamiliar marine animal appears to have more tentacles than the Poralia rufescens, meaning that it’s likely an entirely new species yet to be classified. “The jellyfish also seemed to have nematocyst warts on the exumbrella (the upper part or outside of the jellyfish’s bell) that probably function both for defense but also to trap prey. The radial canals of this genus often branch randomly, which is not usual for other related jellyfish,” the NOAA said in a statement.
Using the remote-operated Deep Discoverer, the team spotted the creature in the mesopelagic zone—this area, which spans 656 to 3,281 feet, is also referred to as the twilight zone because it’s the last region sunlight can reach before giving way to total darkness—of the Atlantic Ocean around the Gulf Stream. The vehicle is equipped with 20 LED lights that illuminate the ocean depths and allow for high-definition footage like the rare video shown below.
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Editor's Picks: Science
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.