Biological Photography: Magnificent Microscopic & Ultraminiature Photos


Ever wonder what a taste bud on your tongue looks like up close? How about the proboscis of a moth, the scales of a butterfly wing or the contents of a drop of pond water? Seen through a microscope and photographed, biological subjects from human, plant and animal sources reveal stunning colors and patterns, and a depth of detail you may not have imagined possible.

Human Sweat Gland

(image via: The Telegraph)

What do you see in this image – a head of lettuce? The inside of a rose? The reality is far less romantic, but that makes it all the more fascinating. It’s a SEM (Scanning Electron Micrograph) of a human sweat pore, opening onto the surface of human skin.

Aquatic Fly Larvae

(image via: Fabrice Parais/ Nikon Small World Photo Micrography Competition)

It might look like some kind of bizarre horned creature, but this image actually shows the tail end of an Atherix ibis larvae. This aquatic fly, known colloquially as the watersnipe, lays its eggs in freshwater and looks decidedly less interesting as an adult.

Human Tongue Taste Bud

(image via: David Gregory & Debbie Marshall, Wellcome Images)

Tongues aren’t pretty, and taste buds are even less so. But all the same, it’s amazing to see these tiny receptors for the various flavors – salty, sour, bitter, sweet, spicy and savory – so close up. But enjoy these ugly biological wonders while you can if you’re prone to male pattern baldness, because curiously, they tend to go bald as well, leading to loss of taste sensations.

Monarch Butterfly Wing

(image via:

Images in various scales of magnification show the vivid, iconic black, orange and white coloration of the Monarch butterfly’s wings. While most other butterfly species have scales that are jagged and heavily ridged, those of the Monarch are smooth and rounded.

Split End of Human Hair

(image via: Liz Hirst, Wellcome Images)

Seeing how gnarly a split end of human hair looks when magnified many times over may just encourage people to trim their hair more often.

Anglerfish Ovary

(image via: James Hayden)

It could be an abstract painting, or a design on a blouse. But this colorful spiral design is actually a close-up of the ovary of an anglerfish. Photographer James Hayden magnified the image 4 times and colored the individual components. “I was trying to create an image that sharply defined the boundaries of the different parts of the specimen, so that the image could actually be used to demonstrate the morphology of the ovary and eggs,” he says.

Lung Cancer Cells

(image via: Anne Weston, Wellcome Images)

Lung cancer isn’t pretty – especially close-up. This shot by Anne Weston shriveled, graying lung tissue, a stark contrast to the voluminous, bright pink tissue seen in a healthy lung.

Flower Stem Section

(image via: Gerd A. Guenther)

The spiny sowthistle is a weed resembling dandelions, and is not exactly known for having prized looks. But in an extreme close-up, magnified 150 times, a small section of the flower stem reveals a surprising beauty in a range of colors that are invisible to the naked eye.

Blood Clot

(image via: David Gregory & Debbie Marshall, Wellcome Images)

A solitary white blood cell floats among a big, messy clot of red blood cells in this extreme close-up of coagulated blood.

Discus Fish Scales

(image via: Dr. Havi Sarfaty)

Popular in aquariums because of their dazzling colors, Discus fish are just as gorgeous when viewed at 20x magnification. Each little scale resembles a tiny spiky fan of pearlized silver and brilliant orange flesh.

Villi of the Small Intestine

(image via: Professor Alan Boyde, Wellcome Images)

It sort of resembles a creature you’d find at the bottom of the sea, but this image actually comes from inside someone’s small intestine. Villi are tiny, fingerlike projections that increase the absorptive area and the surface area of the intestinal wall.

Moth Proboscis

(image via: Didier Grunwald)

Like a human fingernail allowed to grow entirely too long, the ‘nose’ of this particular moth curls into itself. Moths unfurl and extend their proboscises to suck up fluids, and some – like that of the Madagascan moth – have hooks and barbs shaped like harpoons that allow them to stay in place while drinking the tears of sleeping birds.

6-Day Old Human Embryo

(image via: Yorgos Nikas, Wellcome Images)

Seeing this image of a six-day-old human embryo implanting in the uterine wall reminds us of the fact that this is how each and every one of us begins our lives.

Drop of Pond Water

(image via: Jesper Gronne)

You might take more care when swimming in ponds after seeing exactly what’s found inside a single drop of pond water, magnified 100 times. Oval and spherical single-celled organisms called ciliates, as well as paramecium, diatoms and amoebas can be observed floating around. But don’t let it bother you – your entire body is covered with similar creatures.

Golden Pheasant Feather

(image via:

Composed of keratin, lipids and the pigments that give them their beautiful brilliant colors, feathers are particularly fascinating given the amazing work that they do. A complex design of quills, barbs and interlocking hooklets that provide both stiffness and flexibility, yet are incredibly lightweight, form stunning patterns when viewed under a microscope.

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