Stunning Photos of the Natural World—Taken Through a Microscope

Weird and beautiful photos from Nikon's Small World competition.  

It's impossible to ignore nature right now, even living in New York City. The trees are on fire with deep red, vivid orange, and bright yellow leaves. Yet even if you stop to examine a fallen leaf, or, if you look at dew on a spider web (the photo above), there's only so much the human eye can see. Look at life under a microscope, and a beautifully bizarre world emerges.

Nikon celebrates that hidden realm each year with its Small World photomicrography competition. The camera company announced the 2013 winners and finalists this week, and we've got a selection of the weirdly wonderful images below.

If you're up for a challenge, try to guess the subject of each image before scrolling down to the caption.

A veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) embryo. Cartilage is blue, and bone is red. 


Quail embryo. (0.5x)


Detail of the microtubules and nucleus in a cultured kidney cell of a monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops). (100x)


Peacock feather section. (50x)


Eye of the ghost shrimp (Macrobrachium). (140X)


Butterfly tongue. (60x)


A single live Ricordea florida, a soft coral. (20x)


Adult mouse foot showing blood vessels, immune cells, and soft tissue.


An insect wrapped in spider web. (85X)


Geranium (Geranium bohemica) seed. (10x)


This shot of a paramecium sp. showing the nucleus, mouth, and water expulsion vacuoles, took fourth place. (40x)


Third place went to a photo of a marine worm. (20x)


Coming in second was the retina of a painted turtle (Chrysemys picta). (400x)


First place went to a marine diatom, called Chaetoceros debilis, a colonial plankton organism. (250x)