Is it a worm with a devil’s horns? How about some insane pasta-like art installation? Maybe a predatory underwater sea creature?
It’s none of the above. The image, which has been circulating on Reddit, is actually a mosquito’s foot magnified over 800 times.
Check it out from Live Science:
In a post on Reddit that garnered more than 32,000 upvotes, the photo doesn’t come with much more backstory than that. But the image is actually from a scanning electron microscope made by photographer Steve Gschmeissner.
It was shortlisted in the 2016 Royal Photography Society International Images for Science contest. It’s been reposted around the web quite a bit since then, Gschmeissner told Live Science, possibly because of its unexpected complexity.
The image shows the end of a mosquito’s leg, including a claw, scales and the pulvillus, a pad with adhesive hairs. According to Gschmeissner’s photo description, these scales dot the entire bodies of mosquitos but are particularly dense near the foot, and may help protect the limb and enable the mosquito to land on water, where these insects lay their eggs.
“Insects are fantastic for that because they have all this sort of fine microscopic details,” Gschmeissner said.
Gschmeissner has a degree in zoology and decades of experience in cancer research using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. He retired early 10 years ago to turn to making SEM images full time, and says he’s probably sold 25,000 images since then. His customers range from fine-art collectors and media companies to working scientists and album-cover designers.
“There was even a fashion collection based on my images, so all sorts of weird things,” Gschmeissner said.
Scanning electron microscopes blast a beam of electrons over the object to be imaged, which is coated in gold (a metal) so that the electrons scatter off the surface, returning information about its contours. Because they use electrons, SEMs have a very high resolution and can image even nano-sized structures.
Gschmeissner has photographed a massive variety of tiny worlds with this technique, many of which appear on his website:
Spiders, millipedes, wasps, maggots and ants are all featured in his diverse portfolio. He’s also imaged yeast cells, algae and the details of a marijuana leaf. Because of his background in cancer research, human micro-anatomy is one of his favorite subjects.
He’s even used the scanning electron microscope to image droplets of his own blood, revealing the red blood cells and platelets in amazing detail!
What do you think of this awesome new form of art?
What would you like to see imaged?