Microscope photos reveal an alien universe just beyond reach

Ralph Claus Grimm/Nikon Small WorldThe compound eye of a honey bee covered in dandelion pollen.

The world we see every day is just one view of life on Earth.

But microscope photography — which can record details in objects that no human eye can — shows a universe of high-resolution bee stingers, tadpole brains, moth wings, and other creepy-crawly delights.

The 2015 Nikon Small World competition collects the finest microscope photos from around the world.

Nikon will release the winners on October 14. Until then, browse the finalists below.

Rove beetle head

Joseph Parker/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 10x

Juvenile starfish

Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 10x

Intake of a humped bladderwort, a freshwater carnivorous plant

Igor Siwanowicz/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 100x

Adult marine worm

Nikon Small World
Method: Macroscopy 30x

Tentacles of a carnivorous plant

Method: Image Stacking 20x

Mouse neurons in culture

Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 10x

Torn photographic film (Fujifilm)

Teresa Zgoda/Nikon Small World
Method: Reflected Light 10x

Numerical traces on a Blu-ray disc

Nikon Small World
Method: Fibre Optic Illumination 100x

The radula or feeding structure of a limpet (an aquatic snail)

Nikon Small World
Method: Darkfield Epi. 40x

Anther of a flowering Arabidopsis thaliana plant

Heiti Paves/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 20x

Blood vessels and neural cells in a mouse retina

Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 200x

Root tip of a dicot plant

David Spears/Nikon Small World
Method: Differential Interference Contrast 25.5x

Red fossil coral slab

Norm Barker/Nikon Small World
Method: Reflected Light 20x

Degenerating LCD screen liquid

Christian Bohley
Method: Polarised Light 100x

Jewel beetle hairs

Luca Toledano/Nikon Small World
Method: Macroscopy, Image Stacking 32x

Mouse bicep muscle cross-section

Dr. Konstantin Bergmeister
Method: Fluorescence -immunohistochemistry 20x

Mouth parts of a blowfly

Raymond Morrison Sloss/Nikon Small World
Method: Brightfield 750x

Crystallised flame retardant

Yoji Tanaka/Nikon Small World
Method: Polarised Light, Retardation Control 25x

Living rotifer

Bernd Walz/Nikon Small World
Method: Darkfield 400x

Antenna of a male moth

Igor Siwanowicz/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 100x

Australian grass seed

Viktor Sykora/Nikon Small World
Method: Darkfield 5x

African clawed toad tadpole's head

Helen Rankin/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 10x

Vilene fabric with drops of glue

Dr. Marta Guervos
Method: Brightfield, Fluorescence 80x

Head of a long-jawed spider

Geir Drange
Method: Reflected Light 10x

Light emitted by a single cell over time

Rebecca Saleeb, Robert Henderson & Paul Dalgarno/Nikon Small World

Vascular bundles of papyrus plant

Dr. David Maitland
Method: Differential Interference Contrast 200x

Garnet stone with magnetite inclusions

Aaron Palke/Nikon Small World
Method: Polarised Light 15x

Moth wing scales

Donald Parsons/Nikon Small World
Method: Image Stacking 300x

Water flea

Jacek Myslowski/Nikon Small World
Method: Fluorescence 200x

Underside of a frog tadpole

Katherine Pfister/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 10x

Human stem cells that have morphed into neurons

Ariadna Recasens/Nikon Small World
Method: Fluorescence 20x

Feeding rotifers

Charles B. Krebs
Method: Brightfield 100x

Hairyback worm (bottom) next to algae (top right)

Roland Gross
Method: Differential Interference Contrast 400x

Spore capsule of a moss

Henri Koskinen
Method: Reflected Light

Crystalized acne medication

Dr. John Hart
Method: Polarised Light 33x

Cross-section of a fossilized bone from a prehistoric horse

Dr. Santiago Gomez
Method: Polarised Light 100x

Clam shrimp

Ian Gardiner/Nikon Small World
Method: Darkfield, Focus Stacking 25x

Mouse colon colonised with microbes from inside a human

Kristen Earle, Gabriel Billings, KC Huang & Justin Sonnenburg
Method: Confocal 63x

Mitochondria in a live cancer cell

Dr. Reto Paul Fiolka
Method: 3D Structured Illumination Microscopy 63x

Cross-section of a leaf on a water lily bud

Dr. David Maitland
Method: Brightfield 12.5x

Rat cerebellum cross-section

Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 200x

Vampire moth mouthparts, used to feed on fruit and mammals

Dr. Matthew S. Lehnert
Method: Confocal 10x

Larva of a horseshoe worm

Dr. Richard R. Kirby
Method: Darkfield 450x

Cow lung artery cell, with structural fibres (black), mitochondria (red), and DNA (blue)

Dr. Talley J. Lambert
Method: 3D-Structured Illumination Microscopy 60x

Mouse tongue cross section

Dr. Matthew Kofron & Tayaramma Thatava
Method: Confocal 60x

Close-up of ancient Chinese pottery

Yvonne (Yi-Chieh) Lu
Method: Macroscopy 4x

A black witch-hazel leaf producing crystals to defend against hungry animals

Dr. David Maitland
Method: Differential Interference Contrast 100x

A micro-engraving on a glass microscope slide created in the year 1880

Howard Lynk
Method: Darkfield 100x

Ostrich fern cross section

Anatoly Mikhaltsov
Method: Brightfield 250x

Bacterial DNA and a chemical probe binding inside bacteria, just following division

Dr. Robert Markus & Dr. Jafar Mahdavi
Method: DNA-YOYO-1: green pixels for high res & purple for wide field; Cy5-probe: yellow pixels for high res & orange for wide field

Gold and titanium electrodes covered by graphene sheet

Dr. Aleksandar Matkovic
Method: Brightfield 500x

Foraminifera shells from the sea

Caoimhghin Ó Maolagáin
Method: Reflected Light 40x

Cow artery cells

Dr. Robert Markus
Method: Structured Illumination Microscopy 1,100x

Buoyancy organs of a phantom midge larva

David Linstead/Nikon Small World
Method: Polarised Light 125x

Eye of a honey bee covered in dandelion pollen

Ralph Claus Grimm/Nikon Small World
Method: Reflected Light 120x

Stinger of a honey bee

Harry Leung/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 20x

Colony of single-celled organisms

Arturo Agostino/Nikon Small World
Method: Differential Interference Contrast 160x

Nostoc -- a blue-green algae -- showing its chlorophyll organelles (red)

Kesara Anamthawat-Jonsson, Andrey N. Gagunashvili, and Ólafur S. Andrésson/Nikon Small World
Method: Fluorescence 400x

A 10.5-day-old muse embryo

Maria Boulina, Akira Chiba, and Hasitha Samarajeewa/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 11x

Individually coloured neurons in a live fruit fly larva

/Nikon Small World
Method: Fluorescence, Confocal

Suction cups on a diving beetle foreleg

Giorgio Seano and Rakesh K. Jain/Nikon Small World
Method: Image Stacking, Photo-merge 50x

Skin of a sea urchin

Richard Howey/Nikon Small World
Method: Polarised Light 63x

Pollen grains of a peace lily

Marta Guervos/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 63x

Human neural stem cells

Cynthia Levinthal/Nikon Small World
Method: Fluorescence 200x

Fern sorus at varying stages of maturity

Rogelio Moreno Gill/Nikon Small World
Method: Fluorescence, Image Stacking 20x

Mites on insect pupa

Rogelio Moreno Gill/Nikon Small World
Method: Darkfield, Image Stacking 20x

A 3-D reconstruction of brown fat in a mouse

Daniela Malide/Nikon Small World
Method: Third Harmonic Generation Microscopy 40x

Lab-grown bud of a human mammary gland

Daniel H. Miller and Ethan S. Sokol/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 100x

Shells from a deep-sea dredge in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean

Robert B. Simmons/Nikon Small World
Stereomicroscopy 4x

Nerves and blood vessels in a mouse ear skin

Tomoko Yamazaki/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 10x

Cross section of fairburn agate from the Black Hills of South Dakota

Douglas Moore/Nikon Small World
Method: Fibre Optic Illumination 63x

Plastic pieces of a drifting fishing net

Robert B. Simmons/Nikon Small Wold
Method: Stereomicroscopy 5x

Zinc-stressed bacteria; red cells are healthy, yellow are impaired, and green are dead

Robert Newby/Nikon Small World
Method: Fluorescence 600x

DNA packaged inside a cell nucleus

Kirti Prakash/Nikon Small World
Method: Super-Resolution Microscope

Live imaging of blood vessels (red) in a mouse brain with a tumour (yellow/green)

/Nikon Small World
Method: Optical Frequency Domain Imaging System

Young buds of a flowering plant

Nathanael Prunet/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 40x

A 3-day-old peanut worm larva (yellow: cilia; blue: DNA; red: serotonin in the nervous system)

Michael J. Boyle/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal 40x

Power button of a mobile phone collected from the ocean bottom, which includes bryozoan crust (right) and marine worm tube (left)

Robert B. Simmons/Nikon Small Wold
Method: Stereomicroscopy 4x

Liquid crystal

Giuliano Zanchetta/Nikon Small World
Method: Polarised Light 20x

A liverwort plant's water sacs, which are often home to tiny aquatic animals called rotifers

Susan Tremblay/Nikon Small World
Method: Brightfield at 100x

Internal structures of a fungus mould

Samantha Roberts and Amy Gladfelter/Nikon Small World
Method: Fluorescence 63x

Nanoparticles suspended in water between two electrodes

Jie Zh Jie Zhang/Nikon Small World
Method: Brightfield 40x

Mouse embryo cells

Tetsuaki Miyake/Nikon Small World
Method: Confocal Live-Cell Imaging 100x

The mouth of a stentor, a filter-feeding microbial animal

Rogelio Moreno Gill/Nikon Small World
Method: Brightfield 40x

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