Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Mouse brains! Bat embryos! Hungry algae! Today, Olympus unveiled the winners of the tenth annual BioScapes photography competition, which showcases the best photography captured through light microscopes. The top ten were chosen from a mind-boggling 2,100 entries.

What's really cool about BioScapes is how drastically imaging technology has improved since the competition began. These shots from 2009, only four years ago, prove that microscopy is getting exponentially better every year. The images below are sharper, more realistic, and simply more beautiful. Let's start with some honorable mentions, then move on to the top ten.


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Honorable Mention

Charles Krebs, who won Bioscapes' seventh place prize, also received an honorable mention for this lovely, Georgia O'Keeffe-esque image of a dissected Camellia bud—it shows immature anthers and filaments against the unopened flower petals.


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Honorable Mention

Norfolk's Dr. David Maitland Feltwell captured this image of the Cocoa nut palm (Cocos comosa) stem with xylem vessel "eyes" in vascular bundle "faces."


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Honorable Mention

University of Wrocław's Magdalena Turzańska University of Wrocław captured a beautiful image of Lepidozia reptans, aka the pinnately branched leafy liverwort—a common type of buttercup!


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Honorable Mention

Stanford scientist Ahmad Salehi, MD, used brightfield micsoscopy to reveal the structure of the brain of a mouse—specifically, the hippocampal region.


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Tenth Place

A paramecium—a protozoa used in science classrooms and labs as an example of a basic organism—is the subject of this image by Ralph Grimm of Jimboomba, Australia. These little dudes live in fresh water. They actually use water to propel themselves, too, by sucking it in and out of two vacuoles at each end of its body.


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Ninth Place

The caddisfly—a common type of moth-like fly that nests in water and soil—builds its own protective case, often out of silk and bits of sand or soil. This image by Fabrice Parais of Normandie, France, shows a larvae with a translucent case.


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Eight Place

These little dongles are actually mouse tails, which have been stained to illuminate the hair follicle stem cells. The image was captured using confocal imaging by NYC scientist Yaron Fuchs at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Seventh Place

Glassworms—aka phantom midge larva (Chaoborus)—are found in lakes all over the world. But, as its name suggests, it's usually hard to spot given its translucent skin. Washington scientist Charles Krebs used specialized illumination to reveal the the structure of these nearly invisible larvae.


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Sixth Place

Basel scientist Kurt Wirz wins for the most heartwarming entry: His image, entitled Brother Bugs, shows two-hour-old squashbugs enjoying their first moments together.


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Fifth Place

Dr. Dylan Burnette, from the National Institutes of Health, illuminated the embryonic fibroblasts of mice to show their basic structure—including actin filaments (red), mitochondria (green) and DNA (blue).


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Fourth Place

UK scientist Spike Walker used darkfield illumination to capture a section of the Lily flower bud, which is just as exotic on the microscopic level as on the visible scale.


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Third Place

Dr. Igor Siwanowicz, a neurobiologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Virginia, shot this single-cell fresh water algae (desmids)—magnified by 400x, of course.


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

Second Place

An Oxford scientist named Dorit Hockman took this shot of a bat embryo using stereo microscopy. It shows an unborn black mastiff bat Molossus rufus, wrapped in alien-esque white wings.


Behold the Monstrous Beauty of This Year's Coolest Microscopic Images

First Place

Siwanowicz took home first as well as third place—his winning image shows the gaping maw of an aquatic carnivorous plant, the humped bladderwort Utricularia gibba. "The plant feeds on microinvertebrates, and sucks them in within a millisecond after they touch the trigger hairs growing from the center of the plant's dome-shaped trap," explains the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Those neon circles inside? Those are single-cell organisms that have just been devoured.


The lead image by David Millard of Austin, Texas, shows the body scales of a great purple hairstreak butterfly (Atlides halesus). Check out the rest of the images over at the BioScapes page.