• PROOF:
  • May 18, 2015

Seeing Eye to Microscopic Eye

The eye is an organ of extreme perfection. I have a strong interest in evolution, and eyes have developed stunning adaptations over time. This mayfly (above) is a male with what are called turban eyes—greatly enlarged eyes at the top of the head in the shape of a turban. The male uses his eyes to scout for the silhouette of a female in the dim light of dusk. He doesn’t even have a working mouth. If you live for only one day, as adult males usually do, you don’t need to eat. But you do need tremendous eyes to find a female before you die.

I am a cancer researcher, but I also work as a science photographer under the name “Micronaut.” The “micro” is because I specialize in shooting very small things using a scanning electron microscope at the School of Life Sciences in Muttenz, Switzerland. “Naut” is because I feel like an astronaut with the scanner, flying along and making discoveries. The scanner creates black-and-white images that can take a week for me to enhance with color. Research like this is not just scientifically important—it is extremely beautiful.

The compound eye of a fruit fly

The fruit fly has a compound eye, a tightly packed collection of single lenses that gives the fly a gridlike view of the world. Scientists suspect the bristles may help protect the lenses, which have no eyelids, from dirt and debris.

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Moths have huge eyes covering almost their entire, relatively small, head. For better vision in the dark, moths’ brains store up images over time, giving their photoreceptors more chances to see in dim light. (In contrast, our photoreceptors “stream” images in a constant flow, which means old images are almost immediately lost.)

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Shrimps have compound eyes with square-shaped lenses. Scientists once believed that shrimps were blind. They now understand that although square lenses can’t bend light to create an image, as insect eyes do, mirrors in the box-shaped lenses do the trick.

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The book scorpion, so called because it likes to live in old books, has a primitive set of eyes equipped with only a few receptors. Some species lack external eyes altogether and use receptors just below the skin to detect light.

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Spider mites have a pair of eyes on each side of their bodies that can detect color and ultraviolet light waves. They rely on their vision to locate the undersides of host plant leaves in order to avoid UV radiation, which can be lethal to mites.


Martin Oeggerli’s photographs of eyes appear in the June 2015 issue of National Geographic. Oeggerli’s photo editor, Todd James, revealed more about how Oeggerli creates his colorful and stunningly detailed SEM photographs in a recent Proof post.

There are 25 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Ayesha
    July 15, 2015

    Amazing and weird !

  2. Audia
    July 13, 2015

    Incredible! Technology’s ability to capture the awesome wonders of life around us!

  3. Irene Hamilton
    July 13, 2015

    How do you know the critters see in color?

  4. Barbara Foster
    May 27, 2015

    Early in my microscopy training, the Royal Microscopical Society defined microscopy as “The Art & Science of making fine detail visible.” You have combined the best of both worlds: scientifically intriguing, artistically beautiful. Well done!

  5. Toni B.
    May 27, 2015

    Wow, artoscopy (art + microscopy) at its best!

  6. Frances
    May 25, 2015

    Quite interesting!

  7. mc.origans
    May 22, 2015

    fredyfaz bears pizza

  8. mc.origans
    May 22, 2015

    someone is comeing

  9. ken
    May 21, 2015

    Qedlin, very good. A joke obviously….I hope!??….

  10. Thao
    May 20, 2015

    They are dead insects right?

  11. Fornik Tsai
    May 20, 2015

    It’s beautiful.

  12. martin
    May 19, 2015

    Beautiful, fantastic, amazing.

  13. Richard W.Bernklau
    May 19, 2015

    WOW!

  14. Robert McKenzie
    May 19, 2015

    Thank you those are amazing…

  15. Barbara Dudley
    May 19, 2015

    Wow! amazing images and education…Just magnificent… 🙂

  16. mc.origans
    May 19, 2015

    I want a microscope

  17. mc.origans
    May 19, 2015

    its wings are weird

  18. Juan José Estrella Muñoz
    May 19, 2015

    Me gustaria recibir información y videos.

  19. Aman Arora
    May 19, 2015

    simply amazing details…..wold love to know the technique to capture such beauties

  20. viswanathan
    May 19, 2015

    interesting facts firing one’s curiosity

  21. Ahsan
    May 19, 2015

    Wow! Microbiology at it’s best… 😀

  22. kitten little
    May 19, 2015

    aaaaaaaaaaaaand we have a creationist everybody, let’s give it up now for the creationist! Thank you ladies and gents, thank you! XD

  23. khawla annoah
    May 18, 2015

    this is a work of art

  24. zhen huang
    May 18, 2015

    can’t believe it’s amazing, so beautiful photo, thanks the author to provide the extremely awesome photo to us.

  25. qedlin
    May 18, 2015

    No big deal, just random chance and time acting on biochemical interactions.

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