New photographic project captures intricate beauty of insects

A new collection of images launched this week by the Oxford University Museum of Natural History reveal in stunning detail the intricacies of insect anatomy. Each image is a composite of around 8,000 individual photos, with the artist Levon Biss painstakingly adjusting the lighting and settings for each one to best highlight the microscopic details…

Section through an octopus shows the mouth passing through the brain

Octopuses and other cephalopods are well-known for their exceptional intelligence and complex brains, which appear to outstrip all other invertebrates’. But, they work within one strange constraint – like all other molluscs (snails, slugs, oysters and more), the nerve ring at the centre of their nervous system encircles the oesophagus. In cephalopods, this nerve ring…

#ThrowbackThursday individual bone cells from ‘Lucy’ tell the story of her growth

This rather abstract-looking image shows a tiny patch (around 110 micrometres across) of an ancient hominid femur. ‘Lucy’ is one of the the oldest and probably the most famous early human-like primate, belonging to the species Australopithecus afarensis. She lived around 3.2 million years ago in sub-Saharan Africa, and her remains were discovered in 1974 in Ethiopia….

Platypus x-rays show shadows of its “reptilian” ancestry

Platypuses belong to an ancient group of mammals, the monotremes. Today, these are the only living mammalian species to lay eggs, and the group also includes echidnas. But, as the x-rays of Dr Larry Vogelnest show, the platypus retains several skeletal features which link it to its distant ancestors (often called reptiles, but more technically referred…

A lovely Alitta virens for #wormWednesday this week!

This exotic-looking annelid worm was actually found off the Scottish coast at St Andrews, and appears in the 1910 Monograph of the British Marine Annelids. Also known as the King Ragworm, this regal creature can grow up to 1.2 metres (4 feet) long! This species was also the first to be shown to use chemical…

#FossilFriday: A four-legged snake from Brazil points to the origins of modern snakes

It sounds like a contradiction, but palaeontologists from the UK and Germany have discovered a snake with legs! This stunning fossil, found in Brazil, dates from the time of the dinosaurs in the early Cretaceous period, which began more than 145 million years ago. The new species, Tetrapodophis [meaning four-legged] amplectus, has the characteristic anatomical features of a snake,…

A fluffy mammal? A furry tail? Believe it or not, this is a mollusc!

Well, this certainly isn’t the image that springs to mind when you think of molluscs – but the more recognisable snails, oysters and octopus only represent three out of the eight living groups. This beautiful creature is a solenogastre, one of the two vermiform (worm-like) molluscan groups. Solenogastres are found in oceans across the world, from…

Birds and others use structural trickery to produce vibrant blue colours

Peacocks, kingfishers and bluebirds are among some of the most eye-catching of birds, and in many cultures are particularly admired for their rich blue colours. We have long known that red and orange birds take their colour from their food, extracting pigments in the plant and animal matter they consume. Flamingoes are possibly the best-known example,…