Leg of the female drone fly, Eristalis tenax

This confocal microscope image shows the pretarsus (the distal tip of the leg) of a female drone fly, with many fine hairs and bristles visible. The number, appearance and placement of bristles across the legs and thorax region of many insects can help biologists to identify specific taxonomic groups: species, genera, families, orders and classes (in ascending size…

Juvenile file clam, Lima

Bivalves are molluscs with two shells, such as oysters, mussels and clams. As adults, these are all sessile, unable to move far from their anchor point on rocks and other surfaces. But movement is necessary to avoid overcrowding and food shortages – these animals have mobile larval and juvenile stages which are pelagic (move through the water…

Iridescent scales on the wing of the sunset moth

The colour patterns on the wings of Lepidopterans (butterflies and moths) are costructed from thousands of scales. The sunset moth, Chrysiridia rhipheus have unique, iridescent patches which are produced not by pigmentation, but by microscopic adaptations to the structure of the scales themselves. Each one is made up of multiple layers, held separated by randomly located…

Shark denticles, scanning electron microscope

Shark skin is covered in thousands of tiny, tooth-like scales called denticles. The shape of the denticles varies between different species, and can not only be used to identify modern animals, but can be adapted to provide greater protection, minimise drag or even allow the passage of bioluminescence (light-up sharks!). Image courtesy of Erin Dillon

Chiton radula (Chaetopleura articulata) capped with magnetite

Most molluscs (slugs, snails and many shellfish) use a radula to scrape algae and other food from the surface of rocks and shells. It’s a large, complex structure which resembles a giant alien tongue with many rows of teeth, and can be more than half the length of the whole animal! But chitons have an even more…

Developing lobster egg

Developing lobster egg, with eye and legs visible at the bottom left and right, respectively. Image courtesy of Tora Bardal and the Nikon Small World competition.