Perhaps no other photography competition opens our eyes to the intricacies of the natural world more than Nikon's annual Small World. A celebration of microscope photography, the entries offer up a unique window on the truly tiny organisms that live on and around us. Over 2,000 images were judged this year, sent in by both professional and amateur photographers from 70 countries.

Dr Oscar Ruiz of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center won top honours with his image of a four-day-old developing zebrafish.
Four-day-old zebrafish embryo, confocal 10x. Image: Dr. Oscar Ruiz/Nikon Small World

"Most of all I was looking for images that told a story and made me lean forward and say, 'what in the world?'" says biologist and science communicator Dr Joe Hanson, who sat on this year's judges panel. "The combination of talent and creativity and innovation behind the images just blew me away. Every year, these photographers are employing new technologies and finding incredible subjects. The science moves the art forward, the art moves the science forward… that’s an awesome cycle." 

The subjects captured in our favourite entries have been magnified tens (or even hundreds!) of times over, and many are the result of actual research. "These photos are more than just art, they're telling us something," adds Hanson.

Without further ado, take an otherworldly look at life on earth!

Eyes of a jumping spider (Hasarius adansoni) Reflected Light 9x. Image: Yousef Al Habshi/Nikon Small World
Leg of a water boatman (Corixidae) Polarized Light, Darkfield 25x. Image: Marek Mis/Nikon Small World
Leaves of Selaginella (lesser club moss). Differential Interference Contrast 40x. Image: Dr. David Maitland/Nikon Small World
Mouse hand, showing veins. Confocal 10x. Image: Evan Darling/Nikon Small World
Ant pupae (Myrmica sp.) Reflected Light/Focus Stacking 5x. Image: Geir Drange/Nikon Small World
Butterfly proboscis, stacking 6.3x. Image: Jochen Schroeder/Nikon Small World
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Scales of a butterfly wing underside (Vanessa atalanta) Microscopy 10x. Image: Francis Sneyers/Nikon Small World
Wildflower stamens. Fiber Optic Illumination 40x. Image: Samuel Silberman/Nikon Small World
Mouse retinal ganglion cells. Fluorescence/Confocal 40x. Image: Dr. Keunyoung Kim/Nikon Small World
Caudal (tail) gill of a dragonfly larva. Polarized Light, Darkfield 25x. Image: Marek Mis/Nikon Small World
Fangs of a centipede (Lithobius erythrocephalus). Fiber Optic Illumination/stacking 16x. Image: Walter Piorkowski/Nikon Small World
Curvepod Fumewort (Corydalis curvisiliqua) seed. Image Stacking 4.5x. Image: David Millard/Nikon Small World
65 fossil Radiolarians (zooplankton) carefully arranged by hand in Victorian style. Dark field, 100x. Image: Stefano Barone/Nikon Small World
Front foot (tarsus) of a male diving beetle. Confocal 100x. Image: Dr. Igor Siwanowicz/Nikon Small World
Testis of a fruit fly (Drosophila pseudoobscura) stained for DNA, showing the stages of sperm development Confocal 60x. Image: Christopher Large/Nikon Small World
Frontonia, a single-celled protist (showing ingested food). Differential Interference Contrast 200x. Image: Rogelio Moreno/Nikon Small World
"One of my favorite images was this one from Igor Siwanowicz," notes Hanson. "That special gear-like structure planthoppers use to balance their jumping force. It looks like something an engineer would put together if you asked them to build you a jumping bug, and it makes me want to high-five evolution." Gears interlock in the hind legs of a planthopper nymph. Confocal 250x. Image: Dr. Igor Siwanowicz/Nikon Small Worlds
Algae (Micrasterias thomasiana). Fluorescence 400x. Image: Jacek Myslowski/Nikon Small World
Water mite (Unionicolasp.). Fluorescence 100x. Image: Jacek Myslowski/Nikon Small Worlds


Top header image: Ammonite shell, Norm Barker/Nikon Small World