William Gilpin of Stanford University in the US won the sixth annual Nikon Small World in Motion Photomicrography Competition for his video depicting an eight-week-old starfish larva churning the water around its body as it searches for food.
Gilpin and his colleagues studied the starfish larva as a model system for how physics shapes evolution, and were surprised and intrigued that a common organism like a starfish could create such an intricate and unexpected pattern in the water.
These complex currents are not only aesthetically pleasing – they depict a phenomenon that was previously unknown, and illustrate how starfish larvae have evolved intricate appendages to create these beautiful and physically taxing flow patterns. The elegant vortices of water efficiently pull particles towards the animal’s body, but it comes at a price: reducing the larva’s ability to swim to escape predators while also broadcasting its current location.
Another feeding frenzy took second place in the 2016 Nikon Small World in Motion competition. The video by Charles Krebs of Issaquah, Washington, depicts the hunting technique of the predatory ciliate, Lacrymaria olor. The organism rapidly extends its neck, which can stretch more than seven times its body length in any direction, to capture its microscopic prey.
This year’s third place video, by Wim van Egmond of Berkel en Rodenrijs, Netherlands, reveals the unexpected beauty of the fungus Aspergillus niger, a common food contaminant, through a time-lapse of its flowering bodies. Each frame is a combination of around 100 images.
This particular strain is a mutation that results in sporangia of different colours. Even the individual spores are clear in this highly-detailed video.
For more information and to watch the 17 honourable mentions, check out the Small World in Motion website.
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