Forget about the bogeyman in the cupboard or the monster under the bed, check out these micro-monsters. These creepy crawlies really might be in your house (or nearby, at least), so enjoy these coloured scanning electron micrograph portraits … if you dare.
Human flea (Pulex irritans)
A human flea sucks up its blood meal by driving its piercing mouthparts, seen here in pink, into a capillary. An anticoagulant in its saliva stops clots forming.
Common blue butterfly larva (Polyommatus icarus)
This less scary, almost cute, caterpillar will spend most of its life eating before transforming into a common blue butterfly. It recruits ants for protection by secreting nutrient-rich substances, on which the ants feed.
Mosquito larva (Aedes aegypti)
When it grows up this larva may help to spread dengue fever, Zika virus and Chikungunya. But when it’s a baby, it feeds on algae and other microscopic organisms. It spends most of its time at the water’s surface before pupating into an adult.
Head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis)
If this doesn’t make your head itchy, nothing will. Head lice suck small blood meals from the scalp, causing the intense itchiness associated with infestations. Strong arms with sticky grappling hooks mean the stubborn creatures can hold on tight.
Mayfly larva (Baetis sp.)
Baby bug or Jim Henson puppet? Mayfly larvae – also known as nymphs – live in fresh water and breathe through gills. Compound eyes are shown in black, just behind the antennae.
Diving beetle larva (Dytiscidae sp.)
This four-eyed alien-like face, belonging to the larva of a water-dwelling beetle, can be the last thing a tadpole sees before it’s snapped up and eaten.
Springtail (Bilobella sp.)
This six-legged “living fossil” has internal mouthparts so is not considered an insect. It feeds on decaying organic matter and if it runs into a predator, it can flick its tail downwards to propel them away, hence the name.
Brown carpet beetle larva (Attagenus smirnovi)
Looking like a miniature buffalo, a carpet beetle larva grazes on textiles such as wool, carpets, skins and furs. It’s a pest of homes and museum, where it uses its horn-like antenna to navigate around looking for food.
Large red damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula)
The damselfly has two gigantic eyes that resemble planets in this false colour image. This gives it fantastic vision to spot prey, predators and in the case of males, rival damselflies.
Phantom midge larva (Chaoborus crystallinus)
These larvae use their whiskery mouthparts to capture and kill prey and direct it straight into their mouth. Most of their body is transparent – the eyes being a notable exception – and they dwell in deeper water and sediments with low oxygen to escape predation.
Related reading: Meet the cookie micro-monster
Jake Port contributes to the Cosmos explainer series.
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