The tiny subject landed on Igor Siwanowicz's hand one day and began biting him, prompting the photographer and biochemist to place the insect in a test tube he keeps in his pocket for just such occasions.
Back at the lab, Siwanowicz, of Madison, Wisconsin, carefully fixed and dyed the now dead lacewing for the photo—no easy task, as the bug's head measured just 1.3 millimeters in length.
"My art causes a dissonance for its viewer—a conflict between the culturally imprinted perception of an insect as something repulsive and ugly with a newly acquired admiration of the beauty of its form," he said in a statement.
Sponsored by Nikon, the annual Small World contest honors pictures taken with light microscopes "that successfully showcase the delicate balance between difficult scientific technique and exquisite artistic quality."
Image courtesy Donna Stolz, University of Pittsburgh/Nikon Small World
3rd Place: Algae
A living specimen of the algae species Melosira moniliformis (right) is magnified 320 times in a prizewinning microphoto by Frank Fox of the Trier University of Applied Sciences in Germany.
Top images from the 2011 Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition will be exhibited in a full-color calendar and in a U.S. museum tour.
Image courtesy Frank Fox, Trier University/Nikon Small World
4th Place: Liverwort
They may look like lizard feet, but these colorful, branching patterns festoon liverwort, a type of plant. The University of British Columbia's Robin Young magnified liverwort 20 times to capture the award-winning picture.
Image courtesy Robin Young, University of British Columbia/Nikon Small World
5th Place: Microchip Surface
Resembling a funhouse maze, a 3-D reconstruction of a microchip's surface is magnified 500 times in an image by Germany's Alfred Pasieka. As in past years, a panel of journalists and scientists chose the 2011 Small World award winners.
Image courtesy Alfred Pasieka, Nikon Small World
6th Place: Cracked Solar Cell Films
Cracked and magnified 50 times, solar cell films become abstract art in the sixth-place picture, taken by Dennis Callahan of the California Institute of Technology. The films contain gallium arsenide, a mixture of the elements gallium and arsenic that acts as a semiconductor in solar cells.
Image courtesy Dennis Callahan, California Institute of Technology/Nikon Small World
7th Place: Mouse Nerve Fiber
Magnified 40 times with a laser-scanning microscope, the intricate latticework of nerve fibers in a mouse retina pop with color in this picture by Gabriel Luna of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Image courtesy Gabriel Luna, U.C. Santa Barbara/Nikon Small World
8th Place: Colorful Granulite
Bold strokes of color enliven a picture of graphite-bearing granulite, a metamorphic rock consisting mainly of feldspar and quartz. Bernardo Cesare of Padova, Italy, magnified the rock—collected in Kerala, India—2.5 times and earned eighth place in the Small World photo competition.
Image courtesy Bernardo Cesare, University of Padova/Nikon Small World
9th Place: Marine Copepod
Not to fear—this evil-looking marine copepod is a tiny crustacean and among the most common types of multicelled creatures in the oceans.
Jan Michels, of the University of Kiel in Germany, snapped this belly-up view at ten-times magnification. (See more award-winning pictures of microscopic life.)
Image courtesy Jan Michels, University of Kiel/Nikon Small World