Feast your eyes on the incredible winners of the Nikon Small World in Motion contest, featuring tardigrade cannibalism, growing mouse embryos, and swimming coral polyps.
This year marks the ninth annual Nikon Small World in Motion contest, an annual award that celebrates video taken with a microscope. This year’s first prize went to Philippe Laissue, a biologist at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom.
Laissue’s video captures a coral polyp, the smallest individual unit of coral life, popping out of a staghorn coral, as well as the algae with which the coral has a symbiotic relationship. These corals are sensitive to light, so Laissue needed to develop a new low-light microscopy technique in order to capture the video.
Corals are compound animals, where single units called polyps aggregate into large colonies, producing calcium carbonate to form a stony skeleton, the “reef” of coral reefs. These reefs are hotspots for oceanic biodiversity. Staghorn coral is a critically endangered species that lives in the Caribbean and parts of the Gulf of Mexico. It can reproduce through asexual reproduction, in which parts of the unit break off to form a new unit. Sadly, they are susceptible to disease and bleaching, where they lose their beneficial algae and begin to starve.
Laissue hoped to highlight the “beauty of these organisms while raising awareness of their decline,” according to a Nikon press release.
Second and third place videos included parasites swimming around a dead copepod crustacean and a single-celled organism called Stylonychia creating swirls in the water.
Beauty exists at all scales, and now that scientists have the ability to film these scenes, we’re able to appreciate them like never before.