Astonishing Animals – The Mite Harvestman
Frozen in a thin layer of gold and captured by a scanning electron microscope this creature is barely 2mm long
The incredible complexity of a tiny mite harvestman, coated in a vanishingly thin layer of gold and frozen in time, is evident in this image produced using a scanning electron microscope (sem).
Invented in 1937, the sem gave scientists a view of another world, revealing the ins and outs of the tiny organisms that surround us. This image is just one of many incredible depictions of animals - over 300, in fact - featured in our new book Animal: Exploring the Zoological World.
Preparing specimens and using one of these machines is not easy, but the images made by David Evans Walter - a Canadian zoologist with an interest in mites and other small animals - are both visually arresting and scientifically valuable because of the detail they reveal.
The one downside of an sem is that the images it produces can never be in colour, because it renders the specimen using reflected electrons rather than light. Any colours are added to the image in post-processing.
Arthropods with a tough exoskeleton are perfect for sem work, because their bodies do not collapse during preparation or inside the vacuum of the machine. This specimen belongs to the suborder Cyphophthalmi, or mite harvestmen, and is part of the Pettalidae family. It is barely 2mm long, but Walter’s image reveals the complex exoskeleton of the body and the separate segments of the legs, which are attached to the body with ball-and-socket joints.
Harvestmen and mites are tiny arachnids, and they are some of the most successful animals. Mites in particular live everywhere, from the tops of the tallest mountains to the bottom of the deepest ocean trenches. Around 40,000 species are known, but there may be as many as a million. Along with the insects and nematodes, mites are the most diverse animals on the planet.
See more of the 300 plus ways we have documented the animals around us throughout time by ordering a copy of Animal: Exploring the Zoological World here. And check out our previous stories on Sir Edwin Landseer's Monarch of the Glenn, Underwater photographer Alexander Semenov's Lion's Mane Jellyfish, Cai Guo-Qing's Heritage and The Steppe Bison.