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11 Magnified Photos of Creepy Crawlies

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Thanks to electron microscopes, we can get an extremely close-up view of the wonder—or the horror—of the world around us. Here are a few images that just might fuel your nightmares.

1. Schistosome Parasite

Bruce Wetzel and Harry Schaefer via Wikimedia Commons

The schistosome parasite—magnified 256 times—lives in certain types of freshwater snails. It emerges into the water, where it can live for up to 48 hours. And now, for the horrifying part: The parasite can penetrate the skin of people who come into contact with contaminated water. After several weeks, the parasites mature into adult worms, which live and produce eggs in blood vessels.

Most people with schistosomiasis show no early signs, but "may develop a rash or itchy skin. Fever, chills, cough, and muscle aches can begin within 1-2 months of infection," according to the CDC. And that's just the beginning of the terrible havoc the eggs of this parasite wreak: 

Eggs that are produced usually travel to the intestine, liver or bladder, causing inflammation or scarring. Children who are repeatedly infected can develop anemia, malnutrition, and learning difficulties. After years of infection, the parasite can also damage the liver, intestine, lungs, and bladder. Rarely, eggs are found in the brain or spinal cord and can cause seizures, paralysis, or spinal cord inflammation.

The parasites that cause schistosomiasis aren't found in the U.S., but 200 million people are infected worldwide.

2. Thaumetopoea processionea

This oak processionary caterpillar—which can be found in central and Southern Europe, and as far north as Sweden—has been magnified 30 times. In addition to posing a threat to oak trees, they also bother humans: Those little hairs (also called setae) are poisonous, causing asthma and skin irritation. According to a UK forestry website, they get their name because of their "distinctive habit of moving about in late spring and early summer in nose-to-tail processions."

3. Fruit Fly

Wikimedia Commons

Drosophila melanogaster—a common fruit fly, also called a vinegar fly—is often used in scientific research, and was one of the first organisms used for genetic analysis. The complete fruit fly genome was sequenced and published in 2000.

4. Cimex lectularius


Also known as a bed bug. This particular image, snapped by a scanning electron micrograph and digitally colorized, shows the insect's mouthparts, which it uses to pierce skin and drink your blood while you sleep. C. lectularius prefers to dine on human blood, but there are other types of bed bugs that dine exclusively on other animals, like poultry and bats.

Another fun fact about bed bugs: They mate using traumatic insemination. According to the paper "Reducing a cost of traumatic insemination: female bedbugs evolve a unique organ" published in a 2003 issue of the The Royal Society,

The male pierces the abdomen of the female with a sclerotized, needle-like paramere and inseminates into her body cavity despite the prescence of a fully functional female reproductive tract ... The females of C. lectularius (and most other cimicids) possess an organ called the spermalege. It has two embryologically discrete parts: the ectodermal ‘ectospermalege’ and the mesodermal ‘mesospermalege’. The ectospermalege consists of a groove in the right-hand posterior margin of the fifth sclerite overlying a structurally modified pleural membrane. During traumatic insemination, male bedbugs insert their intromittent organ into this groove, pierce the pleural membrane and so gain access to the female’s haemocoel (body cavity). ... Attached to the wall of the haemocoel, directly underneath the external groove, lies its second component: the mesospermalege. During traumatic insemination, sperm and seminal fluid are ejaculated into this haemocyte-containing membrane bound sac. Sperm travel out of the posterior part of the mesospermalege into the female’s haemolymph (blood) from where they migrate to specialized sperm storage structures (the seminal conceptacles) and then on to the ovaries where fertilization takes place.

So ... there you go.

5. Mosquito


This image, captured by a scanning electron microscope, shows an Anopheles gambiae mosquito magnified 114 times. A. gambiae is actually seven different species of mosquito that are indistinguishable from each other; this is called a complex.

6. Colorado Potato Beetle Nymph

Image courtesy of BARC/USDA

This image, snapped by a low temperature scanning electron microscope (LTSEM), shows a frozen first instar nymph of the Leptinotarsa decemlineata—also known as the Colorado Potato Beetle—magnified 100 times. As you might infer from its name, this bug loves potato crops and destroys plenty of them (and sometimes eggplant and tomato crops, too).

7. Head Louse

Looks kind of like a sloth, doesn't it? A sloth that climbs through your hair (and sometimes your eyebrows and eyelashes) laying eggs. Adult lice are just 2 to 3 mm long; this one has been magnified 200 times. The CDC estimates that, in the U.S., there are between 6 and 12 million cases of lice infestation in children 3 to 11 years old annually.

8. Yellow or Citrus Mite

Wikimedia Commons

Behold Lorryia formosa, the yellow mite. This head-on view of the citrus pest—which is falsely colored—was captured by freezing the mite and using a scanning electron microscope magnified 850 times. You can see a top view here.

9. Water Bear

ESA/Dr. Ralph O. Schill via NASA

Also known as Tardigrades, water bears are segmented, water-dwelling extremophiles (they're so extreme that even the vacuum of space is no big deal). When fully grown, they're just .5mm long. The critters were first described by German pastor J.A.E. Goeze in 1773; he called them kleiner Wasserbär, which means "little water bear." Perhaps Stephen Gammell used them as inspiration for his Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark illustrations?

10. Grub

Flickr user Rodger Evans

Even in extreme close up, this grub will never be as horrifying as this giant variety, which turn into rhinoceros beetles.

11. Brown Recluse Spider


This pleasant looking guy, photographed at 27 times its normal size by scanning electron micrograph, was found in a Kentucky barn. Unlike other spiders—which have four pairs of eyes—Loxosceles reclusa has only three, and though tiny (typically under an inch), it packs serious bite: Brown recluses have potentially deadly hemotoxic venom, which can sometimes cause necrosis of the skin.

BONUS: Snail Love Dart

Wikimedia Commons

Sure, "love dart" sounds romantic, but hermaphrodite snails use these parts to stab each other while mating. Not so sweet now, huh? This particular dart comes from the white-lipped snail (Cepaea hortensis) and looks like something straight out of a horror movie.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]