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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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.