Watch the World’s Tiniest Nature Films

Have you ever seen a termite digesting its food? Well, now you can. The winners of Nikon’s 2015 Small World in Motion contest used microscopes and video cameras to capture the beauty, wonder, and grossness of the tiniest parts of the natural world. 

First prize went to Wim van Egmond, curator of the Micropolitan Museum in the Netherlands, whose film showcased the microscopic equivalent of a lion devouring a gazelle: one microbe eating another inside a droplet of pond water. This is not van Egmond’s first Small World win; in 2012, he took home first prize in the still image competition.

“Wildlife is so close to us, yet most of us never look close enough to see it,” van Egmond said in a press statement. “A pool in your garden is actually a miniature underwater jungle teeming with life. If you want to see the world, your backyard is a great place to start.” 

Danielle Parsons, host of YouTube show Wonder Science TV, won second place for her video of termite digestion in action. Like humans, termites rely on bacteria to help them break down their food. This relationship is good for both the bacteria and the termite. “The fact that these are mutually beneficial relationships was appealing,” Parsons said in a press statement. “I think it's important to highlight examples of harmony in nature, and counterbalance a media climate that celebrates fear, disaster and conflict in nature. I think my video is significant in so far as it promotes the wonder of nature.”

This year’s third-place video is not for the squeamish. New Zealand scientist Gonzalo Avila took a video of a parasitic wasp larva bursting out of its caterpillar host. The action takes place on a very small scale, but that doesn’t stop it from being unnverving. The larva’s exit actually took several hours, but Avila sped the film up 64x, rendering the experience mercifully brief. It’s hard not to feel bad for the caterpillar, but Avila notes that these caterpillars are pests, and parasitic wasps play a crucial role in the ecosystem by helping to keep the population in check.

To see the rest of the winners, click here.

Banner image courtesy of Nikon Microscopes

University of York
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
UK Archaeologists Have Found One of the World’s Oldest 'Crayons'
University of York
University of York

A prehistoric chunk of pigment found near an ancient lake in England may be one of the world's oldest crayons, Colossal reports. The small object made of red ochre was discovered during an archaeological excavation near Lake Flixton, a prehistoric lake that has since become a peat wetland but was once occupied by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Though it’s hard to date the crayon itself, it was found in a layer of earth dating back to the 7th millennium BCE, according to a recent study by University of York archaeologists.

Measuring less than an inch long, the piece of pigment is sharpened at one end, and its shape indicates that it was modified by a person and used extensively as a tool, not shaped by nature. The piece "looks exactly like a crayon," study author Andy Needham of the University of York said in a press release.

A pebble of red ochre thought to be a prehistoric crayon
University of York

The fine grooves and striations on the crayon suggest that it was used as a drawing tool, and indicate that it might have been rubbed against a granular surface (like a rock). Other research has found that ochre was collected and used widely by prehistoric hunter-gatherers like the ones who lived near Lake Flixton, bolstering the theory that it was used as a tool.

The researchers also found another, pebble-shaped fragment of red ochre at a nearby site, which was scraped so heavily that it became concave, indicating that it might have been used to extract the pigment as a red powder.

"The pebble and crayon were located in an area already rich in art," Needham said. "It is possible there could have been an artistic use for these objects, perhaps for coloring animal skins or for use in decorative artwork."

[h/t Colossal]

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Tour the National Museum of Scotland From Home With Google Street View
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Google's Street View technology can be used to view some amazing art, whether it's behind the walls of the Palace of Versailles in France or the Guggenheim Museum in New York. As the BBC reports, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is the latest institution to receive the virtual treatment.

The museum contains items tracing the history of the world and humanity. In the Natural World galleries, visitors will find a hulking Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and a panorama of wildlife. In the World Cultures galleries, there are centuries' worth of art and innovation to see. The museum's permanent galleries and the 20,000 objects on display can all be viewed from home thanks to the new online experience.

Users can navigate the virtual museum as they would a regular location on Street View. Just click the area you wish to explore and drag your cursor for full 365-degree views. If there's a particular piece that catches your interest, you may be able to learn more about it from Google Arts & Culture. The site has added 1000 items from the National Museum of Scotland to its database, complete with high-resolution photos and detailed descriptions.

The Street View tour is a convenient option for art lovers outside the UK, but the museum is also worth visiting in person: Like its virtual counterpart, admission to the institution is free.

[h/t BBC]


More from mental floss studios