Insects under the microscope

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By | From the Collections

For National Insect Week, Hannah Brown shares some of her favourite insect images from Wellcome Images.

Robert Hooke’s drawing of the head and eyes of a drone-fly appeared in his book, ‘Micrographia’, the first book to illustrate insects and plants as seen through a microscope. It was published in 1665 and was the first major publication of the Royal Society, and the first scientific best-seller. Samuel Pepys called it “the most ingenious book that I ever read in my life”.

L0034687 Robert Hooke, Micrographia, head and eyes of drone-fly Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Micrographia: or some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses with observations and Inquiries thereupon, By Robert hooke, Fellow of the Royal Society, 1665. Engraving is Schem.XXIV. Described on facing page (p.175):Observation XXXIX, Of the eyes and head of a grey drone fly. 1665 Micrographia Robert Hooke Published: 1665 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Engraving of the eyes and head of a grey drone fly by Robert Hooke.  Micrographia, 1665. Wellcome Images reference: L0034687.

Images of insects capture the public’s imagination today as much as they did in the 17th Century. Here’s an image of the head of a House fly (Musca domestica). It is a photomacrograph, created using a modern imaging technique where multiple photographs are taken at different focus distances and then combined or stitched together. This produces a final image with greater sharpness and detail throughout. The image has a remarkably similar level of detail to Hooke’s hand drawn illustration, based on observations using a microscope.

Fly's head

Photomacrograph of the head of a common house fly (Musca domestica). Image credit: Macroscopic Solutions, Wellcome Images.

And the fascination with insects continues – this image of a swallowtail butterfly was a winner at the Wellcome Image Awards 2016:

Swallowtail butterfly

Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio), Photomacrograph, 2014. Image credit: Macroscopic Solutions, Wellcome Images.

For ‘insectophiles’ everywhere, Hannah has also put together a Flickr gallery of insect images from our collections.

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