Turns out you don’t need a horror film to increase your chance of having nightmares anymore, you only need to take a closer look at the little everyday things we take for granted. Our own eyes, our hair when we have split ends – these are things that were never meant to be seen up close, 'cause they look freaky AF. Ever wondered what some green leaf lettuce or a harmless little maggot looks like when they’ve been put under the microscope several times? Well, you do now and the results are quite terrifying.
Put a zoom lens on anything enough times and it starts to resemble some kind of alien world, a world that existed this whole time while we were sleeping and watching our box sets. Disturbing. Thanks a lot, science! If you’ve ever watched the scene in The Incredible Shrinking Man when the dude has to fight off a spider in his basement, try and imagine being shrunk down so small that you’re staring some of these images straight in the face. I hate spiders as much as the next person, but a choice between getting face to face with them and a microscopic hydrothermal worm? I’ll pick my furry eight-legged friend, thanks.
Ignorance is indeed bliss 'cause life was so much easier before you discovered what a sliced banana looks like up close (yes, even this is pretty freakish) or the fact that a long blue and yellow mite is crawling across your face right now – yes, this very minute. Here are 15 close up images that are weirdly beautiful and thought-provoking (but mostly, they’ll freak the hell out of you).
15 A Water Bear (aka Tardigrade)
You may have seen these creepy looking things making the rounds on the Internet lately because they’re now thought to be the world’s most indestructible creature. Yep, this ‘thing’ may outlive humanity and may still be around when the sun has long died out. That’s comforting. But what the heck are these hellish-looking creatures? They look a little like a low-budget sci-fi monster or a brown vacuum bag come to life, but they’re more remarkable than that.
These are tardigrades, commonly known as "water bears’" or "moss piglets" and they can thrive pretty much anywhere. They tend to live in wet environments like moss or in sediment at the bottom of lakes and rivers and when we say they can survive anything – we mean anything. These nightmarish microscopic nasties could survive exposure to boiling liquids, radiation, and will even be just fine out in the vacuum of space. Black holes should be afraid; looks like enough of these tardigrades together could suck one out of existence.
14 A Sliced Banana
This goes into the category: "strangely beautiful, but still please get it away from me!" We’re not quite sure how, but this is somehow a microscopic cross-section of a banana. It’s mesmerizing in its own way, but it still makes us think that we’ve stumbled on to some foreign alien land and we’re about to be ambushed for trespassing at any moment. How is this the run-of-the-mill everyday fruit we have lying around in a basket?
It kind of looks like a grand, yet gross and sticky palace. The patterns and rich yellow color almost reminds you of the golden throne room Ofelia stands in at the end of Pan’s Labyrinth. (Just me on that one?) It’s not just the intricate detail of the banana fruit’s rings and ridges that make this so freaky, it’s the stringy, glue-like flesh splitting in real-time. Who knew a banana could be so freakishly fascinating to look at?
13 A Hydrothermal Vent Worm
Take whatever you want, but please, don’t hurt me! This demonic creature looks like an early draft of the monster from Alien that was abandoned by the director for being too scary. Believe it or not (and we’re struggling to) this monstrosity is nothing more than a harmless hydrothermal vent tube worm that lives on the ocean floor – so just like a regular worm, but instead of eating dirt, it absorbs sulphuric particles. But unlike a regular worm, it’s microscopic appearance is the dictionary definition of horror.
Yes, these things live on the sea floor, but just because we’re unlikely to ever be near them physically, it doesn’t mean they can’t get into our imaginations...or in our nightmares. Knowing that the gigantic death portal mouth on display is really only less than a millimeter across isn’t much of a comfort either. We’ve seen it now and we can’t ever unsee it.
12 Dust Mites On Your Bed
Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but these nasties are probably crawling all over your bed sheets right now (whether you've recently washed them or not). These creepy-ass crawlies are common house dust mites and they pretty much dwell wherever they feel like it, but they can mostly be found on your pillows and sheets. In fact, this is pretty much a microscopic image of what your pillows look like right now. Sweet dreams!
"Don’t let the bed bugs bite" wasn’t just a silly little childhood phrase, after all – our parents were really just referring to these monstrosities and actually gave them a cute name like "bed bugs" too! I’d like to believe they don’t bite, but if they’re prepared to hoover up all the dead skin cells and bacteria that collects in your bed sheets, then actually biting us can’t be out of the question. At least we wouldn’t feel it though (as if that makes us feel better).
11 A Maggot
So, you probably weren’t curious but in case you ever wondered what a maggot looks like up close, here you go. You’re welcome. Maggots are pretty revolting from a distance anyway – they're slimy and synonymous with rotting food and dead bodies, hence the marvelous phrase “crawling with maggots.” So should we really be that surprised that these things look even more hideous up close? No, but then again, who could predict they had joke shop googly eyes on closer inspection, and fangs...actual fangs!
This is the body of a bluebottle fly maggot as seen under an electron microscope. We just thought we’d throw that in at some point in case you were otherwise convinced that this was actually the Antichrist. This almost takes the hydrothermal vent worm’s place for "most nightmarish creature up close" award, but not quite. When these two engage in battle though (and it’s filmed under a microscope) that will truly spell the end of the world.
Okay, so this may be the least freaky entry on this list of micro marvels, but it is still mind-boggling when you consider what this is a picture of and that thought is kind of freaky in itself. It’s hard to get our head around this because of what we can see with the naked eye, but this is, in fact, a collection of sand grains that have been magnified up to 300 times and the results are wonderfully weird.
Apart from when it’s beneath your feet on a warm summer’s day at the beach, sand can be a bit of a gritty annoyance, but as this image proves, it’s secretly a work of art. Sand is so much more than powdered rock, it’s a formation of gems in all the colors of the rainbow and this stunning collection of diverse pebbles are probably stuck to the sole of your flip flops as we speak.
9 Your Tongue
If you're dating someone and you’re currently in the "can’t keep your hands off each other" phase, it might interest you to know that your tongues actually look like this under closer inspection (imagine these coming into contact when you play tonsil tennis!). Our tongues are covered in mini little spikes – or micro tongues – that help pick up various tastes and sense pressure and temperature. Spare a thought for Gene Simmons, though. His tongue is, by definition, more terrifying under a microscope than most people’s.
It’s creepy to think of each of these mini pink receptors simultaneously recoiling in shock every time you eat spicy food or whenever you burn your whole tongue on hot coffee. I wonder if they all start flailing about and screaming when this happens – or whether they all bow in thanks when you give them a taste of Nutella. (You can probably tell I didn’t major in biology.)
8 Human Iris
They say that the eyes are the window to the soul, but this ain’t a window we want to pass through anytime soon. This is a close-up image of the human iris and it’s hypnotic in a pretty terrifying way. What would normally be a pair of deep hazel brown eyes looks more like a deadly black hole surrounded by a sand pattern carved out by aliens (or something to that effect).
This macro ocular portrait was taken by American physics teacher Suren Manvelyan as part of a series of close up images of the human eye and he described the results rather fittingly as resembling “the surface of unknown planets.” The iris definitely has something otherworldly about it. The rings and outer ridges of the iris also kind of resemble the lines of a crater after impact, as if the pupil is a black planet that has collided with your eye. Trippy.
We knew Velcro was designed to attach well to things, but we didn’t realize actual hooks were involved! The sound of Velcro as it rips off has to be one of the most satisfying noises in the universe, so it’s cool to know that this is really the sound of microscopic hooks pulling and snapping fibers. Still, the longer you look at this picture, it’s a little unsettling and kind of gives you that uncomfortable, itchy sensation.
Come to think of it, the hooks look like some kind of deep-sea alien worms grabbing at innocent coral and yanking it out of the sea bed. Terrifying! (Or it’s possible I’m reading too much into a microscopic picture). Either way, you have to admit that there's something a tad creepy about seeing Velcro in action and up close. Why should such a common material like Velcro have such an unsettling effect? There are far worse sights under the microscope...especially the next one on the list.
6 A House Fly
You know that well-meaning compliment someone pays you that because you’re so gentle and passive you "wouldn’t ever harm a fly?" Well, you may wanna rethink that side of your personality when looking at this thing, because someone needs to kill this with fire and quick. Just look at it! This isn’t an ordinary, harmless house fly, this is...Satan reincarnated. What’s with all the hairs and the thousands of eyes staring into your soul? Okay, so we already knew this about flies, but seeing one up close is a different matter.
And this is just a microscopic image of a fly hovering in mid-air. What if we were actually looking at one doing its thing and throwing up on to stuff? It doesn’t even bear thinking about! Maybe it won’t seem as bad if we just pretend that this fly is really just Jeff Goldblum buzzing around? Hmm maybe not.
We’re always told that lettuce is good for us, but judging by this freaky image I’m not so sure. Under a microscope, some perfectly ordinary green leaf lettuce appears to have some sort of mouth. Well, not so much a mouth as a gaping, green vortex into vegetable hell. (Could this be a representation of where all kids end up if they don’t eat their greens?) Whatever it is, it’s not right and it's putting me off going anywhere near a salad for fear it might attack.
This creepy lettuce mouth kind of reminds me of the singing Venus Fly trap plant in Little Shop of Horrors, but this angry looking beast doesn’t look like it’s going to belt out any funky tunes anytime soon. Like a lot of things on this list, it really just looks like it wants to steal my soul and spit me back out once it’s done.
4 Used Dental Floss
There’s nothing particularly nice about the appearance of dental floss at regular size. After all, we literally use it to pry old food out from between our teeth. It’s gross, we know this. But just in case it wasn't quite gross enough for you, science has stepped in to help. Feast your eyes on this delicious section of used dental floss, straight from someone's plaque-covered molars for your viewing pleasure! This doesn’t look like food particles as much as a living, breathing monster that wants to take over your bathroom cabinet (and possibly the world).
If the microscopic camera went in any closer on this image, you could probably start to identify the food groups mushed up in that mass of gunk and mouth bacteria. Nasty. On the other hand – as disgusting as this may look – it’s a great advert for why you definitely should floss. Just don’t blow it up and hang it on the wall in the elementary school science classroom, some kids might cry.
3 A Caterpillar
Caterpillars are those cute, harmless bugs that spend their days munching on leaves and scuttling along tree branches until the time comes that they turn into a beautiful butterfly. They even had a Pokémon named after them – they’re so cute, right? Wrong! They want your soul and I think they may want to enslave humanity judging by this picture. Where are its eyes? And if those are its eyes, why are their hairs coming out of them?! Shudder.
From the way its front legs are positioned, it kind of looks as if this caterpillar is clasping its hands together in the style of a James Bond villain (either that or it’s doing a terrific impression of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons). And if this is true, then it really is plotting against us. Hurry up and turn yourself into a butterfly, you prickly dead-eyed demon! Come back when you’re not so nightmarish!
2 Split Ends
This image kind of looks familiar – like something we may have seen in a shampoo commercial. Except that there’s no music or beautiful model or soothing voice-over explaining in vaguely scientific terms just what the heck it is we’re looking at. We’re not sure that this is even human hair. It looks more like a close-up section of a dehydrated candy bar. The individual ridges though are really just a super detailed picture of the natural layers in a human hair follicle, in this case damaged layers that are beginning to fray and make an unpleasant journey to splitsville.
I’d like to see advertisers show this grim, eerie image of what hair damage really looks like. It’s no good rendering the hair strands in pretty 3D for the sake of matching the bouncy, upbeat narration. People need to know how gross their hair really looks and then they might actually buy the "revolutionary new formula." Pfft.
1 Face Mites
As much as we like to pretend otherwise, we are covered from head to toe in bacteria. Millions of microorganisms like to travel all over our skin every minute of every day and a good portion of them are on our faces right now. Oh yeah, and they look like this. Half worm, half accordion...vacuum type thing. These microscopic eight-legged monsters eat, breed, and die on our faces (and all without paying any rent, I might add).
For the obsessive clean freaks out there (and I include myself firmly in that category) it doesn’t matter how many times you wash your face or how abrasive your face cloth is, there’s no getting rid of these things. But this is a good thing – they get rid of dead skin cells and suck up bad bacteria but really, do they have to look like this? Here’s a fun fact to leave you with – face mites don’t have anuses, so they store up their feces and "explode" with waste at the end of their life. Yup. On your face.
Sources: buzzfeed.com, cracked.com, bbc.com