Published: June 2015

Picture of a male mayfly turban eye magnified with an electron microscope

Bug-Eyed

Story and Photographs by Martin Oeggerli

The eye is an organ of extreme perfection. I have a strong interest in evolution, and eyes have developed stunning adaptations over time. This mayfly is a male with what are called turban eyes—greatly enlarged eyes at the top of the head in the shape of a turban. The male uses his eyes to scout for the silhouette of a female in the dim light of dusk. He doesn’t even have a working mouth. If you live for only one day, as adult males usually do, you don’t need to eat. But you do need tremendous eyes to find a female before you die.

I am a cancer researcher, but I also work as a science photographer under the name “Micronaut.” The “micro” is because I specialize in shooting very small things using a scanning electron microscope at the School of Life Sciences in Muttenz, Switzerland. “Naut” is because I feel like an astronaut with the scanner, flying along and making discoveries. The scanner creates black-and-white images that can take a week for me to enhance with color. Research like this is not just scientifically important—it is extremely beautiful.

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