Bug Eyes are Beautiful!

Bug Eyes are Beautiful! If the eyes are a window to our souls, then these gorgeous compound eyes will surely win you over.

• Each tiny facet (ommatidium) has a lens leading into a crystalline cone with light sensitive cells arranged like the segments of an orange. Individual eyes are insulated from others by a lining of pigment. The final image is a mosaic of light and dark dots, like the halftone illustrations in a newspaper. More ommatidia give a finer pattern of dots and a better resolution. Even so, the resolution of insect eyes is nowhere near that of ours: images we can separate at 60 feet would have to be one foot away to be distinguished by a honey bee.

• The big advantage to compound eyes is that they pick up movements very well because ommatidia can quickly turn on and off to give a flicker effect. Ever tried to swat a fly? Insects can see ultraviolet too.

These images were taken by photographer Thomas Shahan . Checkout more insect macrophotography at: http://thomasshahan.com/photos

More on compound eyes: http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/C/CompoundEye.html

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123 Responses to Bug Eyes are Beautiful!

  1. Indrani Roy says:

    Yet most popular evil characters in Scifi films are modeled on insects(magnified immensely) or reptiles. We need more imagination and not use these lovely organisms to feed our fears.

  2. Incredible, aren’t they!

  3. Rajini Rao says:

    Indrani Roy , while not quite lovely organisms as these insects, movies stereotype us scientists as “evil” too 🙂

  4. tim rowan says:

    i love bug shots and these are amazing

  5. singing “Sunglasses at Night” in my head

  6. Rajini Rao says:

    Thank you Karen Masullo for this listening suggestion: Corey Hart – Sunglasses At Night

  7. Jason Wright says:

    Fantastic photography!

  8. Rajini Rao says:

    Martin Sacha , great question! Spiders are arachnids, not insects, so they do not have compound eyes. Each eye is “single” with one lens. OOPS! I should send you all my posts to proof read before I share them 😉

  9. Dano DeBroux says:

    While I am certainly not trying to sidetrack the discussion (the eyes ARE beautiful), I find it interesting that the Intelligent Design supporters use the complexity of the human eye (not to mention insect eyes) as a counterpoint to evolution.

    Regardless of how these structures came into existence, I think it is a GREAT illustration of the beauty that exists at all levels of the universe.

  10. Rajini Rao I just wandered over to Thomas Shahan profile. Thank you so much for introducing me to his work. Great treat this morning.

  11. Rajini Rao says:

    Ah, he is on Google+, thanks for the find Karen Masullo . I will tag him in the original post, to show our appreciation.

  12. Rajini Rao says:

    Dano DeBroux , Nilsson and Pelger’s pessimistic estimate of the time it would take for a basic eye to evolve (simulation) was only a few hundred thousand years: http://www.rpgroup.caltech.edu/courses/aph161/Handouts/Nilsson1994.pdf

    As a molecular biologist, I can see the variations and similarities of the eye across species..from simple structures to very complex ones. Light receptors are similar to light activated ion pumps in my field of study, and there again, one can see how common designs can be adapted and repurposed in biology. Unfortunately, I doubt I’m going to convince any nonbelievers, so we may just as well enjoy the images 🙂

  13. Dano DeBroux says:

    Rajini Rao It is so refreshing to hear a scientific response to a quasi-/junk-science claim. I agree, let’s enjoy the pictures. 🙂

  14. Rajini Rao says:

    Martin Sacha , I don’t know if the arachnid lens evolved differently..if you find anything on it, let me know. I posted on jumping spiders recently..that’s when I learned they had four layers of retina (light detecting cells). I do know that the cephalopod (octopus) eye is as sophisticated as ours but oriented in the opposite way. Actually, our eyes are said to be backwards and upside down in the way the retina is layered under the blood vessels instead of on top..that’s why we have a blind spot and octopus does not.

    Short answer, I suspect eyes evolved independently to what they are now in several different ways. But at the biochemical and cellular level, they all use the same toolkit of light absorbing proteins and similar detection/signals.

  15. that’s cool i think u got good eyes

  16. Born with Ray-Ban sunglasses

  17. NATURE says:

    It looks like Professor at exam.

    Ready listen eat you attentively… ( :

  18. Rajini Rao says:

    Subraya Hegde , photo credit listed in my post (read above).

  19. Rajini Rao says:

    NATURE ☼ , now I cannot stop laughing (or focus on my work). He looks like a very learned, short sighted Professor indeed with a grey beard.

  20. Rajini Rao says:

    Subraya Hegde , actually there is a huge amount of research on insect vision (other than Drosophila)..quite sophisticated. I had a post on Spider (arachnid) vision recently, based on a Science paper: https://plus.google.com/114601143134471609087/posts/9fT2LAeKL49

  21. alom ferrer says:

    ahahaha…it looks like his wearing shades, at first i thought RAYBAN…ehehehe…but more OAKLEY!..LOL! dont yah think?

  22. Lauren Engen says:

    They can but you have to be an embryo

  23. Even though they are amazing, they are still insects. I can’t look to the picture more than 3 seconds 🙂 [ Insect Phobia ]

  24. Rajini Rao says:

    Subraya Hegde , there is no single gene that governs an entire eye, LOL! BTW, it is sexist to assume that only “girls” would want beautiful eyes. I’m partial to guys with beautiful eyes 🙂

  25. eyes are like seeds, when seeds sprout, a new whole story begins on this earth, when eyes opened everything presents in this universe, and when closed everything vanished,

  26. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for the amazing info, Owen McNamara ! I noticed that some of the compound eyes had bristles too.

  27. Rajini Rao thnx 4 providin dese informations ……keep posting …. 🙂

  28. So the next time someone calls me a bug-eyed freak I should take it as a compliment?

  29. Some might be, but some are just plain creepy.

  30. Vijay Kattel says:

    dem are so beautifully colored

  31. Hina Afzal says:

    Are you Entomologist? gr8 details!

  32. alev uneri says:

    this is amazing, thank you… I can use it as a profile pic. :))

  33. Tom Lee says:

    Cool eyes! Designers’ sunglasses!

  34. Excellent collections…

  35. MC Uneek says:

    amazing and awesome !! so much variety and surrealism nature has in it to offer !!

  36. Melinda Lara says:

    ouch looks like chris 🙂

  37. But not the software bug eyes))) They are awful..

  38. Jered Cuenco says:

    Lovely macro photography.

  39. Ronak Patel says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonder of nature from so close

  40. I remember hearing about a breakthrough in optical storage taking biomimicry inspiration from eyes such as these are few years back.

  41. Fantastic, thank you for sharing these wonders.

  42. Look Kanye West made some new glasses


  43. James Burrus says:

    Those are beautiful eyes, but my favoritepiar of eyes are the blue ones on the bottom left hand corner.

  44. Rajini Rao says:

    James Burrus , it was so hard to decide which one got the star treatment 😉 The blue is truly electric!

  45. Sean Gardner says:

    Electric is the right word Rajini Rao.

  46. Rajini, maybe we can get you a pair… lol

  47. they also want to make me throw up XD ew! lol

  48. i now love bugs on a whole new level 🙂

  49. i have been wondering why the dino went extinct

  50. If the creation is so beautiful, how about the Creator? – Amazing beauty

  51. this is a neat bug i like unusual ones

  52. They are very cool looking.

  53. Eyes in general are beautiful. They’re usually the first thing I notice on a person…or thing.

  54. L Tejada says:

    Please check out my acount on google plus!

  55. Hannah Hart says:

    Ok, that’s a little creepy…..

  56. i sti9ll dont like bugs

  57. I really enjoyed reading and viewing those buggy lil friends of yours!

  58. Alex Wild says:

    If you are interested in learning the techniques behind Thomas Shahan’s sublime insect portraits, Thomas and I are co-teaching a macrophotography workshop in Florida this August: http://bugshot.net/

  59. Rajini Rao says:

    Awesome, Alex Wild , thank you for that information. I plugged your beautiful jumping spider images in a recent post, did you see it? https://plus.google.com/u/0/114601143134471609087/posts/9fT2LAeKL49

    I have no photography skills myself, but a passion for biology. I’m delighted to combine beautiful images with hard science, particularly at the molecular and cellular level.

  60. josem mo says:


    Just reading an article that flies can see 300 images/second while human only 50 images/second. Not sure if it’s true.

    Also there’s I Glasses, called as “A Simulation Of A Compound Eye” glasses sold online for $7.95. Not sure if it’s a right simulator.

    Here’s video they claimed as how insects might see through the glasses simulator: Compound Eye

  61. Alex Wild says:

    Thanks, Rajini Rao! We appreciate your support, and your lively G+ stream!

  62. this is so cool google this around and around/send this to the miami herald news paper

  63. These are great Macro shots! Awesome colors!

  64. Rajini Rao says:

    jose montarig , thanks for sharing that interesting video link. The superiority of the compound eye in detecting more images/second makes sense..they can respond faster to changes and movement than we can. As for the eye glasses, someone needs to make those cool rainbow shades that fly is wearing..I bet they will sell for more than $7.95 🙂

  65. Rajini Rao says:

    Thank you Thomas Shahan 🙂 Your images have enthralled G+.

  66. josem mo says:

    Rajini Rao I agree the glasses needs an artist to beautify its form factor, and maybe a great scientist to make it closer to reality 🙂 Maybe you’re the right person?

    Here’s the image of the glasses:


  67. Rajini Rao says:

    Haha, those are nerdy chic glasses, perhaps even hipster cool jose montarig . Maybe they will become all the rage now that you have posted them on G+ 🙂

  68. josem mo says:

    Oh dear, really? I am not a spammer though 😛

  69. Nour says:

    incredibly amazing! .. cool shades for 2012 🙂

  70. Ian Netto says:

    The 1st one looks like Rayband Aviators.

  71. bet theres fibbonacci’s numbers somewhere in there

  72. Tracy Taylor says:

    Love these beautiful photos. Terrifying, though. If these were life-size portraits we’d all still be screaming, not saying ‘Yuck!’ Reminds us to be grateful that (most) spiders are tiny.

  73. wow that is pretty and interesting

  74. bugs are nasty ! A million little eyes staring back at you. In their head they want to suck your blood dry, gouge your skin cells, and spit infectious bacteria into your bloodstream.

  75. Omji Omji says:

    Rajni rao-nice buuar fly.she with my flowar sope.

  76. Lester Mendoza not necessarily…

  77. daniel wyatt says:

    its always the joy of, the love of biology that grabs me. But i’m entangled in an odd obsession…it’s called ‘foldit’. The principle, i assume is something like the graphic letter puzzles required for entry to many sites these days.

    However, having no scientific backround, just a mind mesmerized by new things, i started to try to unravel these puzzles, knowing not where i venture..have you any experience w/ this site…again “Foldit”. I’m hopelessly angered and determined, as they give some guidance and numerical reinforcement (ie; move a “side chain” part of a protein..etc.

    There are, for me no guidelines except for some minimal recognition of symetry…anyway, I wondered if you were aquainted w/ this site and could clarify my activity on it. I dont read diagrams of proteins, and their components, but love solving from a completely ignorant position, something dynamic and what i know is outside my experience…brave new world. Tell me what you think, thanks dan

  78. daniel wyatt says:

    you know what amazes me? the closer to things that used to gross me out, the less repulsed and the more im intrigued i am by the contituents that compose what, as a whole, scared me…I love that part of knowing about our world.

    Lucky you….you made an early decision to (…or were drawn, w/ out pressure..) to the content of being. I envy you. You have a life of discovery ahead of you..) anyway, “foldit”…stupid or not?

  79. niceeee picss… yaarrrr

  80. the level of detail is incredible

  81. Fantastic. Really nice !

  82. Lee Squires says:

    Love the pics. They show off my galaxy nexus’ screen so well with detail and colour. Amazing

  83. Fantastic work and pictures, how could I not find your page before today ???

  84. your photos are very nice

  85. Doc Rajani says:

    Rajini Rao..thanks for posting these pics of beutiful small creatures..never would have known the beuty of these creatures otherwise.

  86. beautiful naturally!!!

  87. I can only see speakers 😀

  88. Rajini Rao says:

    Bob Claus , who knew that ommatidia optics intersected with spirituality? 🙂 Being a boringly pragmatic person, I can’t say that I appreciate the spiritual side of things, but I’m fascinated by the connections you draw outside of biology. You are absolutely correct, the insect eye is tuned to detect motion rather than resolve images in fine detail, as I alluded to in the text.

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