Minuscule Spicules

David Maitland's Image

David captured this high-magnification image from an old museum slide, using differential interference contrast. The lighting technique is used to reveal the 3D structure of microscopic specimens. With an interest in science, nature and art, David created it to capture the viewer’s attention. He says, ‘I hope they ask the question: “what is that?”’.

Resembling a boat’s anchor, these are the minuscule projections from the skin of a sea cucumber, known as spicules. These needle-sharp structures are composed of a transparent, brittle mineral formed from calcium carbonate. They protect the soft bodies of these marine invertebrates, and are key to distinguishing between the numerous species of sea cucumber.

Behind the lens

David Maitland

David Maitland


David is a professional nature and science photographer specialising in small and microscopic forms. He is the recipient of numerous international awards and his specialist super-macro and microscopic photographic skills have been commissioned for collaborations with the BBC on series including Wonders of Life, Human Universe and The Science of Food. David also lectures at universities and international conferences and has been a jury panel member for leading international photography competitions.

Image details

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark II
  • Olympus BX51 light microscope
  • 1/6 sec  •   ISO 50
  • Luce Sands, Galloway, Scotland
Copyright in WPY competition photographs remains the property of the respective photographers. You may not copy, share, reproduce or republish the photographs except as expressly permitted by copyright law. For media image usage enquiries, please contact us.

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