The spider that isn’t

Laurent Ballesta's Image

Laurent Ballesta (France) endures below-freezing dives to reveal the diversity of life beneath Antarctica’s ice.

Picking its way across ice crystals in this stunning image is a giant Antarctic sea spider. Despite its name and appearance, it is not actually an arachnid but a pycnogonid - an invertebrate with a body so small that its internal organs extend into its legs.

Pycnogonids are widespread in oceans across the globe, but most are very small. However, in the Antarctic, where they are abundant and diverse, they grow much larger. This species has a leg span about the size of a side plate - a striking example of polar gigantism.

Behind the lens

Laurent Ballesta

Laurent Ballesta


Laurent has authored 13 photography books on underwater wildlife. As co-founder of Andromède Océanologie, he’s been leading major expeditions for 10 years. He illustrates the underwater world as both a naturalist and an artist, whether that be capturing the first images of a coelacanth taken by a diver at a depth of 120 metres, documenting 700 sharks off Fakarava hunting at night or photographing the deepest and longest dive in Antarctica.

Image details

  • Nikon D810
  • 15mm f2.8 lens
  • 1/80 sec at f22  •   ISO 800  •   Seacam housing  •   2x Seacam strobes
  • Adélie Land, Antarctica
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