Dr. Jan Michels, Christian-Albrechts-Universi
It might sound a bit cramped, but there's an entire world of organisms that can call a drop of water their home. And, up close, they look practically out-of-this-world. Each year, the Nikon Small World competition sets out to collect some of the best microphotography. Take a look at some of this year's most stunning images of creatures that live in water. This photo from Dr. Jan Michels of Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel in Kiel, Germany shows Temora longicornis, a marine copepod, from its ventral view at 10 times magnification.
SEE MORE PHOTOS: It's a Nikon Small World After All
Frank Fox, Fachhochschule Trier/Nikon Small W
This microphotograph shows the diatom Melosira moniliformis at 320 times its size.
Jonathan Franks, University of Pittsburgh/Nik
This algae biofilm photographed up-close makes what's usually referred to as "pond scum" look like art.
Michael Shribak and Dr. Irina Arkhipova, Mari
This Philodina roseola rotifer was alive and well when this microphotograph was taken.
Dr. Ralf Wagner/Nikon Small World
This microphoto shows a water flea flanked by green algae.
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Charles Krebs Photography/Nikon Small World
Warfare in a water droplet! This microphoto shows a Hydra capturing a water flea at 40-times magnification.
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Dr. John H. Brackenbury, University of Cambri
One of the ultimate human pests -- the mosquito -- begins life as larvae, here shown suspended in a single droplet of water.
Gerd A. Guenther/Nikon Small World
Ever wonder what sex between two freshwater ciliates looks like magnified at 630 times its actual size? Now you know!
Joan Rohl, Institute for Biochemistry and Bio
This freshwater water flea is shown at 100 times its actual size.
Wolfgang Bettighofer/Nikon Small World
Closterium lunula, a kind of green alga, is shown here. This particular specimen came from a bog pond, according to the photographer.
John Gaynes, University of Utah/Nikon Small W
While it may resemble a visitor from outer space, this is what a zebrafish embryo looks like under a microscope, three days after being fertilized.
Dr. Carlos Alberto Muñoz, University of Puer
This microscopic crustacean appears yellowish-orange because it is mounted in Canada Balsam with crystals and other artifacts.
Witch doctors regularly dump animal sacrifices into the reservoir meant to quench the thirst, clean the dishes and wash the clothes of 750,000 Venezuelans, reported Bloomberg. As a result, citizens of one of the most dangerous, crime-ridden cities in the world, Caracas, Venezuela, can’t even take a drink of water from the tap safely.
The 60-year old water treatment plant at the reservoir lacks the ability to filter out the toxins from the putrefying carcasses. Because of this, Caracas resisdents are now paying 30 Bolivars ($4.80) for a five-gallon jug of water. Gasoline only costs 14 Bolivars, due to generous government subsidies.
The water supply of Caracas seems cursed. Practitioners of Santeria sacrifice animals and dump their bodies with impunity into the reservoir.
“No one is bothering me here at all,” local Santeria practitioner Francisco Sanchez told Bloomberg.
Santeria is a hybrid, or syncretic, religion that sprang from the animistic beliefs of West African slaves blended with the Catholicism of their Spanish captors, mixed with the surviving remnants of indigenous people’s religions.
Although Santeria brings spiritual solace to thousands, in Venezuela, Santeria witch doctors dumping animal sacrifices into reservoirs mostly just increases the suffering of others, especially the poorest members of society.
In many regions of the developing world, people who drink water from the tap run the risk of bacterial infection or contamination from agricultural run-off and other pollutants. Many people spend a significant portion of their income on purified water to avoid the even greater cost of debilitating illness.
People who can’t afford bottled water have to find other ways of reducing their risks. For example in Honduras, people often use discarded soda bottles filled with tap water then placed those bottles in direct sun for a few days. The UV radiation from the sun kills off many pathogens, however it fails to filter out contaminants, such as animal feces.
Numerous organizations work to distribute contaminant-removing devices like ceramic filters and solar stills to impoverished people, but despite their efforts millions still lack access to safe water.
IMAGES: The altar of sacrifices celebrating a man’s rebirth into Santeria in Havana, Cuba (Jorge Royan, Wikimedia Commons)