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May 7, 1997

Writing in Journey to the Ants (1994), entomologists Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson pointed out that "because ants exist in a fractal world of centimeters, they are part of what human beings can profitably view as microwildernesses." The description is apt: when one can actually view the complex, microscopic worlds of insects, algae, bacteria, viruses, and cells, for example -- instead of just trying abstractly to conceive of them -- they do seem very much to be jungles and forests and oceans, full of strange creatures and unexplored landscapes.

These microwildernesses can be awesomely beautiful. Just as painters and photographers have flocked to the wild in the name of art, so too have they now discovered the potential of photomicrography, another bugor photography with an electron microscope. Dennis Kunkel of the University of Hawaii has put together a Web site of his stunningly beautiful, digitally colorized microphotography which shows just how rich and diverse the "fractal world of centimeters" that exists all around us really is. This site is a visual feast. Among the highlights: a graceful stalk of slime mold, a delicately rolled-up butterfly proboscis, the prickly quills of a cat flea, the hairy eyeballs of a jumping spider, and the intricate skeleton of a kind of algae. With tongue in cheek, Kunkel has posted "mug shots" and "rap sheets" of his twelve "most wanted" bugs, and he has also included on the site photomicrographs of various non-organic materials -- a quick visit to which will change forever the way you think of Velcro.

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