butterfly wing macro

All photos: Linden Gledhill

We know that butterflies and moths are gorgeous, thanks primarily to their colorful and beautifully patterned wings. But they are downright breathtaking to see at the microscopic level. Photographer Linden Gledhill has zoomed way, way in on the wings of these insects, and the photos are amazing — as you can see with the image above of a sunset moth wing.

To get these photos, Gledhill uses an Olympus BH-2 microscope fitted with LED lighting, a high-speed flash and a StackShot drive that automates the process of taking a series of selectively focused images, which are then "stacked" in post-processing for ultra-sharp photos. Sometimes it takes as many as 80 individual images to create one final photograph. As for the subjects, Gledhill sources the insects mainly from an online purveyor of farmed insects. "I've looked at a wide range of species and I select those with interesting colouration or scale shapes," Gledhill told MNN. "The wings are typically taken from damaged specimens often from farmed-raised butterflies and moths."

The selection used for the photos is diverse, and opens up a fascinating window to the tiny, alien aspect of the insect world.

morpho butterfly wing

Morpho didius upper wing surface scales

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butterfly wing with pollen

Pollen grain on Protographium agesilaus butterfly wing

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butterfly wing scales

Precis rhadama wing

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butterfly wing scales in browns and tans

Hypolimnas dexithea

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butterfly wing scales with frayed edges

Argema mittrei moth wing scales

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butterfly wing scales in color pattern

Papilio lormieri wing

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butterfly wing scales in greens

Birdwing butterfly vein junction

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butterfly wing scales in browns and blues

View more of these amazing microscope photos on Linden Geldhill's Flickr set.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+