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Images of the month: May 2014

Pictures from the world of science, selected by Nature’s art team.


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This month's images plumb the depths of the ocean, teeter on a vertiginous Indian 'stepwell' and soar through space.

Dumbo of the deep

NOAA/CC by SA 2.0

Spotted in the Gulf of Mexico at the end of April by the US government’s research vessel Okeanos Explorer, this is a rarely observed ‘Dumbo octopus’ adopting a never-before-seen coiled tentacle pose. If you would like to see more of this cute member of the Grimpoteuthis genus, the vessel’s crew captured it on video.

Cancer in colour

Bettina Weigelin and Peter Friedl, Radboud Univ. Nijmegen

This false-colour image shows yellow melanoma cells invading skin tissue, amid cyan nerve and fat cells, green muscle, and red blood vessels. To truly understand cancer spread, researchers are increasingly turning to videos of this process, as detailed in a Nature News Feature this month.

Frog fandango

S. D. Biju/Systematics Lab

Rather than sing for a lover, these frogs perform a leg-stretching ritual that serves both as a 'come-hither' dance for females and as a kung-fu kick to knock away rival males. A May paper in the Ceylon Journal of Science describes 14 new species of these loose-limbed lotharios. See Scientific American for more on these animals.

Skull scan

Paul Nicklen/National Geographic

Seven years ago, cave divers exploring the Hoyo Negro caverns in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula found a nearly complete skeleton of a teenager who died more than 12,000 years ago. The girl's remains were found with animal bones, including those of a sabre-toothed tiger; divers investigated the remains inside the cavern. The skeleton is now shedding light on when humans populated the Americas. See Nature’s news story for more.

Eyes on the Eye


This is the 40-kilometre-wide Richat Structure in Mauritania, as seen from space by Japan’s Advanced Land Observing Satellite. Erosion has sculpted what was originally a dome of rock into what is sometimes called the ‘Eye of the Sahara’. The image was taken in 2010, but was released at the start of this month.

Fantastic fins

  1. This strange fish larva was collected in the Florida Straits. But its adult form is actually a previously undescribed sea bass that lives around a deep reef off Curaçao in the southern Caribbean. The story of how researchers connected the two is revealed in a paper published this month by PLoS ONE.

    Cedric Guigand

  2. The authors of that PLoS ONE paper, Carole Baldwin and G. David Johnson at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC, are experts in fish embryos research, and a few of their study subjects from over the years are shown here. This larva of Liopropoma rubre is another example from their latest study.

    Chris Paparo/Fish Guy Photos

  3. This tiny thing just millimetres long is the larva of a sunfish, Mola mola. It can grow into the heaviest bony fish in the sea, with some adult sunfish specimens weighing more than two tonnes.

    G. David Johnson

  4. This is an 8-mm long larva from the Pentacerotidae family.

    G. David Johnson

  5. A ribbonfish (Zu cristatus) from the Trachipteridae family.

    Joshua Lambus/

  6. A 6-mm long larva from the genus Selenotoca, part of the Scatophagidae family.

    G. David Johnson

Step into the well

Edward Burtynsky

This ‘stepwell’ in northwestern India is one of more than 3,000 built between ad 600 and 1850 to capture water from monsoon rains. The image comes from the documentary film Watermark, which chronicles the troubled relationship between humans and this essential substance, and is reviewed this month in Nature.


Welcome home

  1. On 14 May, a Soyuz spacecraft brought crew from the International Space Station back to Earth. Just hours before that, at around 4.20 a.m. local time, the station passed over Osaka in Japan, as seen here.

    The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images

  2. Here, the helmet of a spacesuit can just be seen through the window of the Soyuz capsule after it landed safely, with astronauts Koichi Wakata, Mikhail Tyurin and Rick Mastracchio aboard.

    Bill Ingalls/NASA

  3. The Soyuz capsule lands in Kazahkstan, bringing the three astronauts back to Earth after six months aboard the International Space Station.

    Bill Ingalls/NASA

  4. Rick Mastracchio, minutes after the Soyuz capsule landed.

    Bill Ingalls/NASA

  5. Astronaut Koichi Wakata receiving health checks shortly after landing in Kazahkstan.

    Dmitry Lovetsky/EPA/Corbis

  6. These Russian matryoshka dolls depict astronauts Wakata, Tyurin and Mastracchio, shown left to right, and were featured at a welcome-home ceremony for the astronauts in Kazakhstan.

    Bill Ingalls/NASA

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This story has been updated as one of the fish originally identified as unknown has been confirmed as a ribbonfish (Zu cristatus).

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