In the 1800s English poet William Blake famously challenged his readers to “see a world in a grain of sand.” If only he had owned a modern microscope. Thanks to increasingly powerful optical tools, we now know that beneath the skin of every leaf, inside each speck of dirt, and within our own blood and bones is a cosmos of visual delights that usually remains unseen. Stunning pictures of the planet's smallest critters—and of the tiniest features of larger organisms—have inspired some of the greatest shifts in how we think about life on earth.
In the following [slide show], we present a selection of images that earned scientists, professional photographers and hobbyists awards and honors in the 2013 Olympus BioScapes International Digital Imaging Competition. The photographs will plunge you inside the unique underwater snare of a flesh-eating plant, open a window onto a bat forming in utero, reveal tiny faces hidden in a palm tree's stem and uncover surprising details of a dinosaur bone that has turned into shimmering crystal.