JANNICKE WIIK-NIELSEN / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY JANNICKE WIIK-NIELSEN / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of a nematocyst darting from a hydroid (Ectopleura larynx) with explosive force. Ectopleura larynx is a fouling organism usually found attached to sunken ropes, floating buoys, mussel shells, rocks and seaweed. Like jellyfish, it is armed with stinging cells equipped with nematocysts used to capture and subdue prey. These structures look like a coiled miniature harpoon ready to be unleashed. When stimulated, the stinging cells explode, releasing the coiled nematocysts in a lightning-fast reaction. The harpoon-like thread punctures through the hydroid wall, into the prey and releases a toxin that helps immobilize the prey. The hydroid nematocysts are not harmful to humans, as the stinger cannot penetrate sufficiently into human skin to inflict any harm. Magnification: x3,875 when printed at 10cm wide.
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