These Cthulhu-esque photos will change the way you look at stink bugsS

The head ornamentation of a Kaiju looks downright tame next to that of a shield bug.

Photographer Francis Prior calls this gorgeous macro image "Surface of Mars," no doubt in reference to the borderline-geological – and totally otherworldly – appearance of its subject's striking head morphology. The textures on the head of this stink bug, brought into sharp focus through a process known as "stacking," are so diverse as to be almost unbelievable. But then, Prior tells us, that's kind of the point.

"What is so great about all Macro photography is we see things we could not normally [see] or may not want to see," he tells io9. "[And] what we can't see, we can't appreciate, right?"

There are thousands of species of shield bugs on Earth (though you probably know them by their more common name of "stink bugs"), but we bet you've never looked at one like this. This view shows the insect's bulging compound eye on the left. Further down, looking almost like a ruby, is its simple eye, which helps it detect light. Also riddling the surface of the bug's exoskeleton are a number of circular pock-marks, resembling tiny wells of ink. Here's another view:

These Cthulhu-esque photos will change the way you look at stink bugsS

Prior says he's unsure what purpose these features serve, though University of Machester zoologist Matthew Cobb suspects they might might be involved in chemoreception. Prior says he's observed similar patterns on other beetles, as well. Any entomologists out there have any light to shed on the matter?

For more of Prior's outstanding work, check out his facebook and visit his flickr page. Hard to believe he's only been shooting insects for two years.

[Francis Prior via The Science Llama]