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These Are the Most Spectacular Nature Photos of the Year

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The winners of Royal Society Publishing’s inaugural photography competition have been announced, and they’re extraordinary.

These inspiring nature photos, chosen from over a thousand entries, were judged by a team consisting of Royal Society Publishing scientists, editors, and photographers. The award celebrates “the power of photography to communicate science.” We now present to you the top 10.


Overall Winner: Tadpoles Overhead


The top prize for the inaugural Royal Society’s photography competition goes to Bert Willaert of Belgium.

Tadpoles of many anuran species come in high numbers, but not many make it to adulthood. Here a group of common toad (Bufo bufo) tadpoles is seen from below.

In addition to taking top prize, this photo was chosen as best in the Ecology and Environmental Science category.

Image and caption credit: Royal Society Publishing/Bert Willaert

Going With the Flow


This stunning photo by Claudia Pogoreutz of Germany was the winner of the Behavior category.

A school of tropical clupeid fish exhibited synchronized behavior to keep a healthy distance from a teenage black-tip reef shark. Sharks would cruise placidly for hours without so much as looking at the smaller fish, until, all of a sudden, they would strike and gobble up a mouthful of clupeids. The picture was taken on a shallow reef flat on Kuramathi Island in the Rasdhoo Atoll, Republic of Maldives.


Other than an automated tone correction in Photoshop, no other post-processing was applied.

Image and caption credit: Royal Society Publishing/Claudia Pogoreutz

Fern With a Drysuit


This image won the Evolutionary Biology category, and it was taken by the UK’s Ulrike Bauer.

Plants have evolved elaborate surface structures to modify the wettability of their leaves. The leaves of the water fern Salvinia molesta are covered with whisk-like hairs. The leaf surface and all but the very tip of the whisks is extremely water-repellent, keeping the leaf perfectly dry even when it’s submerged for several weeks. The hydrophilic tips of the whisks ‘pin’ droplets in place. This further helps to prevent the water from entering the space in between the whisks.

In recent years, plant surfaces have repeatedly inspired the design of biomimetic (“nature-mimicking”) applications for human use, most famously the self-cleaning paints based on the Lotus leaf.


Image and caption credit: Royal Society Publishing/Ulrike Bauer

Ancestry. Dominance. Endangered.


Germany’s Martha Robbins was the runner up in the Ecology and Environmental Science category.

This photo shows the strength and power of gorillas, one of our closest living relatives, yet also shows their vulnerability due to the pressures put on their world by humans. Taken in Rwanda, I observed the gorillas walking to the eucalyptus trees outside of the Volcanoes National Park and watched them strip the bark with their teeth. Within a few minutes, the silverback of the group sat down to eat bark and faced out towards the farmland—almost as if he was contemplating the human society that lives next to the gorillas’ habitat.


Image and caption credit: Royal Society Publishing/Martha Robbins

Caribbean Brain Coral


This image by American photographer Evan D’Alessandro won a special commendation prize.

This image of what appears to be a single colony of the giant Caribbean brain coral Colpophyllia natans hints at the virtuoso abilities of corals to assume a wide range of different forms and appearances. This photo raises many important questions regarding this species of coral. Are the four distinct zones in this photograph really genetically identical? What spurred the colony to grow in this strange and beautiful manner?


Image and caption credit: Royal Society Publishing/Evan D’Alessandro

A Baboon Gets Lost in His Thoughts


South Africa’s Davide Gaglio won a special commendation award for this photo, which was taken at Cape Point Reserve, South Africa.

I was taking photos of a group of baboons trying to capture some interesting action shots. The baboons were not very active as the sun was up and most of them were just resting. I noted this baboon sitting and facing the sun with his eyes closed. Once I was close enough, and without distracting him, he put one hand under his face, posing as though he was lost in his thoughts.


Image and caption credit: Royal Society Publishing/Davide Gaglio

Fish Louse


Steve Gschmeissner from the UK won a special commendation award for this false colored image of a fish louse captured through a scanning electron microscope:

Lice lineages began to split and diversify during the late Cretaceous era, when dinosaurs, birds and early mammals probably were on the resilient parasites’ menus. Argulus is a species of fish lice that has been shown to be a well-adapted parasite, exhibiting unique hunting and breeding strategies that enable it to live in the harsh and variable climates of Europe, East Asia and Siberia, wreaking havoc on the profitability of any freshwater fishery it inhabits and infests.


Image and caption credit: Royal Society Publishing/Steve Gschmeissner

Sand Has Scales


This image by Italy’s Fabio Pupin was the runner up in the Evolutionary Biology category.

Bitis peringueyi is an endemic adder from the Nabib desert. It’s an ambush predator, highly equipped for the job. Many snakes are disguise masters but few completely burrow their entire body beneath the surface and fewer have their eyes moved on top of their head. Actually, if I hadn’t blown off the sand to better show its scaly pattern, this adder would have been completely invisible.


Image and caption credit: Royal Society Publishing/Fabio Pupin



Italy’s Luca Antonio Marino was the runner up in the Behavior category.

In the photo, an adult wild bearded capuchin monkey (Sapajus libidinosus) uses a stone tool to crack a very resistant palm nut in Fazenda Boa Vista (Piauì, Brazil). These monkeys habitually crack open very resistant palm nuts on hard surfaces using stones as percussive tools. This behaviour is considered one of the most complex form of tool use by nonhuman species seen in nature. The alpha male, weighing 4.2 kg, picked up a big stone (3.5 kg) and lifted that above his head to crack a piassava nut. Capuchin’s actions are very fast so it is hard to capture the decisive moment,” noted Marino. “In a matter of milliseconds I shot and took the photo that I wanted: the representation of capuchin monkeys’ strength and beauty.


Image and caption credit: Royal Society Publishing/Luca Antonio Marino

Runs at Dawn


Special commendation goes to Jose Juan Hernandez Martinez for this photo of Canarian Houbarabustard, a large bird in the bustard family.

In the Canary Islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, after every winter rains Canarian Houbarabustard (Chlamydotis undulata) males begin their impressive courtship displays. From dawn onwards these males display at their favorite places and from there scamper around showing their plumage in all its glory.


Image and caption credit: Royal Society Publishing/Jose Juan Hernandez Martinez

Email the author at and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image by Royal Society Publishing