10 Magnificent Photos That Won The Big Picture Natural World Photography Contest 2022

Published 2 years ago

The winning list of the annual Big Picture Natural World Photography Contest has been announced for the year 2022. Karine Aigner won the grand prize for capturing a rare event of the mating ritual of bees.

All the other pictures on the winning list are equally breathtaking and mesmerizing, showing a strong celebration of biodiversity. Check out some of the most stunning pictures that shined in this year’s contest in the gallery below.

Note: This gallery was originally published in bioGraphic, an independent magazine about nature and conservation powered by the California Academy of Sciences, and media partner of the BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition.

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#1 “Bee Balling” by Karine Aigner. Grand Prize Winner

Image source: Big Picture Competition 2022 Winners

“On a warm spring morning in South Texas, a female cactus bee (Diadasia rinconis) emerged from her small, cylindrical nest in the ground, rising like ash from a chimney. Almost instantly, she was swarmed by dozens of patrolling males, their tawny bodies forming a buzzing, roiling “mating ball” as they vied for a chance to copulate with her. After a tumultuous 20 seconds or so, the ball of bees dissipated, and the female flew off—a single, victorious male holding tight to her back.
Mating aggregations only last for a little more than a week, so photographer Karine Aigner was fortunate to capture this particular mating ball. While rarely noticed or documented by humans, these native bees play a critical role as pollinators, especially for prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) cacti, a critical source of sustenance for many species in the dry American Southwest.”

#2 “Frame Within a Frame” by Sitaram May. Winged Life Winner

Image source: Big Picture Competition 2022 Winners

“Photographer Sitaram May used to think of wildlife photography as something he did while traveling. But when the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, he started to pay more attention to the wildlife in his own backyard. “One night, sitting on my balcony, I was looking out at a custard apple tree, and bats were coming frequently to eat the fruits,” he recalls. “The whole world was cursing bats, but I decided to observe them.” May spent three weeks watching the fruit bats, eventually learning to predict their behavior and identify gaps in the tree canopy where they were likely to make an entrance. At one such opening, he managed to capture this shot, perfectly framing the bat within a ring of lush, green foliage.”

#3 “Face to Face” by Fernando Constantino Martínez Belmar. Human/Nature Finalist

Image source: Big Picture Competition 2022 Winners

“Two creatures face off through a woven-wire fence: one predator the other prey; one wild, the other, essentially, manufactured for our use. The moment is a manifestation of two worlds colliding, with no clear indication of which will prevail. Such images, of the natural world intersecting with one so heavily impacted by humans, have become a near obsession for Mexico-based photographer Fernando Constantino Martínez Belmar. And few places in the world present as many opportunities to capture the conflict first-hand as Martínez Belmar’s native Yucatán Peninsula, home to both the elusive jaguar (Panthera onca) and one of Mexico’s fastest-growing tourist hotspots, the “Maya Riviera.”
Until recently, scientists had little hope that a viable ecological corridor could exist between the two protected areas, given the heavily developed land that links them. However, a radio tracking study published earlier this year suggests that jaguars are not only using this corridor—they are establishing home ranges along its route. While the cats prefer forested or secondary growth areas over profusely disturbed habitat, they are capable of capitalizing on opportunities presented by human development. One male, for instance, centered his home range on a landfill, where he found a plentiful source of prey in the form of feral dogs and other animals that scavenged at the site. It’s not an ideal scenario, but the resilience demonstrated by these individuals provides hope that with thoughtful planning around future development in the area, the Yucatán Peninsula’s jaguars can continue to thrive.”

#4 “Tunnel Vision” by Tom Shlesinger. Aquatic Life Finalist

Image source: Big Picture Competition 2022 Winners

“Each year, from August to early October, Atlantic goliath groupers (Epinephelus itajara) gather off the east coast of Florida to spawn. On dark nights when the moon is new, refrigerator-sized males produce low-frequency booming sounds by contracting their swim bladders, calling other groupers to congregate around shipwrecks or rocky reefs. Fifty years ago, more than 100 fish might answer the call. But by 1990, the slow-moving species had been fished almost to extinction, and mating aggregations were often reduced to just a handful of fish. That year, goliath groupers were protected under both federal and state fishing bans, and the population slowly began to recover. While Florida’s mating aggregations have not yet attained the numbers local fishermen recall from the 1970s, it’s now common to see 20 to 40 groupers together during the breeding season.
However, in March, despite heavy opposition from scientists who study the species, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to reopen recreational fishing for goliath groupers beginning in 2023. Under the new plan, up to 200 permits will be sold each year for between $150 and $500, each of which will allow for the harvest of an adult grouper.”

#5 “After the Fall” by David Slater. Aquatic Life Winner

Image source: Big Picture Competition 2022 Winners

“California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) are iconic members of the Monterey Bay ecosystem, and photographer David Slater loves diving with them. “They rush past you with such beauty and grace that they leave you stunned,” he gushes. But during a dive last September, Slater witnessed a more somber sea lion scene. On a mucky stretch of sea floor, a dead sea lion had fallen to its final resting place, a colorful array of bat stars (Patiria miniata) strewn across its body like flowers tossed onto a grave.
Bat stars are omnivorous and frequently feed on carcasses that fall to the ocean floor.”

#6 “The Stoat’s Game” by Jose Grandío. Terrestrial Life Finalist

Image source: Big Picture Competition 2022 Winners

“In the pre-dawn hours of a cold winter morning in the French Alps, photographer Jose Grandío lay still in the snow, waiting for a stoat (Mustela erminea) to emerge from its burrow. He had spent the past few days waiting in the same manner, without payoff, but his patience was about to be rewarded. Shortly after the sun rose, the stoat climbed out into the pale, winter light and proceeded to put on a spectacular show. “He seemed to be playing with the fresh snow that had just fallen, making sudden jumps and crawling through the snow,” recalls Grandío.
Scientists have witnessed stoats engaging in similar displays on many occasions, and they refer to the behavior as dancing, although their opinions are divided about what motivates the leaps and twists. Sometimes, the dances are performed in front of a rabbit or large bird in a seeming attempt to confuse or distract potential prey—a strategy that has proven effective in a number of documented interactions. At other times, as was the case in the display Grandío photographed, there is no prey animal in sight, and the dance seems simply to be an expression of exuberance. A third hypothesis is that the dances are actually an involuntary response to a parasitic infection, since stoats are known to be hosts for cranial parasitic worms. Whatever the interpretation of the behavior, one thing scientists have learned is that when associated with an attack on a large prey species, these displays reduce the risk of injury to the stoat—likely because they provide an element of surprise. Such a benefit could eventually reinforce the behavior, whether it was originally intentional or not.
In this particular case, the stoat leapt and danced for about half an hour before returning to his den for the rest of the day. While the impetus for his energetic display is unclear, Grandío can’t help thinking it was “something like a game for him,” a joyful response to the pleasure of pristine snow.”

#7 “Spider Web” by Bence Máté. Terrestrial Life Winner

Image source: Big Picture Competition 2022 Winners

“It was dawn in Hungary’s Kiskunsag National Park, and photographer Bence Máté lay still, barely breathing, on a coffin-sized floating hide. In front of him, a Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) was busy gnawing on a tree, backlit by the first rays of the morning sun. Nearby, previously felled trees emerged like dock pilings from the mist-shrouded water, one of them festooned with a glowing spider web. The ethereal scene was more than just beautiful; it was a striking illustration of the idea that beavers transform their environments when they build dams, creating habitats that are utilized by many other species.”

#8 “Into the Light” by Pål Hermansen. Art of Nature Winner

Image source: Big Picture Competition 2022 Winners

“When photographer Pål Hermansen walked outside one brisk March morning in Ski, Norway and looked back at his house, he was dismayed. One of the outdoor lights had been left on all night, and within its bright shell, he saw the dark stains of dozens of insects, drawn to their death by the accidental beacon. As he cleaned out the fixture, Hermansen was inspired to photograph the collection of insects, hoping to shine a light on ‘the hidden creatures that are a foundation for our lives—creatures that we easily ignore.’”

#9 “Sickening Delicacy” by Bence Máté. Human/Nature Winner

Image source: Big Picture Competition 2022 Winners

“While traveling in Romania’s Carpathian region several years ago, photographer Bence Máté came across a horrific scene. At a spawning site for common frogs (Rana temporaria), hundreds of frogs (and several toads) lay dead in the water, some still grasping partners, their hind legs notably missing. Poachers had plucked the amphibians from the pool as they attempted to breed, cut off their back legs to feed the frog-leg trade, and thrown them back into the water to die a lingering death among their spawn. ‘It was the cruelty that shocked me most,’ says Máté, ‘but also the harm caused to local populations.’
Every year, millions of frogs are traded around the world as a source of food. The trade is fueled not just by the collection of wild animals on a local scale, as Máté witnessed in Romania, but also by industrial commercial farming in China and other countries. While poaching can imperil local populations, commercial farming actually poses an even greater threat to amphibians around the world. ‘Mass farming and international trade to supply the frog-leg industry are spreading deadly diseases and contributing to the current amphibian extinction crisis,’ says herpetologist and wildlife trade expert Jonathan Kolby. ‘Two types of pathogens in particular, amphibian chytrid fungus and ranavirus, are being spread far and wide by the trade in frog legs and have already driven dozens of population declines and extinctions.’
If frog legs are to stay on the menu for humans, improved welfare and disease control measures are urgently needed to better protect amphibians globally.”

#10 “Hidden Beauty” by Tom St George. Landscapes, Waterscapes, and Flora Winner

Image source: Big Picture Competition 2022 Winners

“Deep in a cenote on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, photographer Tom St George encountered this otherworldly, seemingly lifeless cavern, its dimly lit waters penetrated by thousands of dramatic stalactites. Inhospitable as it may appear, this flooded cave is actually far from barren. It is part of an extensive subterranean network of flooded passages, sinkholes, and caves that host a surprising diversity of fish and zooplankton, most of which are found only in the Yucatán. Many are also endangered, since the peninsula’s cenotes are threatened by development and pollution. One of these species, Antromysis cenotensis, is a tiny crustacean that plays an outsized role in its ecosystem. Included on the Mexican Red List of Species at Risk, the shrimp-like organism makes long vertical migrations as it feeds, thus moving nutrients through the water column. It is also a critically important food source for cenote fish.”

Saumya Ratan

Saumya is an explorer of all things beautiful, quirky, and heartwarming. With her knack for art, design, photography, fun trivia, and internet humor, she takes you on a journey through the lighter side of pop culture.

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