From the siren-like carnivorous plants of The Netherlands to Botswana’s huddling hippos, the 2020 Big Picture Natural World Photography Competition captures the full bizarre and beautiful spectrum of our home planet by distilling each peculiar moment into a single photographic frame.
“The competition’s winning images and finalists highlight Earth’s biodiversity and illustrate the many threats that our planet faces,” writes bioGraphic, the California Academy of Sciences' online magazine, and sponsor of the competition. “Each photo, in its own way, inspires viewers to protect and conserve the remarkable diversity of life on Earth.”
Finalists in categories covering coexistence, the art of nature, terrestrial and aquatic life, as well as landscapes, waterscapes, and flora were judged by nature and conservation photographers to highlight our world’s diverse and ever-changing habitats.
These images originally appeared on bioGraphic, an online magazine about science and sustainability and the official media sponsor for the California Academy of Sciences' BigPicture Natural World Photography Competition.
Hold On Tight by Mathieu Foulquié, Aquatic Life Finalist
This male common toad (Bufo bufo) was photographed in the turbulent waters of the Lez River in France as he fertilized the eggs of his female companion as she lays them. This mating behavior is known as amplex and is common in amphibians and other animals who externally fertilize their eggs.
Guardians of the Giraffes by Ami Vitale, Photo Story Winner
A photo in a series of six images shows the interconnected relationship between wild animals and the Samburu people in northern Kenya. This group has become advocates for native species and have launched a sanctuary for rehabilitating orphaned elephants, among other conservation programs to benefit endangered species like the reticulated giraffe.
“Indigenous communities hold the key to saving Africa’s great animals,” said Vitale in an emailed statement. “Where these communities are intact, poaching has dramatically decreased.”
Shelter in Place by Andy Parkinson, Grand Prize Winner
Though most of Britain’s only native mountain hare (Lepus timidus) population will burrow during a storm to escape the harsh Scottish winter conditions, this female was photographed tucking herself into a ball to conserve body heat and minimize exposure to the elements.
Mushroom Magic by Agorastos Papatsanis, Landscapes, Waterscapes, and Flora Finalist
These edible Macrolepiota procera mushrooms were photographed in Deskati, Greece.
Pond Skim by Piotr Naskrecki, Winged Life Winner
During the dry season, many species – including this Mozambique long-fingered bat (Miniopterus mossambicus) – will fly for long periods of time in search of water.
Speed and Strategy by Yi Lu, Terrestrial Wildlife Winner
Though an impala (Aepyceros melampus) is capable of darting at speeds of more than 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour, the ungulate is no match for the speedy cats. The ferocious felines (Acinonyx jubatus) are the fastest animal on land (peregrine falcon wins for the world's fastest animal) and can max out a speed of 95 kilometers (60 miles) per hour in pursuit of prey.
A Sticky Situation by Edwin Giesbers, Landscapes, Waterscapes, and Flora Winner
The carnivorous plant oblong-leaved sundew (Drosera intermedia) baits its prey with sweet drops of nectar posited along its red spines. Once an insect has landed, the plant will curl its leaves around the animal and releases digestive enzymes for total liquification.
Hippo Huddle by Talib Almarri, Terrestrial Wildlife Finalist
A severe drought in 2019 dried up the waters of Botswana’s Okavango River, greatly impacting native populations of the semi-aquatic hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibious). This image shows at least 200 hippos that became trapped in the mud and only survived when wildlife officials pumped water to facilitate their escape.
A River Gone Awry by Juan Jesús González Ahumada, Art of Nature Winner
Mineral runoff from surrounding Sierra Morena caused acidification and dissolved metals in the cracked muddy banks of western Spain’s Rio Tinto.
The Cost of Cats by Jak Wonderly, Human/Nature Winner
California-based animal rescue organization WildCare rehabilitates hundreds of birds and other wild animals injured by outdoor house cats, including the 200 now-deceased individuals pictured by Jak Wonderly.
“I wanted to create an image to show some of the impacts our pets have on the wildlife around our homes,” said Wonderly.
Sneak Attack by Gunther De Bruyne, Art of Nature Winner
This African savanna elephant (Loxodonta Africana) took advantage of the open-air research station at Kasunga National Park in Malawi in a search for snacks. Photographer Gunther De Bruyne said that recent research suggests elephants from heavily poached regions tend to be abnormally aggressive, as evidenced in this image.