The best wildlife photos taken this year reveal a horde of interlocked ants and a vicious stand-off between a fox and a marmot


© Alejandro Prieto/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

  • The London Natural History Museum’s annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition awards photographers whose work inspires us to consider our place in the natural world and our responsibility to protect it.
  • This year, the contest received 48,000 entries from photographers in 100 countries.
  • The winning set of images includes snapshots of an interlocked army of ants, a stand-off between a surly fox and a shocked marmot, and a puma ambushing a guanaco. 
  • Here are 14 award-winning photographs from this year’s contest.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Capturing the hidden, unfiltered world of the animal kingdom on camera isn’t easy. But the winning images from the London Natural History Museum’s annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition give rare glimpses of animals’ resilience.

This year, the photographers behind these pictures climbed coastal cliffs in Norway, trekked through the jungles of Costa Rica, and dove deep into the waters of Indonesia to observe animals’ struggles to survive and get a decent meal.

Photographers from 100 countries submitted 48,000 entries for the contest, including photos of an interlocked ant army, a stand-off between a surly fox and a shocked marmot, and a puma ambushing a guanaco. 

Read More: The best wildlife photos taken this year reveal a hippo murder, a hungry leopard seal, and a weevil ensnared by zombie fungus

The Natural History Museum announced the various winners at an awards ceremony on Tuesday; the photos will be on display at the museum starting October 18. 

Here are 14 of the winners from this year’s contest. 

SEE ALSO: The best underwater photos of the year reveal shipwrecks, sharks, and terrifying deep-sea creatures

It took photographer Audun Rikardsen three years to capture this shot of a golden eagle. The birds have impressive wing spans of up to 6.5 feet.

Though golden eagles weigh no more than an average house cat, their curved and razor-sharp talons help them hunt animals as big as reindeer.

After finding a tree high on a ledge overlooking the northern coast of Norway, Rikardsen bolted down a camera and tripod onto a sturdy branch. By occasionally leaving carrion nearby, Rikardsen helped acclimate nearby golden eagles to the camera’s presence. The eagles started using the camera-laden branch to scout out prey. 

German photographer Ingo Arndt also spent a long time — seven months — tracking wild pumas on foot in the Torres del Paine region of Patagonia,  Chile, before he got this shot of a female puma attacking a guanaco (a fuzzy llama relative).

According to Arndt, the puma eventually got used to his presence, so was not bothered by his attempts to capture her on camera. But to record her stalking and killing prey, the photographer had to pick a potential target – this guanaco grazing apart from his herd – then position himself downwind, facing the direction the puma would likely come from.

He said the predator spent half an hour angling towards the guanaco before springing. In the end, she wasn’t able to mount his back to deliver the killing bite before he shook her off and escaped.

Other times, the predator has better luck. In this picture — which earned photographer Yongqing Bao the award for Wildlife Photographer of the Year — the shocked face of an unsuspecting marmot is captured in perfect clarity as it faces a hungry fox.

The picture also won the top prize in the contest’s mammals “Behavior” category. Bao took it while in China’s Qilian Mountains National Nature Reserve.

He said the marmot had spotted the fox an hour earlier and sounded the alarm to the rest of its 30-member colony in the burrow below, then dashed underground. But the marmot was hungry after a long winter of hibernating, so it eventually popped back out; the fox had been waiting patiently.

But not every search for sustenance involves a fight. This photo, which won photographer Thomas Easterbrook the title of Youth Photographer of the Year, shows a hummingbird hawk-moth mid-slurp.

The hawk-moth’s long proboscis probes a nectar-filled flower in France in search of nutrients to fuel its extremely fast flutter. The insect can beat its wings 70 times per second.

Still, finding food can require braving the elements. This image from photographer Max Waugh shows an American bison weathering a winter whiteout in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

Winters in Yellowstone often reach sub-zero temperatures. In this photo, a bison uses its huge head to dig through heavy snow in order to reach the grass underneath. (Waugh was toasty warm in his car when he took the picture.)

Even colder than Yellowstone winters, though, are Arctic ones. Here, a photo by Jérémie Villet shows two male Dall’s sheep competing for mating rights on a minus-40-degree day in Yukon, Canada.

Villet spent a month following Dall’s sheep around the Yukon in a rental van, trying to capture them rutting. To get this action shot, Villet had to lie in the snow. He said this blizzard was so cold that he got frostbite on his fingers while trying to operate the camera.

Chiru antelopes like the ones in this photo are also adept at surviving in cold weather. Photographer Shangzhen Fan’s image of them won the top prize in the contest’s “Animals in their Environment” category.

Thanks to their unique underfur, called shahtoosh (Persian for “king of wools”), the animals can survive temperatures as cold as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius). They are found only on the Qinghai–Tibet Plateau at elevations of 18,000 feet.

But the desirable nature of that fur led Chiru to get hunted almost to extinction in the 1980s and 1990s. The population dropped from 1 million to less than 70,000 individuals.

Penguins are some of the most masterful cold-environment dwellers. Photographer Stefan Christmann’s image shows male emperor penguins snuggling together to share and conserve body heat.

Males emperor penguins hold their mate’s egg under a fold of skin between their feet while the females head to the sea, where they feed for up to three months. The penguins must keep themselves and their eggs safe in temperatures of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 degrees Celsius).

Physical adaptations — including body fat and several layers of scale-like feathers — help the males endure the cold, but the animals’ ultimate survival depends on cooperation. 

To keep their progeny safe, Ethiopian gelada monkeys like to cluster on cliff ledges to sleep. Infants typically cling to their mother’s belly, as seen in this picture by teenage photographer Riccardo Marchgiani.

Marchgiani traveled to a high plateau in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains National Park with his father and a friend to see geladas. Around dawn, after an hour’s wait, he snapped this photo of a female climbing up from her group’s sleeping ledge. The image earned him the top prize in the 15- to 17-year old photographer category.

Many animals migrate in order to give birth to and raise their offspring. This image shows the mass migration of common frogs in South Tyrol, Italy.

Every spring in southern Italy, rising temperatures stir frogs to emerge from the sheltered spots where they spend the winter. They migrate to water ponds to spawn. Photographer Manuel Plaickner found one of these ponds, then immersed himself and his camera and waited for the right moment. 

A female frog can lay up to 2,000 eggs at a time; a male then fertilizes them in the water. 

To capture shy underwater creatures, photographers often need to get creative. For this image, David Doubilet placed his camera in a spot where he knew a a colony of garden eels lived, then hid behind the remnants of a shipwreck.

Doubilet waited for an opportunity to remote-trigger his camera system using a 40-foot extension cord. After several hours, the garden eels rose from their sandy burrows to feed on plankton drifting by in the current, their snake-like bodies undulating in the undersea waves. 

Once a small wrasse and slender cornetfish joined the tableau, Doubilet took his shot.

Fourteen-year-old Cruz Erdmann didn’t need to hide to snag a photo of this glow-in-the-dark big fin reef squid.

Erdmann took part in an organized night dive in the Lembeh Strait off North Sulawesi, Indonesia. He encountered a pair of mating big fin reef squid; although one jetted away, the other hovered long enough for Cruz to capture its glowing underwater show.

Most wildlife photographers understand the need to seize fleeting moments. Animals like this crab spider, which photographer Ripan Biswas shot in West Bengal, India, don’t generally pose for portraits.

Biswas noticed the spider cavorting about a red weaver ant colony in the subtropical forest of India’s Buxa Tiger Reserve. The arachnid is just half-an-inch long and mimics ants in appearance, behavior, and smell. That allows it to infiltrate a colony and take advantage of the easily accessible prey.

This particular spider was hunting when Biswas edged his camera in for a close up. The lens got so close that the spider likely saw its own fanged reflection and raised its legs as a warning.  

Ants, meanwhile, can be easier to photograph than spiders — if a bunch of them join together. Photographer Daniel Kronauer tracked a colony of nomadic army ants to get this shot.

The army ants were traveling through the Costa Rican rainforest. After the sun set, they would interlock their bodies to build a new nest to house the queen and larvae. The ants formed a scaffold of vertical chains by interlocking the claws on their feet.

The shape of these living nests depend on the ants’ surroundings. One night, the colony assembled in the open, against a fallen branch and two large leaves that were evenly spaced and of similar height.

The resulting nest spanned 20 inches and resembled “a living cathedral with three naves,” Kronauer said.