10 best nature photos of the year are out of this world

19 Nov 2015

The category winners of the Royal Society Publishing’s inaugural photography competition. Image via Royal Society

The 10 best nature photos of the year, as judged by the Royal Society, have been announced, with each of them arguably being worthy of first place in their own right.

The 10 nature photos of the year were whittled down from among 1,000 entries as part of the Royal Society’s annual competition to find some examples of photography that capture natural events in a whole new light, as well as celebrating the power of photography to communicate science.

And of the 10 finalists, a Belgian biologist of amphibian evolution and environmental adviser, Bert Willaert, and his underwater photo of a group of tadpoles against the backdrop of trees picked up the grand prize.

His capturing of both underwater and ground life was decided upon by the competition’s previous winner, evolutionary biologist Alex Badyaev, as well as the editors of the biological science journals Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Innes Cuthil) and Biology Letters (Dr Claire Spottiswoode).

Speaking of what influenced him to take the shot, Willaert said: “Clear water is hard to come across in the part of Belgium where I live, as a consequence of eutrophication. When I noticed these common toad tadpoles in the crystal clear canal I wanted to capture the chance encounter from their perspective.

“To conserve the natural world I think drawing attention to the beauty of these ordinary moments in our own neighbourhoods, including our own backyards, is particularly important.

“I believe people will only conserve things when they know they exist — and how often will people have snorkelled in their own garden pond?”

Below are the 10 entries that were considered good enough to be displayed at an event to be held by the Royal Society next week (26 November).

Overall winner

tadpoles overhead

The overall winner: Tadpoles Overhead. Image via Royal Society Publishing/Bert Willaert

Evolutionary biology category

Fern With a Drysuit

Image via Ulrike Bauer/Royal Society

“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 is submerged for several weeks.”

Runner-up: evolutionary biology category

Sand has scales

Sand has Scales. Image via Fabio Pupin/Royal Society

“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.”

Behaviour category

Going with the flow

Going with the flow: schooling to avoid a predator. Image via Claudia Pogoreutz/Royal Society

“A school of tropical clupeid fish exhibit synchronized behaviour 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.”

Runner-up: Behaviour category


Smashing. Image via Luca Antonio Marino/Royal Society

“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 non-human species seen in nature.”

Ecology and environmental science category

Ancestry dominance endangered

Ancestry. Dominance. Endangered. Image via Martha M. Robbins/Flickr

“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.”

Special commendation

A baboon

A baboon gets lost in his thoughts. Image via Davide Gaglio/Flickr

“This image 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.”

Special commendation

Fish louse

Fish louse. Image via Steve Gschmeissner/Flickr

“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.”

Special commendation: Proceedings B publisher’s choice

Caribbean brain coral

Caribbean brain coral. Image via Evan D’Alessandro/Royal Society

“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?”

Special commendation: Biology Letters publisher’s choice

Runs at Dawn

Runs at Dawn. Image via Jose Juan Hernandez Martinez/Royal Society

“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.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic