The BigPicture Photography Competition is in its ninth year and consistently presents some of the most spectacular natural world imagery of any photo contest. Taking out the Grand Prize this year is a rare shot of cactus bees forming a “mating ball”, from photographer Karine Aigner.
The bees are unusual in that they don’t live in collective hives but instead form individual nests. For a few days every year mating occurs when a female emerges from her nest, only to be swarmed upon by scores of males.
“The sex ratio in this species is often wildly lopsided, with single females emerging occasionally, dozens of patrolling males finding her in seconds, and potentially thousands of males flying overhead,” explained Missouri State University entomologist, Avery Russell.
Other category highlights in the competition highlight rarely witnessed animal behaviors in creative and often spectacular ways. Fernando Constantino Martínez Belmar’s photograph titled Face to Face is a perfect example of an incredibly rare moment captured beautifully, as an elusive wild jaguar comes up to meet a farmed pig.
Another amazing image comes from José Grandío in the Terrestrial Life category. Titled The Stoat’s Game, Grandío captured an exuberant stoat emerging from its burrow and playfully jumping around for half an hour. The purpose of this playful dancing behavior is unknown and hypotheses range from it being a pure expression of animal play to it being caused by an involuntary response to parasitic infections.
Take a look through our gallery at more highlights from this year’s competition.
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 Photography Competition.