The most astonishing wildlife photos of 2019 range from meme-able to political

 The most astonishing wildlife photos of 2019 range from meme-able to political

Have you ever seen a colony of garden eels? What about a spider that looks like a crab that looks like an ant?

An opalescent squid drifts in the inky darkness of the ocean at nighttime. A marmoset with a face full of terror leaps away from a lunging fox. Hot tongues of lava emit clouds of noxious steam. These are some of the moments captured by the winners of the 2019 London Natural History Museum’s annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

Wildlife photography requires a truly astounding amount of patience, planning, and luck. This year’s winners tracked colonies of army ants through the rainforest, camped out in snow-covered deserts, and hid behind underwater shipwrecks in an effort to showcase the diverse majesty of wild places and beings. And they weren’t alone: The contest received more than 48,000 entries from 100 different countries in its 55th running.

Photographer Yongqing Bao received the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year award for “The moment,” a gripping action shot featuring a standoff between a marmoset and its foxy predator. According to the judges, the image deftly combines “horror and humor” to capture “the drama and intensity of nature.” The image was taken on the rarely photographed Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.

Some winners chose to use their artistry as an opportunity for political and social commentary, like “Single Image” finalist Alejandro Prieto. The Mexican photojournalist projected an enormous image of a jaguar onto the border wall and snapped the image he would call “Another barred migrant.”

Ultimately, 19 winners were chosen for 18 different categories (with a joint award shared by two photographs for “Animal Behavior.”) These photographs, along with dozens of other notable submissions, will go on display at the London Natural History Museum starting Friday, October 18.

Under a luminous star-studded Arizona sky, an enormous image of a male jaguar is projected onto a section of the US-Mexico border fence—symbolic, says Alejandro Prieto, of “the jaguars’ past and future existence in the United States.” Today, the jaguar’s stronghold is in the Amazon, but historically, the range of this large, powerful cat included the southwestern US. Over the past century, human impact—from hunting, which was banned in 1997 when jaguars became a protected species, and habitat destruction—has resulted in the species becoming virtually extinct in the US. The photograph projected on the border wall is of a Mexican jaguar, captured with camera traps that Prieto has been setting on both sides of the border and monitoring for more than two years. The shot of the border fence was created to highlight President Trump’s plan to seal off the entire US‑Mexico frontier with an impenetrable wall and the impact it will have on the movement of wildlife, sealing the sad fate of jaguars in the US.

Cruz Erdmann was on an organized night dive in the Lembeh Strait off North Sulawesi, Indonesia and, as an eager photographer and speedy swimmer, had been asked to hold back from the main group to allow slower swimmers a chance of photography. This was how he found himself over an unpromising sand flat, in just 10 feet of water. It was here that he encountered the pair of bigfin reef squid. They were engaged in courtship, involving a glowing, fast‑changing communication of lines, spots and stripes of varying shades and colors. One immediately jetted away, but the other—probably the male—hovered just long enough for Erdmann to capture an instant of its glowing underwater show.

At dusk, Daniel Kronauer tracked a colony of nomadic army ants as it moved, traveling up to a quarter of a mile through the rainforest near La Selva Biological Station, northeastern Costa Rica. While it was still dark, the ants would use their bodies to build a new daytime nest to house the queen and larvae. They would form a scaffold of vertical chains by interlocking claws on their feet and then create a network of chambers and tunnels into which the larvae and queen would be moved from the last nest. One night, the colony assembled in the open, against a fallen branch and atop two large leaves, creating a structure that spanned 20 inches and resembled “a living cathedral with three naves.”

Nikon D3 + 17–35mm f2.8 lens at 19mm; 1/40 sec at f14; ISO 400; Seacam housing; aluminium plate + ballhead; remote trigger; Sea & Sea YS250 strobes (at half power)

This colony of garden eels was one of the largest David Doubilet had ever seen—at least two thirds the size of a football field, stretching down a steep sandy slope off Dauin, in the Philippines. These warm-water garden eels are extremely shy, vanishing into their sandy burrows the moment they sense anything unfamiliar. Doubilet placed his camera housing just within the colony and hid behind the remnants of a shipwreck. From there he could trigger the system remotely via a 40-foot extension cord. It was several hours before the eels dared to rise again to feed on the plankton that drifted by in the current. He gradually perfected his set-up, each time leaving an object where the camera had been so as not to surprise the eels when it reappeared. Several days later—now familiar with the eels’ rhythms and the path of the light—he began to get images he liked. When a small wrasse led a slender cornetfish through the gently swaying forms, he had his shot.

Joint Winner 2019, Behavior: Mammals

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II + 600mm f4 lens; 1/3000 sec at f4; ISO 1000; Gitzo tripod

Fur flies as the puma launches her attack on the guanaco. For Ingo Arndt, the picture marked the culmination of seven months tracking wild pumas on foot, enduring extreme cold and biting winds in the Torres del Paine region of Patagonia, Chile. For half an hour, Arndt watched this female puma creep up on the large, male guanaco. When the puma was within about 30 feet, she sprinted and jumped.

As her claws made contact, the guanaco twisted to the side, his last grassy mouthful flying in the wind. The puma then leapt on his back and tried to deliver a crushing bite to his neck. Running, he couldn’t throw her off, and it was only when he dropped his weight on her, seemingly deliberately, that she let go, just missing a kick that could easily have knocked out her teeth or broken bones. Four out of five puma hunts end like this—unsuccessfully.

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