10 Peeks at Nature From the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Contest

Spiders, squirrels, puffins, and trees make for striking photo subjects.

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'The Spider's Supper' by Jaime Culebras
'The Spider's Supper'.

Jaime Culebras / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 

From a hungry spider to a startled squirrel to a lone resilient tree, nature offers some amazing subjects for photographers.

For 56 years, photographers have showcased their work in the Natural History Museum, London's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. This year, the competition attracted more than 49,000 entries from professionals and amateurs from 86 countries. Winners will be announced via the first ever virtual ceremony, streaming from the museum on Oct. 13.

Follow the competition on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook for live updates on that night.

In advance of the announcement, the museum has released several highly commended photographs from various categories in the competition, along with descriptions of each photo.

Here are their thoughts on the transfixing photo above. It's called "The Spider's Supper" by Jaime Culebras and it's in the "Behavior: Invertebrates" category.

A large wandering spider — black, hooked fangs tipping its bristly, striped mouthparts — pierces the egg of a giant glass frog, injects digestive juices and then sucks in its liquefied prey. Jaime had walked for hours, in darkness and heavy rain, to reach the stream in Manduriacu Reserve, northwestern Ecuador, where he hoped to find glass frogs mating. But his reward turned out to be a chance to photograph a behavior he had seldom seen — a wandering spider with an 8-centimeter (3-inch) leg span devouring the frogs’ eggs ... Jaime set up his shot to capture the precise moment the female spider grasped the thin jelly coating between her fangs, steadying the egg with her long, hairy palps. One by one — over more than an hour — she ate the eggs. 

'Surprise!' by Makoto Ando; Behavior: Mammals

'Surprise!' by Makoto Ando
'Surprise!'. Makoto Ando / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

"A red squirrel bounds away from its surprise discovery — a pair of Ural owls, very much awake. In forest near his village on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, Makoto had spent three hours, in freezing conditions, hiding behind a nearby tree hoping that the owl couple would pose or perform. Suddenly, a squirrel appeared from the treetops. ‘It was extraordinary to see them all in the same tree,’ says Makoto. Ural owls prey mainly on small mammals, including red squirrels. This one, with characteristic tufted ears, bushy tail and grey-tinged winter coat, is a subspecies of the Eurasian red squirrel endemic to Hokkaido (possibly threatened by the introduction of mainland red squirrels, originally as pets). Rather than fleeing, the curious squirrel approached and peered into the owls’ hole, first from the top, then from the side. ‘I thought it was going to be caught right in front of me,’ says Makoto, ‘but the owls just stared back.’ The curious squirrel, as if suddenly realizing its mistake, leapt onto the nearest branch and sped away into the forest. With equally quick reactions, Makoto managed to frame the whole story – the squirrel’s escape, the owls’ expression, and a soft hint of the wintry forest landscape."

'Paired-Up Puffins' by Evie Easterbook; 11-14 Years Old

'Paired-Up Puffins' by Evie Easterbook
'Paired-Up Puffins'. Evie Easterbook / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

"A pair of Atlantic puffins in vibrant breeding plumage pause near their nest burrow on the Farne Islands. Every spring, these small islands off Northumberland attract more than 100,000 breeding pairs of seabirds. While guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars crowd onto the cliffs, puffins nest in burrows on the grassy slopes above. When wintering at sea, their plumage is a dull black and gray, but by the time they return to breed, they are sporting black ‘eye liner’ and brightly colored bill plates that have fused into an unmistakable beak — one which, to other puffins, also glows with UV light. Evie had longed to see a puffin, and when school broke up, she and her family managed two day trips to Staple Island in July, before the puffins returned to sea in August. She stayed by the puffins’ burrows, watching the adults returning with mouthfuls of sand eels. Puffins are long-lived and form long-term pairs, and Evie concentrated on this pair, aiming for a characterful portrait."

'Wind Birds' by Alessandra Meniconzi; Behavior: Birds

'Wind Birds' by Alessandra Meniconzi
'Wind Birds'. Alessandra Meniconzi / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

"Blasted by the wind, high on the Alpstein Massif of the Swiss Alps, Alessandra could barely stand, but the yellow-billed choughs were in their element. These gregarious mountain birds nest in rocky ravines and on cliff faces, staying with their partners throughout the year. They feed mostly on insects in summer, and berries, seeds, and human food waste in winter — boldly scavenging in flocks around ski resorts. They are constantly on the move looking for food, and as a scavenging flock drew closer, Alessandra could hear them shrieking ‘so loud and insistent in the dramatic landscape — it was like being in a thriller movie.’ Taking advantage of gusts of wind sweeping the birds towards her and slowing their path, she captured their impressive acrobatics — one in characteristic headlong plunge — against the moody sky and jagged, snow-capped mountains. Red feet and yellow bills accent the monochrome of her atmospheric picture."

'The Night Shift' by Laurent Ballesta; Under Water

'The Night Shift' by Laurent Ballesta
'The Night Shift'. Laurent Ballesta / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 

"As darkness falls on the remote coral Fakarava Atoll, in French Polynesia, the mollusks begin to move. These large topshells — reaching 15 centimeters (6 inches) across the base — spend the day hiding in crevices among corals, usually on the outer fringes of the reef, withstanding the strong currents and surf. At night, they emerge to graze on algal pavements and coral rubble. Their thick, cone-shaped shells, shown encrusted with algae, were so sought after — to make mother-of-pearl buttons, jewelry and other handicrafts — that the species was once the world’s most traded invertebrate. This led to its widespread decline, and it is now the focus of conservation efforts. Cruising behind these slow grazers is one of the reef’s top predators — a grey reef shark, nearly 2 meters (6 1/2 feet) long — capable of speeds of nearly 50 kilometers (30 miles) per hour and ready for a night’s hunting. It pinpoints prey (mostly bony reef fish) with its acute senses and often hunts in packs."

'Head Start' by Dhritiman Mukherjee; Behavior: Amphibians and Reptiles

'Head Start' by Dhritiman Mukherjee
'Head Start'. Dhritiman Mukherjee / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

"Ever watchful, a large male gharial — at least 4 meters (13 feet) long — provides solid support for his numerous offspring. It is breeding season in the National Chambal Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, and this usually shy reptile now exudes confidence. Its name comes from the bulbous growth at the tip of a mature male’s long thin snout (‘ghara’ is a round pot in Hindi), believed to be used to enhance sounds and underwater bubble displays made during breeding. Though numbers might have once exceeded 20,000, spread across South Asia, the past century saw drastic declines. The species is now critically endangered — an estimated 650 adults are left, about 500 of them living in the sanctuary. They are threatened mainly by the damming and diversion of rivers and extraction of sand from riverbanks where they nest, as well as the depletion of fish stocks and entanglement in nets. A male will mate with seven or more females, who nest close together, their hatchlings aggregating into one large crèche. This male was left in sole charge of his month-old offspring, observes Dhritiman, but both sexes are known to care for their young. So as not to disturb the gharials, he spent many days quietly watching from the riverbank. His picture encapsulates at once the tenderness of a protective father and its ‘don’t mess with my offspring’ attitude."

'The Forest Born of Fire' by Andrea Pozzi; Plants and Fungi

'The Forest Born of Fire' by Andrea Pozzi
'The Forest Born of Fire'. Andrea Pozzi / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

"The Araucanía region of Chile is named after its Araucaria trees — here standing tall against a backdrop of late-autumn southern beech forest. Andrea had been enchanted by this sight a year previously and had timed his return to capture it. He hiked for hours to a ridge overlooking the forest and waited for the right light, just after sunset, to emphasize the colors. The trunks gleamed like pins scattered on the landscape, and he framed the composition to create the feeling that the whole world was clothed in this strange forest fabric. Native to central and southern Chile and western Argentina, this Araucaria species was introduced to Europe in the late eighteenth century, where it was grown as a curiosity. Highly prized for its distinctive appearance, with whorls of spiky leaves around the angular branches and trunk, the tree acquired the English name monkey puzzle. In its natural habitat, Araucaria forms extensive forests, often in association with southern beech and sometimes in pure stands on volcanic slopes. The ecology of these regions is shaped by dramatic disturbances, including volcanic eruptions and fires. Araucaria withstands fires by having thick, protective bark and specially adapted buds, while southern beech — a pioneer — regenerates vigorously after fires. In such environs, Araucaria can grow to 50 meters (164 feet) tall, usually with branches restricted to the upper part of the tree — to reach the light over the broadleaf understorey — and can live for more than 1,000 years."

'Amazon Burning' by Charlie Hamilton James; Wildlife Photojournalism: Single Image

'Amazon Burning' by Charlie Hamilton James
'Amazon Burning'. Charlie Hamilton James / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

"A fire burns out of control in Maranhão state, northeastern Brazil. A single tree remains standing — ‘a monument to human stupidity,’ says Charlie, who has been covering deforestation in the Amazon for the past decade. The fire would have been started deliberately to clear a logged area of secondary forest for agriculture or cattle farming. In 2015, more than half the state’s primary forest was destroyed by fires started by illegal logging on indigenous land. Burning has continued in the state, exacerbated by drought, as land has been cleared, legally and illegally ... Deforestation doesn’t just cause destruction of biodiversity and the loss of the livelihoods of the people who depend on it. Burning trees means losing their oxygen output and letting back into the atmosphere the carbon they have sequestered. Then cattle brought onto the cleared land add to the greenhouse gases."

'Peeking possums' by Gary Meredith; Urban Wildlife

'Peeking possums' by Gary Meredith
'Peeking possums'. Gary Meredith / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

"Two common brushtail possums — a mother (left) and her joey — peek out of their hiding place under the roof of a shower block in a holiday park in Yallingup, Western Australia. Gary had watched them all week. They would pop up at sunset, keep an eye on the campers till dark, then squeeze out through the gap and head for the trees to feed on the leaves of a peppermint tree. These small, adaptable marsupials (mammals with pouches) naturally occur in Australia’s forests and woodlands, taking shelter in tree hollows, but in more urban areas, they may use roof spaces. To get the right angle, Gary moved his car close to the building and climbed up. The curious possums — probably used to being fed by other campers — stuck their heads out and peered at the interesting man and his camera. He quickly framed their little faces beneath the corrugated iron roof, capturing a sense of their vulnerability, along with their resourcefulness."

'Eye of the Drought' by Jose Fragozo; Animal Portraits

'Eye of the Drought' by Jose Fragozo
'Eye of the Drought'. Jose Fragozo / Wildlife Photographer of the Year

"An eye blinks open in the mud pool as a hippopotamus emerges to take a breath — one every three to five minutes. The challenge for Jose, watching in his vehicle, was to catch the moment an eye opened. For several years, Jose has been watching hippos in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve — here in a remnant of the drought-stricken Mara River. Hippos spend the day submerged to keep their temperature constant and their sensitive skin out of the sun, and at night they emerge to graze on the floodplains. Throughout their sub-Saharan African range, hippos are vulnerable to the combined effects of increasing water extraction and climate change. They are vital grassland and aquatic ecosystem engineers, and their dung provides important nutrients for fish, algae and insects. But when rivers run dry, a concentration of dung depletes the oxygen and kills the aquatic life."