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American photographer Karine Aigner has won the Grand Title in this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition with a stunning image of a ball of cactus bees vying for a mate.
Book your tickets to see all the winning and runners up images on display in a freshly redesigned exhibition at the Museum from Friday 14 October.
Every year in the deserts of southern USA, normally solitary cactus bees gather in huge numbers.
Patrolling areas of open ground, male bees are on the lookout for any chance to find a mate. As soon as a female emerges from its burrow in the ground, the males scramble to reach her as quickly as possible.
The fierce competition creates a buzzing ball of bees as the males swamp the solitary female, grappling with each other to secure their chance to father the next generation.
It is a dynamic image of one of these mating balls, titled The Big Buzz, that has won Karine Aigner the top prize in this year's Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards.
Showing a mass of male bees manically trying to reach the single female at its centre as still more bees come hurtling in, the image captures the intense drama unfolding just centimetres above the ground.
Rosamund 'Roz' Kidman Cox, Chair of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Jury, says, 'Wings whirring, incoming males home in on the ball of buzzing bees that is rolling straight into the picture.'
'The sense of movement and intensity is shown at bee-level magnification and transforms what are little cactus bees into big competitors for a single female.'
Read all about he world of ground nesting bees and discover the steps we can take to help them survive.
The typical image of bees is usually that of a large colony buzzing around a honeycomb, yet the vast majority of the 16,000 known bee species are actually solitary.
These solitary bees play a vital role in the pollination of plants, including many of those we eat. But the biology of many of these species remains poorly understood. For example, in the case of the cactus bee, it's still not fully understood why it normally lives a life of solitude but then amasses in huge numbers in this mating event.
Knowing more about where, when and how these amazing creatures mate will help to protect them and in turn contribute to our fight to protect the planet against the impacts of humans and the rapidly changing climate.
Dr Doug Gurr, Director of the Museum, remarks, 'Wildlife photographers offer us unforgettable glimpses into the lives of wild species, sharing unseen details, fascinating behaviours and front-line reporting on the climate and biodiversity crises.'
'These images demonstrate their awe of and appreciation for the natural world and the urgent need to take action to protect it.'
The top prize for Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2022 has gone to Katanyou Wuttichaitanakorn from Thailand for his extraordinary picture of a feeding Bryde's whale.
The image, titled The Beauty of Baleen, captures the moment the whale surfaced, feeding on anchovies close to the boat Katanyou was travelling on. Intrigued by the contrasting colours and textures of the whale's baleen, gums and skin as it breached the surface, Katanyou caught this almost abstract image of the gentle giant.
'Out of the jaws of a Bryde's whale comes this dazzling creation,' says Roz. 'The pin-sharp detail of the tiny anchovies is set against an abstraction of colour with the weave of brown baleen hair rimmed by a cascade of water drops.'
The two winning images were selected from 19 category winners, which won out against some 38,575 entries from 93 countries to the fifty-eighth Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition.
From the rainforests of Central Africa to the oceans off the coast of New Zealand, the exhibition showcases the best in nature photography, capturing rarely seen animals, incredible behaviours and striking landscapes.
All winning and runners up images will be on display in a freshly redesigned exhibition at the Museum from Friday 14 October.