A Tadpole’s Perspective and More “Life Through a Lens” Images

Ogle the images from winners of the Royal Society’s photography contest

Special commendation, Biology Letters publisher’s choice: After every winter rain in the Canary Islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, Canarian Houbarabustard (Chlamydotis undulata) males begin their impressive courtship displays. Jose Juan Hernandez Martinez, via Royal Society Publishing
Category winner, Behavior: A school of tropical clupeid fish swim in sync, keeping a healthy distance from a teenage black-tip reef shark in the Rasdhoo Atoll, Republic of Maldives. Though the sharks cruise placidly for hours without so much as a glance at the fish, they strike suddenly, gobbling up a mouthful of fish. Claudia Pogoreutz, via Royal Society Publishing
Category winner: Evolutionary Biology: The leaves of the water fern, Salvinia molesta, are covered with wispy hairs. The leaf surface and all but the very tip of each wisp is extremely water-repellent, 'pinning' water droplets in place, and helping prevent water from trickling between wisps. Ulrike Bauer, via Royal Society Publishing
Special commendation: This image was captured at Cape Point Reserve, South Africa. Most of the bamboons were resting during the heat of the day, yet one sat with his eyes closed, facing the sun, posing as though he was lost in his thoughts. Davide Gaglio, via Royal Society Publishing
Overall winner, Category winner: Ecology and Environmental Science: Tadpoles hatch in abundance, but few of the tiny swimmers make it to adulthood. This is a group of common toad (Bufo bufo) tadpoles as seen from below. Bert Willaert, via Royal Society Publishing
Special commendation, Proceedings B Publisher’s choice: This image is of what appears to be a single colony of the giant Caribbean brain coral Colpophyllia natans. The coral has a spectacular capacity to assume a wide range of different forms and appearances. Evan D'Alessandro, via Royal Society Publishing
Runner up, Ecology and Environmental Science: The strong and powerful gorilla is one of our closest living relatives, but is vulnerable to a myriad of human pressures. This image captures the group's silverback—an older dominant male—facing the farmland while eating bark in Rwanda, outside of the Volcanoes National Park. Martha M. Robbins, via Royal Society Publishing
Runner up, Behavior: An adult wild bearded capuchin monkey (Sapajus libidinosus) hoists a stone nearly as heavy as himself to crack a very resistant palm nut in Fazenda Boa Vista, Brazil. This behavior is considered one of the most complex forms of tool use by a nonhuman species seen in nature. Luca Antonio Marino, via Royal Society Publishing
Special commendation: Argulus is a species of fish lice that wreaks havoc on any freshwater fishery it infests. With unique hunting and breeding strategies, these lice live in the harsh and variable climates of Europe, East Asia and Siberia. Steve Gschmeissner, via Royal Society Publishing
Runner up in Evolutionary Biology: If you can spot the scales in this image, they are the top of an adder snake, or Bitis peringueyi. An ambush predator and master of disguise—the adder snake burrows under the sand and has eyes on the tops of their heads. Fabio Pupin, via Royal Society Publishing

Tadpoles swimming against the backdrop of a clear blue sky; a massive school of fish desperately trying to avoid the toothy mouth of a young shark; a bead of water delicately perched on the leaf of a fern. These are the top three winners of Royal Society Publishing’s first photography competition, "Life through a lens: Celebrating science photography," which showcased some of the year’s most evocative images that capture the beauty of the natural world.

Thanks to few common tadpoles, Belgian biologist Bert Willaert has taken home first place in the competition. Willaert snapped the winning shot after catching a glimpse at a group of tadpoles swimming just beneath the surface of a clear canal, inspiring him to dive in and see what the world might look like from their perspective.

“The underwater world is only accessed by a limited number of people, and snorkeling in the fresh water in Belgium I was surprised by the beautiful scenery and the silence,” Willaert says in a statement. “To conserve the natural world I think drawing attention to the beauty of these ordinary moments in our own neighborhoods, including our own backyards, is particularly important. I believe people will only conserve things when they know it exists — and how often will people have had snorkeled in their own garden pond?”

It was that shift in perspective that won Willaert the grand prize, judge and award-winning nature photographer Alex Badyaev said in a statement. Willaert’s photo reminded him that from a tadpole’s point of view, their world isn’t just framed against lily pads and muddy ponds.

“To me the winning photo communicates the power of a common biological phenomenon visualized in a new light, and from a perspective that emphasizes the other half of the ecosystem; the half we usually miss when looking down at a tadpoles’ puddle, but one that is very much part of the tadpoles’ own view — the clouds, the trees, and the sky,” Badyaev said.

Willaert faced some stiff competition. The contest celebrated the 350th anniversary of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and drew more than 1,000 entries. The runners up are both incredible images that document fleeting moments like a gorilla gazing off into the abyss and a desert snake hidden in a sand dune.

Germany’s Claudia Pogoreutz won first-place in the Animal Behavior category for her overhead photo of a young shark trying to nab a mouthful from a school of clupeid fish that were keeping the predator at fin’s length. 

The United Kingdom’s Ulrike Bauer won the Evolutionary Biology category for his close-up shot of a water fern "holding" a drop of water with hollow whisks that coat its leaves and help keep it dry.

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