11 jaw-dropping photos of marsupials, mushrooms, and more

From the American prairie to Mediterranean beaches, nature puts on a show.
Possum eating on a doorstep
Caitlin Henderson finds an unexpected guest on her balcony in Queensland, Australia, as a possum snacks on a large cicada. "There were heads here, wings there," Henderson says. She had peeked out and spotted a common brushtail possum sitting on the windowsill. Quick reaction allowed Caitlin to photograph the possum hungrily dismembering a large northern greengrocer cicada while carrying a baby in its pouch. This nocturnal marsupial, native to Australia, is widespread and locally abundant. Its long, sharp claws are made for a life in the trees, but it has readily adapted to urban environments and come into conflicts with humans. Caitlin Henderson/Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London.

From the tops of Mount Olympus in Pieria, Greece, to the sandy floors of Rijeka, Croatia, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition explores nature’s magic through the “eyes” of cameras. With each shot and submission, photographers reveal unique moments in the great outdoors in luminous detail, letting us catch a glimpse of the hidden lives of animals, plants, and other natural elements. Maybe it’s from the bow of a weathered fishing boat, encrusted in sea salt, as a local fisherman hauls in the day’s catch under the Ecuadorian sunlight. Or maybe it’s from a chilly prairie covered in fresh snow, as a shaggy bison shakes powdery flakes from its fur.

As the founder and long-time organizer of Wildlife Photographer of the Year, the National History Museum in London has remained committed to sharing entries from eminent photographers who documented natural history subjects, expeditions, and museum exhibits. The winners of the 59th contest will be announced in October and will be followed by a new gallery at the museum. Until then, enjoy these highly commended images selected from thousands of award-worthy images by the judging panel.

Iridescent spores around mushroom cap
Agorastos Papatsanis illuminates swirls of spores appearing to dance beneath the gills of a deer shield mushroom in Pieria, Greece. Intent on revealing the magic of spore dispersal, Papatsanis set up umbrellas to minimize air flow, positioned a light and a reflector, and angled his camera to highlight this often-unseen action as waves of ethereal dust. Billions of these tiny egg-shaped spores are dispersed by air currents. This wood-rotting fungus most often emerges on the stumps and fallen branches of broad-leaved trees. Agorastos Papatsanis/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Gobi fish on bright orange coral
Alex Mustard shows the biodiversity of a healthy coral reef off North Sulawesi, Indonesia, as ghost gobies swim within the branches of a sea fan. Mustard is particularly fond of gobies, which are normally skittish, but he was determined to picture more than one in the frame. Unexpected was the copepod parasite on one fish. Capturing the vibrant, contrasting colours meant holding steady in the current to get a long enough exposure. Ghost gobies use gorgonian sea fans as a refuge or feeding platform, and perfectly blend into their surroundings. Coral reefs support a diversity of interconnected species but are at risk due to the warming seas of climate change. Alex Mustard/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Macaque monkey riding sika deer in forest
Atsuyuki Ohshima quickly frames an unusual interaction in Kagoshima, Japan, as a macaque jumps on a deer. A sudden movement behind the sika stag caught Ohshima’s eye. In an instant–using a tree as a springboard–a young Yakushima macaque jumped onto the deer’s back. Rodeo-riding of deer by the monkeys of Yakushima Island is rare, but not unheard of. Young male macaques have been seen clinging to female deer and trying to mate with them. In this case, however, the macaque was a young female, appearing just to be enjoying a free ride. Atsuyuki Ohshima/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Injured African elephant spraying mud at park staff
Jasper Doest shows the final moments of extreme distress felt by an African elephant hit by a train. The collision shattered the elephant’s hip beyond repair, and it had to be killed. Doest, who was in Gabon’s Lopé National Park on a different assignment, witnessed the episode. Despite the park director’s efforts to get the train company to slow trains, there are regular wildlife–train collisions in the site, including up to 20 incidents with elephants a year. Trains transport manganese from the Moanda mine, which holds 25 percent of known reserves. Manganese is a metal used in iron and steel production. Jasper Doest/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Common coot bird wading across icy water
Zhai Zeyu enjoys watching a coot as it struggles to stay upright on ice while subduing a wriggling loach. Zeyu waited in the cold in Liaoning, China, watching coots as they endeavored to move across a frozen pond in northeast China. This coot had been scrambling in the water for food and eventually caught a loach. Common coots are among the most widespread birds, with a range that extends across Europe and Asia and into North Africa and Australia. They require large areas of open water with nearby cover for nesting, and populations can be affected when their habitat is disturbed by humans. Zhai Zeyu/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
American bison kicking up snow
Max Waugh catches sight of a plains bison in Yellowstone National Park kicking up flurries of snow over its bulky frame. From his vehicle Max saw the bison start to head downhill towards the road, gathering momentum, and he drew up to give them space to cross. Waugh framed the bison tightly to create this original composition. Once abundant and wide-ranging across most of North America, bison were hunted to near extinction by the late 1800s. Numbers are slowly increasing, but they are confined to discrete populations, dependent on conservation management and constrained by land-use changes and land ownership. Max Waugh/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Fisher dragging swordfish across beach in black and white
Jef Pattyn watches as an artisan fisher drags a sailfish across the beach in Puerto López, Ecuador. Pattyn had spent days watching fishers bring their catch to shore surrounded by birds trying to get their share. The fish were prepared at sea then loaded onto trucks early in the morning when this photograph was taken. Artisan fishing provides vital employment opportunities for people living around Ecuador’s Eastern Pacific waters. This is small in scale compared to the industrial-scale fishing undertaken by international fleets. However, artisan fishing does still have an impact as marine mammals can be entangled in nets. Jef Pattyn/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Mason bee collecting sticks
Solvin Zankl carefully watches a two-colored mason bee build the roof of its nest. Zankl knew the bee was memorizing landmarks around the nest in Hesse, Germany, so it could find it again. So as not to disorientate it, he edged his equipment closer each time it left. After two hours, the bee was using his equipment as a landmark. Two-colored mason bees use snail shells for egg laying. They pack the shell with pollen and nectar for their larvae, then seal it with grass and sticky saliva. Humans sometimes consider snails to be pests, but this species could not survive without them. Solvin Zankl/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Mediterranean stargazer fish gazing up from the ocean
Pietro Formis discovers a Mediterranean stargazer peering through the sandy floor in coastal waters off Rijeka, Croatia. Formis approached the stargazer with care so as not to disturb it. Combining the concentrated light from the flash with a slow shutter speed and deliberate movement from his camera, Pietro presents the stargazer lit through a curtain of turquoise water. The stargazer is an ambush predator. It buries itself in the sand by wriggling its body until it is invisible except for its eyes and teeth, then it lies in wait for small fish and invertebrates. Its coastal habitat is under pressure from erosion and pollution, and it is often caught as bycatch. Pietro Formis/Wildlife Photographer of the Year
White storks behind a controlled burn in a nature reserve
Elza Friedländer shows a pair of white storks in shimmering heat against the burnt ground caused by a controlled fire. As Friedländer had anticipated, shortly after the controlled fire was lit on an area of Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve, hundreds of birds arrived, particularly storks and kites. Most kept a reasonable distance, but the storks pressed up to the front line in search of easy prey. Starting fires is a common though controversial way of managing grasslands to stimulate lush new growth and to control the spread of bushland. This can be a dangerous tactic especially in times of drought when fire spreads easily. Elza Friedländer/Wildlife Photographer of the Year