Spanish photographer Javier Aznar González de Rueda has taken home the top prize this year for his incredible image, Maternal Care, which shows a mother stink bug caring for her brood. The photographer focuses on natural history research, wildlife conservation, and the connection between people and nature.
“Maternal care significantly increases an offspring’s chances of survival. In Ecuador’s rainforest, juvenile stink bugs are vulnerable to attack by numerous predators and parasitoids such as ichneumon wasps. This is a highly complex ecosystem with countless organisms in a vast interconnected web of life,” explains photographer Javier Aznar González de Rueda.
“True bugs, and many other groups of insects, are particularly species rich in the extensive agriculture habitats of our structured cultivated landscapes. More than 900 species of true bugs occur in Germany, more than 1,100 in Central Europe, and more than 42,000 worldwide,” says Sabine Riewenherm, President of the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) and competition patron. “Protecting these species and, above all, their habitats is an immense responsibility for all of us! Because bugs are often closely associated with certain habitat types and environmental conditions, their presence or absence provides vital information about habitat condition.”
González de Rueda’s beautiful photo topped around 18,000 images entered by photographers from 42 countries. An international five-member jury spent three days whittling the images to 107 award-winning photos across nine standard categories and two special categories. The winners were announced today at the GDT International Nature Photography Festival.
“Do we humans really believe that insects bond with their offspring? That they are capable of displaying parental feelings? And are humans capable of connecting emotionally with insects?” asks competition jurist Mark Littlejohn. “From an early age, the fate of dolphins, elephants, and other large charismatic animals touches our hearts. Yet all life deserves to be cherished and protected. The beautiful photograph by Javier is about exactly this — unconditional love. In all its forms and manifestations. This aspect was crucial to the decision by the jury.”
Recent studies have shown that the rate of extinction for insects is eight times higher than in mammals, Littlejohn explains, while emphasizing that insects play a vital role in the world. “With this in mind, the long, hard task of selecting one winner out of 18,000 entries was surprisingly easy,” the judge adds.
More From the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition
Alongside the category winners featured above, the judges also selected “highly commended” images for each category. These photos are available on the GDT’s website.
More spectacular images can be found in PetaPixel’s coverage of the Nature Photographer of the Year contest earlier this year.
Image credits: Photographers credited in individual image captions. All images courtesy of the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2023 contest.