Mayfly invasion, ripples in the sky and a jumping squid: Nature’s photo competition

This year’s #ScientistAtWork contest attracted diverse entries from around the world.
Jack Leeming is the editor of Naturejobs.

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A scientist studies mayflies at night by car headlights in Belarus

Credit: Mikhail Kapychka

Millions of mayflies emerged from the Dnieper River in Mogilev, eastern Belarus, on 18 July 2013. It was the perfect day for the naiads to hatch: warm and windless. But as the Sun set, many of the insects sank to the hot tarmac of Chelyuskintsev Street, which runs along the river before cutting through the centre of Mogilev. The mayflies, which should have remained at the river to spawn, might have mistaken the road’s curvature and darkness for that of the Dnieper.

That’s when Mikhail Kapychka, a history teacher and social worker from Mogilev, took the image that won Nature’s third annual #ScientistAtWork photography competition. It depicts a biologist from Mogilev State A. Kuleshov University, who is taking photographs of the mayflies as they lie dying on the road. The insects typically have a lifespan of one day. The mass-hatching phenomenon occurs every year in Mogilev.

This year’s competition drew some 370 entries from around the world. We see scientists tend to a seal in the Antarctic, pose in a grotto of handwritten notes in Beijing and play the part of resting post for a woolly monkey in Brazil. Nature’s art editors selected the winning entry and runners-up on the basis of visual impact. The photographers who captured those images will receive a year’s personal subscription to Nature; winner Kapychka will also receive a cash prize.

Kapychka says that residents in Mogilev contacted their local university when they realized that the mayflies’ usual trajectory had been disrupted. “The light of the night city disoriented many mayflies, and they flew away from the river and so could not put their future offspring into the water,” he told Nature. “It seemed to me that scientists were very tired that day.”


Giant circular ripples of glowing air appeared at night over Tibet

Credit: Dai Jianfeng

Glowing air

Swirls of aqua and peach command a starry night sky in the Xigazê region of Tibet in April 2014. Researchers from the National Astronomical Observatories of China in Beijing and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville are observing colourful ripples of airglow. To get the photo, Jeff Dai — then an engineer on a photography holiday and now a full-time photographer — ran a long exposure of 47 seconds. Submitted by Jeff Dai

An immobilised female Weddell seal being tended to by a researcher after a deployment of a satellite tracker

Credit: Mia Wege

Seal the deal

Horst Bornemann, an ecologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany, injects a female Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) with a drug to reverse the effects of an anaesthetic dart on a visit to the Ronne ice shelf in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica, in February 2018. Bornemann, who keeps a spare, brightly coloured anaesthetic dart in his hat, has just finished attaching a satellite tracker to the seal, which will record data on sea temperature and the animal’s movements. Photographer Mia Wege is a postdoctoral researcher at the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. Submitted by Mia Wege

A researcher pulls a giant squid into a boat

Credit: Rodrigo Oyanedel

Sparkling squid

A champagne-like eruption of seawater splashes a fisherman as he hauls a jumbo squid (Dosidicus gigas) into his boat by hand, some 10 kilometres off the coast of Chile in January 2016. Photographer Rodrigo Oyanedel, a PhD student in zoology at the University of Oxford, UK, is conducting research on traditional sustainable fishing methods. He says that fishers such as the individual he photographed are the world’s “last wild hunters”. Submitted by Rodrigo Oyanedel

A scholar studying information posted on the walls of an office

Credit: Nan Li

Data driven

Interior designer Nan Li snapped this contemplative portrait of her husband, Zhen Wang, a climate scientist at Beijing Forestry University, as he studied climate-change data in his office in March 2019. Li embellished the scene, but not by much: attaching detailed handwritten notes to the walls of his office is a regular habit of Wang’s. Submitted by Nan Li

A woolly monkey sits on the head of Bárbara Cartagena Matos in the Amazon

Credit: Bárbara Cartagena da Silva Matos

Don’t monkey around

You can stare right back at Carlinha, a woolly monkey (Lagothrix lagotricha cana) from the Amazon Ecopark Jungle Lodge near Manaus, Brazil, as she poses in 2013 with Bárbara Cartagena Matos, now a PhD student in wildlife ecology at the University of Lisbon. Submitted by Bárbara Cartagena Matos


Scientists conduct research from a boat in Antarctica with a penguin hoping on board

Credit: Darren Koppel

Hop in

An Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) shocks environmental chemist Gwilym Price (right) — then at the University of Wollongong, Australia, and now a PhD student at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia, — as it launches itself into his and his colleagues’ research vessel near Casey Station, a research outpost in Antarctica, in January 2018. Photographer Darren Koppel, an environmental scientist at University of Technology Sydney, and his team were investigating metal pollution in the local ecosystem. The penguins “were a constant source of joy to us in an otherwise isolating environment”, Koppel says. Submitted by Darren Koppel

A comparative neuroanatomist wades into the ocean with a light trap to collect mantis shrimp larvae in Australia

Credit: Alice Chou

Starry, starry night

A star-flecked night sky dominates the backdrop to neuroanatomist Chan Lin — then at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and now at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC — as he wades in shallow salt waters at Lizard Island Research Station on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, in 2015. Lin is using a light trap to collect mantis shrimp (Alima pacifica) larvae to study the structure of their brain. Alice Chou, a PhD student who worked with Lin at the same institution, was supposed to be helping, but, “As soon as I saw the glow of light trap illuminate his silhouette from the water, I ran back to the cabins to grab my camera,” she explains. “Needless to say, I was not particularly helpful that night.” Submitted by Alice Chou

A scientist searches for arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi associated with aquatic plants in Brazil

Credit: Xochitl Margarito Vista


Scientists submerge themselves in the mud at Boqueirão lagoon in Touros, Brazil, during the dry season, in December 2017. The pair are looking for fungi belonging to the phylum Glomeromycota, which form a symbiotic relationship with the roots of certain plants, and are the research focus of photographer Xochitl Margarito Vista’s PhD supervisor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte in Natal, Brazil. Submitted by Xochitl Margarito Vista

A scientist restrains a female bull shark in order to capture a thermal image

Credit: Christopher Brown

Shark safety

Jake Jerome restrains a pregnant female bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) on the platform of a floating dock in Biscayne Bay, Florida, as his colleague uses a thermal-imaging camera to analyse the influence of air exposure on the shark’s body temperature. At the time, Jerome was a master’s student at the University of Miami and participating in the university’s Shark Research and Conservation Program; he is now a programme developer at Field School, a marine-science training centre in Coconut Grove, Florida. Photographer Christopher Brown, also at the University of Miami at the time, and who now works at the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries in Morehead City, hopes the information that Jerome and his colleagues collected will help to produce evidence-based fishing regulations that can contribute to methods of shark handling that lessen the risk of the animals’ death. Submitted by Christopher Brown

Nature 568, 265-267 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01104-x

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