A ghostly image of luminescent mayflies swarming against an inky sky has won first place in the Royal Society Publishing photography competition.
The award, now in its second year, celebrates the power of photography to communicate science and shows the beautiful images encountered whilst studying the world around us.
The winning shot, by Imre Potyó, also the judges’ top pick in the Behaviour category, glimpses the final courtship dance of short-lived adult Danube mayflies on the bank of the Rába River in Hungary.
At the beginning of the courtship, females fly together with males above the water surface, where they copulate. After copulation, the females fly upstream to deposit their eggs before falling, spent of energy, onto the water where they die. This stunning image captures female Danube mayflies making this final flight.
The photo was chosen from more than 1,000 entries by a panel for capturing the chaos of courtship backed by a starry night sky and silhouetted trees.
Winner Imre Potyó, who is an environmental researcher, said of his image: “It’s difficult to capture as their mating swarms are unpredictable and can last only a couple of hours. For me this shot captures the fantastic energy and chaos of the mayflies and the mood of the night time too.
“It’s particularly significant as this is a phenomenon that has been absent from the Danube for a few decades. The mayflies disappeared when the water became too polluted for their young to survive. The mayflies have now returned, probably due to the improving water quality. I hope this image draws attention to these spectacular endangered water insects.”
The Royal Society Publishing photography competition also awarded four category winners and runners up, including Behaviour, Ecology and Environmental science, Evolutionary Biology and Micro-imaging and four more images where specially commended.
All winning photos and runners-up will be on display at a free exhibition at the Royal Society on 17 and 18 September during the Open House London weekend.