Photographer Karine Aigner's Plan 'Bee'

How photographer Karine Aigner captured her prizewinning shot of South Texas cactus bees

  • By Jennifer Wehunt // Photo by Karine Aigner
  • Wildlife Photos
  • Mar 28, 2024

"PEOPLE SAY, ‘Tell me about your technique,’” laughs Karine Aigner, the Natural History Museum of London’s 2022 Wildlife Photographer of the Year for her May 2021 photo (above). “But I had no idea what I was doing.”

Aigner spotted what she thought were anthills while driving around the South Texas ranch she uses as a part-time home base. She sent some photos to a biologist friend who told her she was seeing signs of native cactus bees. Wait a few weeks, he said, and she’d witness everything from predation by wolf spiders to a new generation emerging: “He went on and on—a real nerd,” she chuckles. Aigner was hooked. An entomologist she contacted eventually helped fill in the picture. This was a nesting aggregation, in which males compete to mate with females. Those females eventually dig multichambered tunnels, lay a sole egg in each, fill the ground back in, “then walk away and die,” she says. When new females surface, the whole cycle starts over.

Aigner returned again and again, “but I had all the wrong gear. I needed to show how this bee was different from the bee we think we know, the European honey bee.” Finally, lying in the dirt, birds dive-bombing all around, her rented flash failing in the heat, she got the shot: “2,000 pictures later.” A humble description of an extraordinary moment. See more at

More from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation:

The Truth About Honey Bees »
BUZZworthy: Fascinating Facts About Bees »
See Fall 2023 Issue's Nature's Witness »
See Fall 2023 Issue's Footprint »

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