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Leaf-cutting ants carve out photo win

By Matthew Knight for CNN
  • Photo of leaf-cutting ants in Costa Rica takes top spot in photo awards
  • 31,000 photos from 81 countries entered Veolia Environnement Photography awards
  • Fergus Gill from Scotland won young photographer's award with image of bird
  • Photos on display at Natural History Museum in London

(CNN) -- Hungarian photographer Bence Mate has won the 2010 Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year title for his photo "A marvel of ants."

His striking image of leaf-cutter ants taken in the Costa Rican rainforest was chosen ahead of more than 31,000 entries from 81 countries.

Mate said the ants, which he spent hours following, were "wonderful subjects."

"The variation in the size of the pieces they cut was fascinating -- sometimes small ants seemed to carry huge bits, bigger ones just small pieces," Mate said.

The 25-year-old added: "I love the contrast between the simplicity of the shot itself and the complexity of the behavior."

Mate's portfolio of six images also earned him the Erik Hosking prize, which is given to the best young photographer between the ages of 18-26 years.

Mark Carwardine, chair of a judging panel made up of nature photographers and wildlife experts, commended Mate for his range of subjects and styles.

"The photographer is clearly a master of his craft with an artist's eye," Carwardine said.

The prize for Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year was awarded to Fergus Gill from Scotland, UK for his photo "The frozen moment."

His picture of a fieldfare (a member of the thrush family) in a rowan tree at the bottom of his garden in Perthshire was taken on Boxing Day 2009 in temperatures of minus 17 degrees Celsius.

It is the second year running that 18-year-old Gill has won the award.

The Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year is jointly owned by the UK's Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine.

The competition started in 1964 and attracted 600 entries. Last year, a record 43,135 photographers entered from over 90 countries.

Last year was also notable for overall winner Jose Luis Rodriguez from Spain being stripped of his £10,000 ($15,500) award in January 2010 after he was alleged to have staged his shot titled "the storybook wolf."

A selection of 100 prize-winning photographs from the 18 competition categories goes on show Friday at the Natural History Museum, London. The exhibition runs until March 2011 before heading off on a world tour.