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December 20, 2012

Best nature pictures of 2012

This is a compilation of images in which photographers have captured the beauty of our world, along with great moments among the living things we share this planet with. Most are from the reoccurring photo gallery The Natural World, in which photos of animals and our environment are selected from the many wire service photos moved throughout the year from all over the world. Many great photos of animals are taken in zoos, but this entry mostly shows creatures in their own habitat. -Leanne Burden Seidel(53 photos total)

A lenticular cloud formed as high winds blew over the rugged Crazy Mountains in Montana. Lenticular clouds are stationary lens-shaped clouds that form at high altitudes. (James Woodcock, Billings Gazette via Associated Press)

A Japanese snow monkey relaxed in a hot spring in the Jigokudani valley in northern Nagano Prefecture, Japan. (Nick Ut/Associated Press)#

Storm clouds gathered over Gorzow Wielkopolski, Poland. (Lech Musynski/EPA) #

Birds sat on the partly frozen river Elbe in Dresden, Germany. (Matthias Rietschel/dapd via Associated Press) #

A bumble bee collected pollen from a blooming crocus in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on the first day of spring. ( Martin Meissner/Associated Press) #

Snow covered trees in Rubi, Spain. ( Manu Fernandez/Associated Press) #

Seagulls were silhouetted against the sun on a mild afternoon in Boston. (Brian Snyder/Reuters) #

Walker the polar bear (right) met with new male companion Arktos at the Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie, Scotland. It is hoped that 4-year-old Arktos, and the year younger, slightly smaller Walker will establish a relationship of friendly competitiveness. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) #

A coral on a reef in the Kenting National Park spawned in Taiwan. Coral spawning usually takes place by the 23d day of the third month of the lunar calendar, which fell on April 13 this year. (Tsai Yung-chun/Reuters)#

A Spiren shrub bloomed in the Central Park Conservatory Garden in New York. ( Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images) #

Birds perched on a branch during a spring snowstorm in Pembroke, N.Y. (David Duprey/Associated Press)#

Fitzroy dolphins jumped in the waters off Puerto Madryn, Argentina.( Maxi Jonas/Reuters) #

A giant panda sat in a tree at a breeding center in Dujiangyan, China. The giant panda is among six young giant pandas which were bred in captivity and were released as a group of "pioneers" into an enclosed forest in Sichuan province. ( China Daily/Reuters)#

A mole emerged from the dirt in Godewaersvelde, France. (Philippe Huguen/AFP/GettyImages) #

An egret waited for its prey at the reclaimed area in Manila Bay known as Freedom Island in Paranaque, Philippines. (Bullit Marquez/Associated Press)#

Seasonal winter storms lashed boats at anchor off Cape Town's Sea Point promenade. The Cape Peninsula has long been known as the "Cape of Storms" among sailors whose wrecked vessels have been scattered along the coastline at the southern tip of Africa for 400 years. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters) #

Cherry trees bloomed in an orchard in Ockstadt-Friedberg, Germany. (EMILY WABITSCH/AFP/Getty Images) #

An apiaceae was covered with snow in front of a clear sky near Elbingerode, Germany. (Matthias Bein/AFP/Getty Images)#

A goose rested on the snow at Skopje Zoo in Macedonia. ( Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters) #

Horsetail Falls glowed just before sunset at Yosemite National Park in California. (Phil Hawkins/Reuters) #

Colored leaves hung on a tree at the garden of Pillnitz Castle near Dresden, Germany. (Arno BurgiI/AFP/Getty Images) #

A damselfly rested on a turtle in a lake in the outskirts of Cali, Colombia. Colombia has the second largest biodiversity in the world. (Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Image#

A squirrel defended its food against a pigeon after snowfall in central park in Minsk, Belarus. ( Sergei Grits/Associated Press)#

Monkeys enjoyed a cold bath in a pond during a hot day in a rural neighborhood north of Bangkok. The Thai capital is seeing its hottest average temperatures in 30 years. (Sukree Sukplang/Reuters) #

Elephants gathered during the night to drink at a watering hole in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya. Seeing a dire situation grow worse, the animal conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) enlisted religious leaders in the fight to end the slaughter of Africa's elephants and rhinos by poachers, hoping that religion can help save some of the world's most majestic animals. (Ben Curtis/Associated Press) #

Incandescent materials, ash and smoke were spewed from the Popocatepetl Volcano as seen from the Santiago Xalitxintla, in the Mexican central state of Puebla. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)#

Fall colors and the sunlit web of a labyrinthine orb weaver spider created an interesting mosaic in Fredericksburg, Va. (Dave Ellis/The Free Lance-Star via Associated Press) #

A mountain gorilla bared its teeth in a clearing in Virunga national park near Bunagana in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (James Akena/Reuters) #

A morpho peleides butterfly laid its eggs while two ants surround one egg in Butterfly Garden in La Guacima, Costa Rica. (Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters) #

A red fox sat in the grass as a magpie dived toward it in a field east of Walla Walla, Wash. (Jeff Horner/Walla Walla Union-Bulletin via Associated Press)#

A male wild leopard climbed a net after it fell into a water reservoir tank at a tea estate in Haskhowa, West Bengal, India. (Diptendu Dutta/AFP/GettyImages ) #

A gosling looked for food during a rain shower at Fancher-Davidge Park in Middletown, N.Y. (Tom Bushey/Times Herald-Record via Associated Press)#

A lizard suns itself on a rock on the Galapagos Pinzon Island, Ecuador. (Dolores Ochoa/Associated Press)#

Barn owl chicks sat in a box in Israel's Beit Shean Valley near the border with Jordan. ( Baz Ratner/Reuters)#

A penguin swam off Arpoador beach in Rio de Janeiro. Penguins arrive from the Antarctic Circle on ice floes that melt in the vicinity of Brazil's shore, and the birds wash up on Rio beaches every winter. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)#

Dewdrops ran down a blade of grass near Trauchgau, southern Germany. ( Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/AFP/GettyImages )#

An egret stood on a ship mooring rope in Rio de Janeiro. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)#

Long-tailed mayflies mated on the surface of the Tisza river near Tiszainoka, Hungary. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)#

A lion cub walked in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park.(Noor Khamis/Reuters)#

A thunderstorm moved over trees and a silo on a farm near Wichita, Kan. (Orlin Wagner/Associated Press) #

Swirls of green and red appeared in an aurora over Whitehorse, Yukon. The aurora was due to the interaction of a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun with Earth's magnetosphere. (David Cartier, Sr./NASA via Reuters ) #

An Indian Myna held a grasshopper for its chicks in a nest built inside the wall of an underpass in Greater Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi. (Parivartan Sharma/Reuters)#

A tasselled wobbegong shark was seen lying on the substratum with the head of a brown-banded bamboo shark in its mouth during an underwater visual census of fishes on the fringing reef of Great Keppel Island on the Great Barrier Reef. ( Reuters)#

Morning fog rose from vineyards near Escherndorf, Germany. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/AFP/GettyImages) #

Garden birds fought for a spot at a feeder in a Johannesburg garden. (Denis Farrell/Associated Press)#

A young gray seal appeared in partly frozen water at a breeding station in Friedrichskoog, Germany. (Carsten Rehder/AFP/Getty Images)#

Morning dew hung in a spider's web in Seeburg, Germany. (Julian Stratenschulte/AFP/Getty Images) #

Surface melt water rushed along the surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet through a supra-glacial stream channel, southwest of Ilulissat. Polar ice sheets are now melting three times faster than in the 1990s, and that's added less than half an inch to already rising global sea levels, a new giant scientific study says. The acceleration of the melting, especially in Greenland, has ice scientists worried. (Ian Joughin/Associated Press)#

A whale shark swam beside a diver in the Galapagos Islands. Galapagos National Park, Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and the University of California - Davis, made satellite tagging of whale sharks in order to understand this species locally, regionally and globally in the migration process patterns. (Jonathan Green/Galapagos National Park via Reuters)#

Lightning struck the sky above the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, north of Tel Aviv. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images ) #

A mother bear and two cubs, spooked by noise from TV helicopters, peered from a tree in Altadena, Calif. (Nick Ut/Associated Press) #

Honey bees at a farm on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen. (Mohamed al-Sayaghi /Reuters) #

A loggerhead turtle hatchling made its way to the surf at Myrtle Beach State Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C.. (Randall Hill/Reuters)#