Zebra stripes vary subtly between the different species but there is one group of animals that has evolved colourful patterns of seemingly infinite variety, the butterflies. In this episode David looks at two examples of animal patterns that have bedazzled and baffled science for a long time, and uses modern tools to unlock their secrets.
David Attenborough highlights the curiosities that have led to accusations of forgery, but have ultimately helped assist the rethinking of evolution. When early explorers brought the first specimen of a duck-billed platypus to England in 1799, it was considered so bizarre it was deemed a hoax. Similarly, the midwife toad became the centre of a scientific storm in the 1920s that led to accusations of fakery.
2013 • Nature
"Magical Appearances" explores how swallows magically appear each spring and asks how did complex and beautiful insects like butterflies suddenly arrive in the summer.The discovery of the swallow’s epic migration and the revelation that butterflies could metamorphose into totally different looking adults were scientific stories both cloaked in mystery and controversy.
2014 • Nature
Hybrids can be bizarre and they can be deadly. We look at two hybrid animals that owe their existence to human interference - the pizzly bear (a cross between a polar bear and grizzly), which has come into being because of global warming, and the killer bee, brought into existence because of the transfer of African bees to South America.
2018 • Nature
Some animals have an extraordinary ability to find their way. The dung beetle, an insect revered by ancient Egyptians, uses the sun, the moon and even the Milky Way to move its prized ball of dung in the right direction. Pigeons are often considered feeble birdbrains, but they have incredible memories that can recall several complex travel routes with amazing accuracy and they even use man-made roads and hedgerows to find the quickest way home.
2018 • Nature
The giant panda gives birth to the smallest baby of any mammal and has to care for and protect it for many months. Why don't they give birth to more developed, robust young? The kiwi lays one of the largest eggs in the bird world, which produces a very well-developed chick. Why do kiwis produce a single egg that is a quarter of its body mass and almost too big to lay?
2018 • Nature
Can animals count? This is a question that has intrigued and fooled investigators for a long time. Just over 100 years ago, a German horse called Hans was declared a mathematical genius but all was not as it seemed. And strangely, some bamboos around the world flower exactly at the same no matter where they are. Are they counting down the years?
2018 • Nature
David Attenborough investigates two shells that have proved to be winners in evolution: the tortoise's shell and the shells of birds' eggs. The ostrich egg is so strong it is possible for a person to stand on it without it breaking, but how does the chick break out of this fortress? The evolution of the tortoise shell was for a long time a mystery and this bony box offers a lot more than just protection.
2018 • Nature
The Siamese fighting fish is so aggressive it will fight its own reflection until it is exhausted. Recent research shows that the fighting behaviour varies and depends on the personality of the fish! Male kangaroos were once pitted against humans in the boxing ring, with the most impressive male kangaroos being solid blocks of muscle with a kick that can kill. Why do they fight and what skills must a winner have?
2018 • Nature
Animal Reunions have captured the imaginations of millions of people worldwide. YouTube is full of animal reunion stories - moments that illustrate and capture genuine affection and emotion between and among species. These rare moments provide a fleeting window into the emotional capacities of animals and their ability to form bonds with humans. But can wild animals really feel joy, devotion and love? Most animal lovers are convinced that they do, and now scientists are beginning to agree as we discover the stories that bring those animal emotions to life. We meet orphaned elephants in Kenya who have learned to trust their nursery keepers even after they lost their families at the hand of man - and witness a deep bond revealed as the head keeper travels to the National Park to see if his fully grown elephants remember him. We meet Damian Aspinall, the first man to release a captive-bred family of gorillas back to the wild, and see his reunion with one of those gorillas, proving a bond that may last a lifetime. We also meet Jane Goodall, the legendary chimpanzee researcher who was once heavily criticized for her claims about animal emotions; and Rebeca Atencia, the veterinarian who runs a Congolese chimp sanctuary set up by Goodall, as she travels to find the orphan chimpanzee she raised and released back into the wild. Through these incredible stories about human-animal relationships, illuminated by interviews with some of the world's most eminent ethologists and academics, this film sets out to question not only the emotional intelligence of animals but the so-called divide between us and them.
The story of animals surviving one of the harshest seasonal changes on the planet continues. It is summer and the Yellowstone beavers have a new challenge. Will the young survive as the river dries up and the colony is forced to move home? As food becomes scarce, wolves have a surprising strategy to keep their pups fed and grizzly bears are unexpected visitors on a cowboy ranch. By midsummer, the hot dry conditions create a new danger - deadly wildfires burn out of control and threaten to engulf a family of great grey owls. 2016 was the hottest year on earth since records began, and across Yellowstone scientists reveal the effects of rising temperatures on the animals that live here.
While most of the series has focused on conflict, this episode is all about co-operation. The suitably named social spiders spin one enormous, 30m web for the whole colony, a queen bee rules her hive with a strict hierarchy and some green ants show great team spirit to help build a nest together. There are no broken societies here. David Attenborough shifts the focus to bugs that prefer cooperation rather than conflict. They include burrowing cockroaches, the suitably named social spiders - which share a 30-metre web.
Birds owe their global success to feathers - something no other animal has. They allow birds to do extraordinary things. For the first time, a slow-motion camera captures the unique flight of the marvellous spatuletail hummingbird as he flashes long, iridescent tail feathers in the gloomy undergrowth. Aerial photography takes us into the sky with an Ethiopian lammergeier dropping bones to smash them into edible-sized bits. Thousands of pink flamingoes promenade in one of nature's greatest spectacles. The sage grouse rubs his feathers against his chest in a comic display to make popping noises that attract females. The Vogelkop bowerbird makes up for his dull colour by building an intricate structure and decorating it with colourful beetles and snails.
The Miller-Urey experiment was the first attempt to scientifically explore ideas about the origin of life. Stanley Miller simulated conditions thought be common on the ancient Earth. The purpose was to test the idea that the complex molecules of life (in this case, amino acids) could have arisen on our young planet through simple, natural chemical reactions.