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
The first programme of Darwin's Dangerous Idea explores the impact of Darwin’s ideas on religion and morality. Andrew Marr discovers that an important part of the Beagle’s mission was to return three natives to their homeland, Tierra del Fuego, at the southernmost tip of Argentina. Years before he reached the Galapagos, they raised questions in his mind about the fragility of civilisation and what it really means to be human. Marr explores how Darwin developed his ideas when he returned to Britain and finally unleashed his theory of evolution by natural selection on the world. Darwin’s ideas are taken up by many of the major thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. We discover that his ideas helped motivate the Kaiser’s army in the First World War and would also help convince the United States government to drop its isolationist policy and enter the conflict. In the 20th century, we discover a growing backlash against Darwin’s ideas among fundamentalists from the world’s major religions. At the same time science has been showing that Darwin’s theory of natural selection holds sway over our behaviour - including our morality - as much as it does over the evolution of our bodies. There is significant scientific evidence that suggests that Darwin has returned humanity to nature, in all its wonder, its glory and its danger.
Steve Backshall explores the connections and relationship that we have with insects and other arthropods. In Kenya, huge armies of driver ants give houses a five-star clean-up, and in China, we discover how silkworm caterpillars have shaped our culture and distribution. While locusts devastate crops in Africa, bees and beetles across the world provide a key link in our food chains. Many of us perceive these animals merely as creepy crawlies and nothing more than a nuisance, but as Steve reveals, we couldn't live without them.
The British back garden is a familiar setting, but underneath the peonies and petunias is a much wilder hidden world, a miniature Serengeti, with beauty and brutality in equal measure. Chris Packham and a team of wildlife experts spend an entire year exploring every inch of a series of interlinked back gardens in Welwyn Garden City. They want to answer a fundamental question: how much wildlife lives beyond our back doors? How good for wildlife is the great British garden? Through all four seasons, Chris reveals a stranger side to some of our more familiar garden residents. In summer he meets a very modern family of foxes - with a single dad in charge - and finds that a single fox litter can have up to five different fathers. In winter he shows that a robin's red breast is actually war paint. And finally, in spring he finds a boiling ball of frisky frogs in a once-in-a-year mating frenzy. The secret lives of the gardens' smallest residents are even weirder. The team finds male crickets that bribe females with food during sex, spiders that change colour to help catch prey, and life-and-death battles going on under our noses in the compost heap. So how many different species call our gardens home? How well do our gardens support wildlife? By the end of the year, with the help of a crack team from London's Natural History Museum and some of the country's top naturalists, Chris will find out. He'll also discover which type of garden attracts the most wildlife. The results are not what you might expect... You'll never look at your garden in quite the same way again.
2017 • Nature