Some animals appear to have taken Nature’s gifts and stretched them to extreme limits. With these two natural curiosities one creature, the giraffe, has ended up with a super-stretched neck, the other, the chameleon, a super stretchy tongue. In both cases nature has found a way to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.
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
The Arctic and Antarctic experience the most extreme seasons on Earth. Time-lapse cameras watch a colony of emperor penguins, transforming them into a singleorganism. The film reveals new science about the dynamics of emperor penguin behaviour. In the north, unique aerial images show a polar bear swimming more than 100km. Diving for up to two minutes at a time. The exhausted polar bear later attacks a herd of walrus in a true clash of the Titans.
If you have ever wondered what would happen in your own home if you were taken away and everything inside was left to rot, the answer is revealed in this programme which explores the strange and surprising science of decay. For two months, a glass box containing a typical kitchen and garden was left to rot in full public view within Edinburgh Zoo. In this resulting documentary, Dr George McGavin and his team use time-lapse cameras and specialist photography to capture the extraordinary way in which moulds, microbes and insects are able to break down our everyday things and allow new life to emerge from old. Decay is something that many of us are repulsed by, but as the programme shows, it's a process that's vital in nature. And seen in close up, it has an unexpected and sometimes mesmerising beauty.
2011 • Nature
Metamorphosis seems like the ultimate evolutionary magic trick - the amazing transformation of one creature into a totally different being: one life, two bodies. From Ovid to Kafka to X-Men, tales of metamorphosis richly permeate human culture. The myth of transformation is so common that it seems almost pre-programmed into our imagination. But is the scientific fact of metamorphosis just as strange as fiction or... even stranger? Filmmaker David Malone explores the science behind metamorphosis. How does it happen and why? And might it even, in some way, happen to us?
2013 • Nature
In the wild North Atlantic, massive whale pods, giant turtles and monstrous jellyfish ride the Gulf Stream, a huge ocean current that becomes a migration superhighway and helps warm northern Europe. Meanwhile, fishermen battle for survival in mountainous seas as they try to reap the current's natural fertility.
In this final episode, Iolo explores bird design - from their ability to fly to the way that their beak design, colour and camouflage enable them to live in the many habitats Wales has to offer. Using ultra-slow motion photography, Iolo looks at how garden birds have such control over take off and landing, and explains why fulmars are one of our most supreme fliers.