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
For 10,000 years or more, humans created new plant varieties for food by trial and error and a touch of serendipity. Then 150 years ago, a new era began. Pioneer botanists unlocked the patterns found in different types of plants and opened the door to a new branch of science - plant genetics. They discovered what controlled the random colours of snapdragon petals and the strange colours found in wild maize. This was vital information. Some botanists even gave their lives to protect their collection of seeds. American wheat farmer Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel peace prize after he bred a new strain of wheat that lifted millions of people around the world out of starvation. Today, botanists believe advances in plant genetics hold the key to feeding the world's growing population.
Dr Helen Czerski examines the hottest natural phenomena on the planet - lightning. Bolts of lightning five times hotter than the surface of the sun strike our planet over 3 million times every day - and yet we still know little about this deadly force of nature. Now, specialist photography is revealing how lightning travels through the air, high-speed cameras are unlocking the secrets of upward lightning that's triggered by our urban landscapes, and scientific expeditions are capturing rare images of intense electrical discharges over 80 kilometres wide.