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
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
There is no uncommon sight hanging on the trees of Asian black bears, chipmunks, scurrying about in search of food, as well as the sika deer, gracefully descend to the water to supplement your diet with brown algae. The very presence of deer and deer attracts the largest predator in this region - the Amur tiger. But the world's largest wild cat is also at risk. Poaching and destruction of habitat of tigers in the Ussuri taiga in Russia for many years have created a real threat of extinction of this rare animal.
Sophie is joined in the theatre by chirping crickets, hissing cockroaches and groaning deer to reveal the very different ways that animals have adapted their bodies to send audible messages that are vital to their species. She also explores how and why the human voice evolved to become the most versatile sound producer in the natural world. She demonstrates what sound actually is and how it travels. Unpacking the power behind sound, she uses it to shatter glass and reveal how the human body can resonate in a way that amplifies our voices to send our messages further. She also explores how different species use very different frequencies to communicate and why humans can only hear a fraction of these animal messages. Finally, she investigates why we all have unique vocal prints, and how computers are learning to recognise these.
1/3 • Royal Institution Christmas Lectures: The Language of Life • 2017 • Nature
It may take two to make a baby - but not necessarily two to bring it up. So what makes a parent decide to stay or go? Especially if that parent is a dad. From the California mouse mother who has to kickstart her partner's paternal instincts, to Adelie penguin parents who can't leave their eggs alone for five minutes; from cheetah mums practicing promiscuity to keep the dads on side, to flamingo parents both producing milk for their young. We see just how far these incredible parents go in order to protect and nurture as many offspring as possible through to adulthood.
This episode is devoted to the evolution of reptiles. They are not as restricted as their amphibian ancestors, since they can survive in the hottest climates. The reason is their scaly, practically watertight skin. The scales protect the body from wear and tear and in the case of some species of lizard, such as the Australian thorny devil, serve to protect from attack. The horned iguana from the West Indies is also one of the most heavily armoured. The skin is rich in pigment cells, which provide effective means of camouflage, and the chameleon is a well-known example. Temperature control is important to reptiles: they cant generate body heat internally or sweat to keep cool.
It is high summer in the Polar Regions, and the sun never sets. Vast hordes of summer visitors cram a lifetime of drama into one long, magical day; they must feed, fight and rear their young in this brief window of plenty. Summer is a tough time for the polar bear family, as their ice world melts away and the cubs take their first swimming lesson. Some bears save energy by dozing on icy sun beds, while others go egg-collecting in an Arctic tern colony, braving bombardment by sharp beaks. There are even bigger battles on the tundra; a herd of musk oxen gallop to the rescue as a calf is caught in a life and death struggle with a pair of Arctic wolves. But summer also brings surprises, as a huge colony of 400,000 king penguins cope with an unlikely problem - heat. The adults go surfing, while the woolly-coated chicks take a cooling mud bath. Nearby, a bull fur seal is prepared to fight to the death with a rival. Fur flies as the little pups struggle desperately to keep out of the way of the duelling giants. Further south, a minke whale is hunted amongst the ice floes by a family of killer whales. The dramatic chase lasts over 2 hours and has never been filmed before. The killers harry the minke whale, taking it in turns to wear it down. Eventually it succumbs to the relentless battering. Finally, comical adelie penguins waddle back to their half a million strong colony like clockwork toys. The fluffy chicks need constant feeding and protection as piratical skuas patrol the skies. When an unguarded chick is snatched, a dramatic "dogfight" ensues.
Winter is here. Ready or not, creatures big and small endure the harshest and most unforgiving season on the planet. Some cling to life in these bitter months…while others see opportunity on the ice. In this special, wildlife around the globe fights tooth and nail to survive the winter season, against a striking frozen backdrop.
2017 • Nature