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
The team set off beneath the waves to explore this spectacular archipelago. It is an exciting opportunity for the team to delve into a world that still largely remains a mystery to science. Venturing down in the Nadir, a specially equipped deep sea submersible, Liz goes in search of an elusive ocean giant, the mola, or sunfish, to understand more about its little-known behaviour in the deep. On the way back to the Alucia, Liz checks in on a playful sea lion population to see how they have been affected by a recent extreme weather event, El Nino. Back on board the Alucia, the team sets sail north for the most remote and inhospitable islands in the Galapagos - Wolf and Darwin. Here, Liz joins the team tagging and tracking hammerhead sharks that school at this location in huge numbers as they try to unlock the secrets of this stunning behaviour. But nothing can prepare the Alucia crew for the power of the ocean in this isolated marine wonderland.
David Attenborough returns in this landmark series to his most magical place on earth exploring the Great Barrier Reef aboard the research vessel Alucia. Part 1: Builders David descends beneath the waves at night in the state-of-the-art Triton submersible, the first of its kind to visit the reef. He meets some of the tiny coral animals that built the reef and helped to turn it into an underwater wonderland. He then takes to the skies to witness the vast scale of their endeavour, a living structure that provides a home for thousands of species. Using cutting-edge technology to generate computer scans of the sea floor, David learns that the Great Barrier Reef we know today is much younger than scientists ever imagined. He meets some of the people that have lived alongside it and who have told stories of its origins for thousands of years.
The hunt for life within the long-dead bones of dinosaurs may sound like the stuff of Hollywood fantasy - but one woman has found traces of life within the fossilised bones of a T rex. Dr Mary Schweitzer has seen the remains of red blood cells and touched the soft tissue of an animal that died 68 million years ago. Most excitingly of all, she believes she may just have found signs of DNA. Her work is revolutionising our understanding of these iconic beasts.
Totalling an estimated 10 million species, the insects and their close relatives are the most abundant and diverse group of animals in the world, so what is the secret of their success? Their hard external skeleton provides strength and protection and their small size allows them to exploit many microhabitats. In Yellowstone, Steve Backshall reveals how teamwork allows a colony of bees to scare off a hungry bear, and in Australia this same teamwork allows a colony of ants to beat the rising tide. But to unlock the real secret of their success Steve visits the Swiss Alps, where an incredible relationship exists between the ant, the wasp and the butterfly.
This episode details the origins of the vertebrates, which lie in the primitive fish that once swam in ancient seas. Remarkable advances allowed them to make the radical move onto land, and then take to the skies with the advent of flight. Brand new discoveries of fossils - ancient and living - combined with stunning CGI enable David to chart their unexpected journey out of the water to populate all corners of the globe.
Even after thousands of years of ice crushing the northern hemisphere and temperatures of 20 degrees lower than those of today, many of the great giants of the ice age still walked the earth. It was only when the world had warmed up again that mammoths, woolly rhinos, sabre-toothed cats, giant ground sloths and glyptodonts finally became extinct. Professor Alice Roberts sets off on her last voyage back to the Ice Age to discover why.