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
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 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
A look across Hawaii's varied islands, discovering how they were made, and how its wildlife thrives. The most remote island chain on Earth, its tropical shores are hard to reach. However, for the hardy creatures that have made it there, such as the waterfall-climbing fish, carnivorous caterpillar and Laysan albatross, a land of opportunity awaits. From newly formed lava fields, to lush jungles, and vibrant coral reefs, these diverse and beautiful islands have it all. As this documentary reveals, its people are looking to the future and attempting to protect and foster its flora and fauna.
In Taiji, Japan, local fishermen hide a gruesome secret: the capture and slaughter of dolphins. Activist Ric O'Barry, who trained dolphins for the "Flipper" TV series, joins forces with filmmaker Louis Psihoyos and the Ocean Preservation Society to expose the brutal practice, risking life and limb in the process.
2009 • Nature
This programme, narrated by Andrew Scott, celebrates the glorious nature of summer on Earth and the extraordinary ways animals and plants rise to the challenges it brings. With the sun shining and the flowers blooming, this is the season of splendid abundance, and the long hours of daylight make life burst out in a riot of activity. But you have to find clever ways to get your share of the good times while they last, and as temperatures soar, everything has to deal with sweltering heat. For a whole range of animals, from sneaky ring-tailed lemurs to battling ibex, and from overheated penguins to astonishing colour-changing lizards, summer is a time when the living is not always easy.
Meet slime molds: the brainless blobs that can learn, make decisions, and navigate mazes. Who says you need brains to be smart? Extremely primitive life-forms called slime molds can navigate mazes, choose between foods, and create efficient networks—no brain required. New research on these organisms, which are neither plant nor animal, could help reveal the fundamental rules underlying all decision making.
2020 • Nature