David encounters two examples where Nature has tinkered with the aging process to alarmingly different effect – the first grows old while trapped in a young body while the second looks old from birth but might hold the key to a long life.
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
Should a creature's bad reputation impact its survival prospects? As the venomous massasauga rattlesnake edges towards extinction and cormorants in Toronto destroy the trees they nest in, accommodating these misunderstood species has never been more important.
In the last 30 years the world's urban areas have almost tripled in size, changing at a rate wildlife has never experienced before. As cities are built, animals are pushed out of their natural homes. Their stories are the most surprising and captivating of all. Today, these 'wild outcasts' find themselves fighting for their place in a land that once belonged to them. In this episode we feature elephants in Sri Lanka and see that competition between them and humans for land and resources is resulting in deadly territorial conflicts, which demand solutions. And on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica we meet a troop of capuchin monkeys and learn how our behaviour is affecting them, and raising big questions about their future. But we also discover where we learn to live with wildlife as neighbours, and give it the space and resources it needs, it can thrive. The resulting relationships between human and animals can be mutually beneficial. We meet an Amsterdam heron called Kiri who has been visiting the same house twice a day for the last 17 years, befriending its owner, and the Florida manatees whose population has recovered to such an extent under the guardianship of local human residents that, in recent years, they have been taken off the endangered species list, and contributed to a massive boom in the local tourism industry. We meet the swiftlets who have evolved to live only in people's houses and specially built swiftlet hotels in Indonesia. And the surprising story of a population of tiny foxes on a Californian island whose presence benefits the hardened military personnel of a US naval base. This hopeful but realistic episode culminates with the return of charismatic ocean giants to the world's most iconic city, as humpback whales breach against the New York skyline.
Watching the fascinating display of leafcutter ants at the Natural History Museum in London is one of my favourite ways to while away a few hours, but David Attenborough is operating on a much grander scale here in the last in the series. In Argentina he observes some cousins of the leafcutters who are part of a community so vast it spans an entire continent. It’s one of the mandible-dropping facts in a look at one of the key inventions of arthropods: colonies. From termites and honey bees to the leafcutters, it seems that if you want to get ahead, you move to the big city.
What is it that makes things alive? What if we made robots that could sustain themselves? What if they could mine metals or recycle old robots, reprogram and remake themselves? There's nothing there we would traditional call alive, but they would have at least have the essence of this perpetual rube Goldberg machine.