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
David Attenborough reveals that the animal inhabitants of this vast wilderness are every bit as extraordinary as they are bizarre. Unearthly calls of the notorious Tasmanian devil echo through the land, but following them over the course of a year reveals a surprisingly gentle side. In the dry east, rare white wallabies graze on the plains and jack jumper ants build huge nests – these venomous ants are amongst the most dangerous on earth. In the west, where it can rain nearly every day of the year, caves light up with the magical spectacle of thousands of glow-worms, and the trees are 100-metre towering monsters. Rivers are home to the peculiar platypus, and world’s largest freshwater invertebrate, the Tasmanian giant lobster. Miniature penguins come ashore to breed, and as winter approaches, the southern lights dance in the sky. Tasmania’s isolation and unique climate has created a world that is as weird as it is wonderful.
Fortey travels to Madeira to examine what happens to a volcanic island as it nears the end of its life-cycle and starts sinking back into the sea. Here, in the island's laurisilva forest, he examines the remains of an ancient forest that once carpeted all of Europe, finds island lizards that live to be four times older than their mainland counterparts, and meets a huge wolf spider. With the help of local divers, he also discovers an unexpectedly rich marine habitat populated by whales, dolphins and unusual deep-sea species that have much to tell us about the changing nature of our seas.
Dr Helen Czerski looks at the anatomy of an avalanche. From shocking eyewitness footage from within an avalanche, to detailed CT scans showing the microscopic changes that cause them, we can now capture exactly what happens as snow transforms into a deadly and unpredictable danger.
So, you think you know penguins? Experience life in "Penguin Paradise", on South Island, New Zealand, from which the first penguins are supposed to have evolved. Home to unusual penguins like the Little Penguin, and the forest-dwelling crested Fiordland Penguin - it is a penguin wonderland!
First transmitted in 1965, David Attenborough retraces the steps of the famous Scottish explorer Dr David Livingstone in the final part of his African adventure.David Attenborough starts his journey in Sesheke, on the northern bank of the Zambezi river in the Western Province of Zambia. Retracing Livingstone’s Zambezi expedition takes him from Sesheke to Victoria Falls, named by Livingstone in honour of Queen Victoria, through to Zumbo and Tete in Mozambique.Using extracts from Dr Livingstone’s journal David Attenborough revisits African traditions and ceremonies that shocked Livingstone at the time, such as a masked dance featuring the Makishi devil.
Steve Backshall tries to discover just what makes it possible for a river to stop in the middle of a desert. The Okavango is the world's largest inland delta and home to a one of Africa's greatest congregations of wildlife, and in asking the difficult questions Steve reveals the astounding secret to its existence.