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The Insatiable Appetite

   1998    Nature
The next instalment focuses on dietary needs and how different species have evolved beaks to suit their individual requirements. The latter come in a multitude of forms. Blue tits and goldfinches have beaks akin to tweezers, with which to extract seeds, while the hawfinch's razor-like bill can deal with a cherry-stone. However, the crossbill is the only finch that can twist its mandibles in opposite directions. Jays store acorns for winter by burying them in the ground, whereas woodpeckers can keep up to 60,000 of them in one tree trunk. Sap is also desirable, and there are a variety of methods used to obtain it. The hoatzin is the only specialised leaf-eater, and accordingly has a digestive system more akin to that of cattle. Plants recruit birds to aid pollination, and offer nectar as a reward. Hummingbirds eat little else, and the sword-bill's beak is the longest of any bird in relation to its body. Insects are also highly prized, and Galapagos finches are shown to possess some ingenuity as they not only strip bark, but also use 'tools' to reach their prey. Crows are hailed as being among the most intelligent birds, and one is shown using a twig to spear a grub within a fallen log. The robin is an opportunist, and Sir Attenborough observes one seizing morsels as he digs a patch of earth. In South America, a cattle tyrant sits atop an obliging capybara and uses its vantage point to spot passing food that may be dislodged by its grazing partner.
Series: The Life of Birds

Meat-Eaters

   1998    Nature
This episode examines those birds whose sustenance comes from flesh and their methods of hunting. In New Zealand, Sir Attenborough observes Keas, parrots that do not eat meat exclusively, raiding a shearwater's burrow for a chick. However, it is the dedicated birds of prey, such as owls, buzzards, eagles, falcons and vultures, to which much of the programme is devoted. In order to spot and pursue their victims, senses of sight and hearing are very acute. Vultures are the exception, in that they eat what others have left, and once a carcass is found, so many birds descend on it that the carrion seems submerged beneath them. The Turkey Vulture is an anomaly within its group, as it also has a keen sense of smell. Eagles defend their territory vigorously, and a pair of sea eagles are shown engaging in an aerial battle. The Galápagos Hawk hunts Marine Iguanas, but can only do so when its quarry is vulnerable, during the breeding season. The African Harrier Hawk has adapted to extracting burrowing animals by virtue of an especially long, double-jointed pair of legs. By contrast, a shrike is not equipped with the requisite sharp beak and talons needed for butchery, and so dismembers its kill by impaling it on the thorns of acacias. The Lammergeier eats bones, and will drop them on to rocks from a great height in order to break them down to a digestible size. Also featured are the Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Goshawk and Peregrine Falcon.
Series: The Life of Birds

Flowering

   1995    Nature
The third episode is devoted to the ways in which plants reproduce. Pollen and a stigma are the two components needed for fertilisation. Most plants carry both these within their flowers and rely on animals to transport the pollen from one to the stigma of another. To do this, they attract their couriers with colour, scent and nectar. It isn't just birds that help pollination: some mammals and reptiles also do so. However, it is mostly insects that are recruited to carry out the task. To ensure that pollen is not wasted by being delivered to the wrong flower, some species of plant have developed exclusive relationships with their visitors, and the gentian and its attendant carpenter bees is one example. Since pollen can be expensive to produce in terms of calories, some plants, such as orchids, ration it by means of pollinia and a strategically placed landing platform. Other orchids offer no reward for pollination, but instead mislead their guests by mimicking their markings and aroma, thus enticing males to 'mate' with them (Pseudocopulation). The most extreme fertilisation method is one of imprisonment, and one plant that uses it is the dead horse arum. It is often found near gull colonies, and mimics the appearance and smell of rotting flesh. Blow-flies are attracted to it, and are forced to stay the night before being allowed to depart in the morning, laden with pollen. Finally, Attenborough introduces the world's largest inflorescence: that of the titan arum.
Series: The Private Life of Plants

The Social Struggle

   1995    Nature
Fourth episode examines how plants either share environments harmoniously or compete for dominance within them. Attenborough highlights the 1987 hurricane and the devastation it caused. However, for some species, it was that opportunity for which they had lain dormant for many years. The space left by uprooted trees is soon filled by others who move relatively swiftly towards the light. The oak is one of the strongest and longest-lived, and other, lesser plants nearby must wait until the spring to flourish before the light above is extinguished by leaves. Tropical forests are green throughout the year, so brute force is needed for a successful climb to the top of the canopy: the rattan is an example that has the longest stem of any plant. As its name suggests, the strangler fig 'throttles' its host by growing around it and cutting off essential water and light. Some can take advantage of a fallen tree by setting down roots on the now horizontal trunk and getting nutriment from the surrounding moss and the fungi on the dead bark. The mountain ash (eucalyptus regnans) grows so tall, that regeneration becomes a considerable problem. It is easily flammable, so its solution is to shed its seeds during a forest fire and sacrifice itself. It therefore relies on the periodic near-destruction of its surroundings in order to survive. Attenborough observes that catastrophes such as fire and drought, while initially detrimental to wildlife, eventually allow for deserted habitats to be reborn.
Series: The Private Life of Plants

The Private Life of Plants Living Together

   1995    Nature
The fifth programme explores the alliances formed between the animal and plant worlds. Attenborough dives into Australia's Great Barrier Reef and contrasts the nocturnal feeding of coral, on microscopic creatures, with its daytime diet of algae. Some acacias are protected by ants, which will defend their refuge from any predator. Besides accommodation, the guards are rewarded with nectar and, from certain species, protein for their larvae as well. Fungi feed on plants but can also provide essential nutriment to saplings (Mycorrhiza). The connection is never broken throughout a tree's life and a quarter of the sugars and starches produced in its leaves is channelled back to its fungal partners. Meanwhile, fungi that feed on dead wood leave a hollow trunk, which also benefits the tree. Orchids enjoy a similar affiliation. Lichens are the product of a relationship between fungi and a photosynthetic associate, usually algae. They are extremely slow-growing, and a graveyard is the perfect location to discover their exact longevity. Mistletoe is a hemiparasite that obtains its moisture from a host tree, while using own leaves to manufacture food. Its seeds are deposited on another by the mistletoe tyrannulet, following digestion of the fruit. The dodder (Cuscuta) is also parasitic, generally favouring nettles, and siphons its nourishment through periodic 'plugs' along its stem. The rafflesia has no stem or leaves and only emerges from its host in order to bloom — and it produces the largest single flower: one metre across.
Series: The Private Life of Plants
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