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The Wonder of Animals

BBC-Earth12-tei­li­ge Serie. BBC, 2014

Series in which Chris Pack­ham uses ground­brea­king sci­ence and brand-new beha­viour to del­ve deep bene­ath the skin and dis­co­ver the uni­que fea­tures that have made cer­tain ani­mal groups suc­cess­ful.

  1. Pen­gu­ins · At first sight, pen­gu­ins seem ill-sui­ted to their envi­ron­ment — rotund abdo­mens, stub­by litt­le legs and stiff wings appe­ar to make the going tough. But in fact it is the­se very traits that enab­le this bird to thri­ve.
    Chris explo­res details of the penguin’s ana­to­my, using new sci­en­ti­fic rese­arch to reveal how its legs, wings and body shape have allo­wed it to con­quer an extra­or­di­na­ry ran­ge of habi­tats, from deep forests to tro­pi­cal waters, bust­ling cities and even the toug­hest place on the pla­net — Ant­arc­tica.
  2. Bears · Bears can live in prac­tical­ly every habi­tat on Earth, from tro­pi­cal jun­gles to the Arc­tic Oce­an. Whe­re­ver they are found, they are capa­ble of sur­vi­ving extre­me con­di­ti­ons and extrac­ting the hig­hest-qua­li­ty food.
    Detailing the latest rese­arch, Chris Pack­ham explo­res the spe­cia­li­sed adap­tati­ons that have enab­led bears to thri­ve, inclu­ding how a polar bear’s hol­low fur allows it to feed throug­hout the gru­el­ling Arc­tic win­ter, whilst a sta­te of ‘wal­king hiber­na­ti­on’ sees it through the sum­mer mon­ths.
  3. Big Cats · Chris Pack­ham del­ves bene­ath the skin of the big cats to explo­re what makes them such good hun­ters, and he reveals that it is not all about brawn.
    New sci­en­ti­fic rese­arch shows how subt­le adap­tati­ons in their ana­to­my and phy­sio­lo­gy con­tri­bu­te to the suc­cess of all sta­ges of a big cat hunt: the stalk, the cap­tu­re and the kill.
    Leg hairs help the leo­pard to stalk and intri­ca­te mus­cle fib­res dri­ve the snow leo­pard to cap­tu­re its prey. For the jagu­ar, jaw mus­cles and whis­kers com­bi­ne to give it a pre­ci­si­on bite that can take down a cai­man, and an enlar­ged area of the lioness’s brain gives it the edge over all their big cat cou­sins.
  4. Ants · The 100 tril­li­on ants in the world weigh as much as all the peop­le on earth and have colo­nis­ed the pla­net like no other ani­mal.
    Chris Pack­ham explo­res the inge­nious ways in which ants have col­la­bo­ra­ted to achie­ve their glo­bal suc­cess – natu­ral air-con­di­tio­n­ing sys­tems keep ants cool in their nests, shel­ters made from their own bodies pro­tect noma­dic ants from the ele­ments and a sen­se of smell five times more power­ful than other insects allows them to over­power ani­mals hund­reds of times lar­ger than them­sel­ves.
    Remar­kab­ly, new rese­arch reveals how ant colo­nies are capa­ble of immu­ni­sing them­sel­ves against disea­ses.
  5. Foxes · Across the pla­net car­ni­vo­res are struggling to com­pe­te in a world with a rocke­ting human popu­la­ti­on, but one pre­da­tor is buck­ing the trend – the fox. Its num­bers are increa­sing and its geo­gra­phi­cal ran­ge expanding.Chris Pack­ham explo­res the secrets to its suc­cess – its sen­ses, its intel­li­gence and its fle­xi­bi­li­ty. New rese­arch reveals how its slit pupils enab­le it to hunt in the bright desert day; how it may be using the Earth’s magne­tic field to deter­mi­ne the loca­ti­on of prey during a poun­ce; and how regu­lar expo­sure to rot­ting food is impro­ving the health of the red fox, enab­ling it to hold its own in an increa­singly urban land­s­cape.
  6. Ele­phants · Chris Pack­ham explo­res the ana­to­my and phy­sio­lo­gy of the lar­gest land ani­mal on the pla­net – the ele­phant. Their size seems ill-sui­ted to sur­vi­ving the most arid regi­ons of Afri­ca, but their inner workings allow them to defy the extre­me heat of the desert and find food and water in see­min­gly bar­ren land­s­capes, while their extra­or­di­na­ry memo­ry enab­les them to repel pre­da­tors.
    Chris reveals how hairs on the skin help keep ele­phants cool, how sen­sors in their feet may be able to gui­de them towards rain and how a uni­que pouch in their mouths stores water. Recent rese­arch has even dis­co­ve­r­ed that ele­phants can dis­tin­guish bet­ween the voices of human fri­end and foe.
  7. Gre­at Apes · Chris Pack­ham explo­res the evo­lu­ti­on of the gre­at ape’s brain to reveal how dif­fe­rent parts have been adap­ted over time by its ana­to­my, inge­nui­ty and socia­bi­li­ty, cul­mi­na­ting in one of the most com­plex brains on the pla­net. Chris exami­nes how the abi­li­ty to use two hands asym­me­tri­cal­ly sets the gre­at ape apart from other tool-using ani­mals and how soci­al living is lin­ked to the evo­lu­ti­on of the amyg­da­la in both humans and our ape cou­sins. New rese­arch reveals how bono­bos’ peace-loving repu­ta­ti­on may have deve­lo­ped through a simi­lar domesti­ca­ti­on pro­cess to that under­go­ne by our pet dogs.
  8. Cro­co­di­les · Chris Pack­ham explo­res what lies bene­ath a crocodile’s hard exte­ri­or, to dis­co­ver the secret to its 250-mil­li­on-year histo­ry. It may look like a relic from a prehis­to­ric world, but the cro­co­di­le boasts one of the most sophisti­ca­ted phy­sio­lo­gies on the pla­net. By fol­lo­wing all sta­ges of a cro­co­di­le hunt, from the warm-up to the ambush and the kill, Chris reveals how their extra­or­di­na­ry cir­cu­la­to­ry sys­tem enab­les them to hold their bre­ath under­wa­ter for over an hour, how excep­tio­nal­ly sen­si­ti­ve skin detects their prey, through water, from over 20m away and how anti­bac­te­ri­al blood means they can feast on anthrax-rid­den meat.
  9. Dol­phins · Chris Pack­ham explo­res the suc­cess of the most widespread of mari­ne mam­m­als, the dol­phin. Con­tra­ry to their ami­able repu­ta­ti­on, they are, in fact, ruth­less pre­da­tors. They hunt using a com­bi­na­ti­on of spe­cia­li­sed ana­to­my and com­plex com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on, requi­ring a big brain.
    Chris exp­lains the inner workings of dol­phin echo­lo­ca­ti­on, reveals how a pod uses body move­ments to com­mu­ni­ca­te the loca­ti­on of food and explo­res the stra­te­gies used by orcas during a hunt.
  10. Bats · Bats have colo­nis­ed remo­te cor­ners of the pla­net to beco­me one of most widespread mam­m­als on earth. Chris Pack­ham explo­res their incredi­ble ana­to­my, phy­sio­lo­gy and sen­ses to under­stand what enab­les them to thri­ve in some sur­pri­sing pla­ces.
    Tiny hairs on their wings give them a detail­ed air-flow map during flight, heat sen­sors on the nose of vam­pi­re bats means they can sen­se the most blood-rich are­as of a prey’s body and iron oxi­de par­ti­cles in the bat brain may act as a com­pass allo­wing them to find the most direct rou­te back to the roost.
  11. Snakes · Chris Pack­ham del­ves bene­ath a snake’s skin to dis­co­ver what has made them some of the most suc­cess­ful pre­da­tors on earth. Their simp­le body plan hides remar­kab­le adap­tati­ons that enab­le them to rival their lim­bed, win­ged and fin­ned coun­ter­parts.
    Chris reveals the varie­ty of ways in which snakes use their bodies not just to slither, but to climb, fly and swim. He explo­res how they use their sen­ses to hunt, from heat-sen­si­ti­ve pits used to cap­tu­re prey in the dark to tongues used to lure fish, and how venom acts not just to kill prey but also to pre-digest it.
  12. Birds of Prey · Chris Pack­ham explo­res what enab­les birds of prey to rule the aeri­al roost. Their abi­li­ty to domi­na­te their fel­low birds in terms of strength, mano­eu­vra­bi­li­ty and phe­no­me­nal speed is down to a com­bi­na­ti­on of ana­to­mi­c­al and phy­sio­lo­gi­cal adap­tati­ons.
    Chris exp­lains the inter­nal workings of the bald eagle’s rat­chet talons and how sharp eyes and a gyro­sco­pic head enab­le the gos­hawk to keep its sight firm­ly fixed on both its prey and its sur­roun­dings as it tears through the under­growth. New rese­arch reveals how pop-up fea­thers on the pere­gri­ne falcon’s back act like pits on a golf ball to redu­ce drag – allo­wing it to reach 220mph.


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