Fish are the most varied and diverse backboned creatures on the planet. They range from pregnant males to fish that fly, to those that have a top speed faster than a cheetah — sailfish.
In this episode, the brightly colored weedy sea dragon's unusual mating and parenting methods are revealed, as is the peculiar convict fish, which shares its network of tunnels with thousands of offspring, who do the reclusive parents' bidding.
In Hawaii, gobies climb waterfalls — some more than 400 feet high — using a specialized disc that enables them to stick to vertical rocks. The sarcastic fringehead fiercely defends its territory from octopi and rival fringefish. And Japanese mudskippers spend many of their waking hours out of water — feeding, leaping and fighting for the attentions of the opposite sex.
Challenges of Life
Kicking off Life, this episode provides an overview of the extraordinary strategies our planet's animals and plants have developed to stay alive as individuals and as species.
In Kenya, three cheetah brothers have invented a new way of hunting: Rather than tackling small prey on their own, they have learned that by joining forces they can bring down big game such as ostriches.
A pod of bottlenose dolphins in Florida has also made a breakthrough. To catch their fast-swimming prey, one dolphin creates a "mud-ring" by beating its tail in the soft silt as it swims in a circle. As the mud mushrooms in the water, the ring gets smaller and fish become trapped. Panicking, they jump out of the water — right into the waiting dolphins' mouths.
In Brazil, brown-tufted capuchin monkeys demonstrate an extraordinary level of skill when cracking open the palm nuts they love to eat. They pick the nuts, strip them of their husks and leave them to dry. After a few weeks they transport them to a huge anvil-like rock and smash them with a harder hammer stone. It can take eight years for a capuchin to perfect the complex art of nut-smashing.
In every animal's life there comes a time when its mind turns to breeding. The stalk-eyed fly has a mind-boggling technique: It sucks in air bubbles and blows them through its head to push its eyes out ... on stalks! These are vital for winning females, because males with the widest eye span gets the most attention.
- Three cheetah brothers hunting as a team, stalking and bringing down an ostrich twice their size.
- Stalk-eyed flies "growing" their eyes out on long stalks.
- Dolphins filmed from the air as they go "mud-ringing:" creating circles of mud to entrap fish.
- Killer whales working as a team to hunt seals in Antarctica, filmed from the air and sea.
Hunters and Hunted
The ability to learn from past experiences and develop novel solutions to problems has allowed mammals to find prey — and avoid being preyed upon — in every environment on Earth.
In this episode, a mother orca steals elephant seal pups from a nursery pool, teaching her calf a brand new form of predation.
Stoats learn through play how to become deadly killers: When they grow up, unassuming rabbits — many times larger than stoats — pay a hefty price.
Star-nosed moles hunt underwater by using bubbles to smell their prey; greater bulldog bats hunt fish by using echolocation to detect ripples in the water; and squirrels confound rattlesnakes by rubbing themselves in discarded snakeskins.
Birds have one feature that no other animal possesses: feathers. This allows them to solve life's challenges in radically different ways.
The male spatule-tail hummingbird performs extraordinary aerial displays, using fast-beating wings and super-long iridescent tail feathers. The red-billed tropic bird uses its incredible agility to outmaneuver attacking frigate birds in a high-speed aerial "dogfight."
Red knots migrate 10,000 miles every spring from wintering grounds in Argentina to nesting sites in Canada; and Antarctica's chinstrap penguins make an exhausting climb up the steep flanks of a glacier-covered volcano to get food to their chicks.
Masters of adaptation, the vast variety of insects outnumber all other animal species put together. While the female Darwin stag beetle has normal-sized jaws, the male's mandibles are longer than his body. Serrated and strangely curved, they're used as a weapon against rival males.
Japanese red bug juveniles eat a rare fruit, which their mother collects from the forest floor. It can take her hours to find a perfectly ripe fruit — but if she doesn't get it back quickly enough, her young will abandon their nest and find a better mother.
The bombardier beetle has two chambers within its body to store different inert chemicals. When threatened, the beetle mixes the chemicals in a third chamber, where they react explosively and burst from its rear end, spraying its enemy in a boiling, caustic jet.
Mammals are found in every habitat except the deep ocean. Besides their signature physical traits of fat, fur and warm blood, they are unique among animals in the care they lavish on their young.
In an astonishing sequence, an elephant grandmother shoves her inexperienced daughter aside to pull her newborn granddaughter out of the mud and save her life.
Unlike reptiles, warm-blooded mammals can cope with extreme cold — the Weddell seal is able to survive the punishing winter temperatures on the Antarctic ice. Numbering more than ten million, giant fruit bats in Zambia migrate to a mega-roost. In a television first filmed off Tonga, male humpback whales travel hundreds of miles for the chance to breed with a single female in a violent contest called the "heat run."
Plants are dependent on three main elements for survival: sunlight, water and nutrients. They're fiercely competitive and cunningly opportunistic.
Sunlight is a rare commodity on the forest floor, so aggressive climbers such as Boston ivy and cats-claw creeper use other plants as a ladder to get to the light.
More than 20,000 different kinds of plants spend their entire life in the forest canopy, getting their nutrients by trapping dead leaves in their roots. Where there is little rain, plants find clever ways of capturing and retaining water.
The dragon's blood tree survives in a rocky desert solely on moisture from mist, while other plants, such as the desert rose, lose their leaves to stop evaporation and carefully store water in their trunks.
Carnivorous plants, like the sundew and Venus flytrap, set clever snares for unsuspecting insects and pounce without mercy.
Intelligence, adaptability and resourcefulness have enabled primates to thrive in an incredible diversity of habitats.
Hamadryas baboons live in groups — and fight in armies — on the hot plains of Ethiopia, while Japanese macaques, the most northerly dwelling primates, survive in extreme cold. Drab Phayre's leaf monkeys have bright orange babies; and the ring-tailed lemurs of Madagascar use their sense of smell for seduction.
Primates have found extraordinary ways to improvise, especially when faced with challenges beyond their physical means. Clams are closed too tightly for Costa Rica's white-faced capuchins to open with their hands and teeth, so these intelligent monkeys have learned to hammer them to weaken the clam's muscle.
Creatures of the Deep
Deep-sea marine invertebrates are extraordinarily diverse. In this episode, carnivorous Humboldt squid change color like flashing neon signs and attack a school of fish in a coordinated hunting maneuver, while vast numbers of giant spider crabs emerge from the deep and congregate in the shallows to molt.
Time lapse cameras capture starfish, sea urchins and monster worms devouring a seal carcass in an astonishing frenzy of predation.
The female Pacific giant octopus scours the ocean floor for a safe place to hide and lay her eggs. For the next six months she does not leave her den, but guards her eggs, keeping them oxygenated, free from disease and safe from predators.
Gradually she starves, and in her last act of devotion blows water over her eggs to help them hatch. Then, she dies.
Reptiles and Amphibians
Amphibians and reptiles are masters of survival because they've devised extraordinary tricks and strategies.
A pebble toad escapes a tarantula by curling into a ball and bouncing down a rock face; the basilisk lizard literally runs on water; and a highly venomous sea snake lays its eggs in a safe air-filled cavern underwater.
Extreme slow-motion photography reveals an astonishing image of a chameleon snatching insect prey with its extendible, muscle-propelled tongue.
In a television first, the episode reveals the savage hunting techniques of the largest lizard on earth, the nine-foot Komodo dragon.