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Welcome to my Nightmares Of Nature.
I'm Naomi Wilkinson, and I'm coming face to face
with the nightmares of the animal world.
The ones that make your spine tingle...
..your heart beat faster...
..and your blood run cold!
What's that noise?
Are they truly terrifying, or is there a twist in the tale?
Come with me, as I shine a light on wildlife's deepest, darkest secrets.
And see if you can guess which will be my worst nightmare.
This time, my search for nature's nightmares has brought me
to the tropical coastline of Australia.
There's sand, sea, sun!
It's the perfect place for a little rest and relaxation.
In fact, it's hard to imagine that anything around here could be a nightmare of nature!
My wet and wonderful Aussie outing will take me from the waterways
of the far north, across to the coast of Queensland and beyond.
Along the way, I'll be paddling with a very prickly customer...
-Is that him, that brown?
-That's going to kill.
-That could definitely kill you, yeah.
Hitting the beach in search of some muddy monsters...
Get him, get him, get him!
And plunging into the big blue on the trail of a creeping menace.
But I'm starting with a spot of sightseeing.
We're in Kakadu National Park right at the northern tip of Australia,
and if I'm looking a little edgy it's because we're on a search
for one of the scariest animals on the planet.
Saltwater crocodiles have a fearsome reputation, and it's well-deserved.
These giant predatory reptiles can grow to over six metres in length.
Their massive jaws deliver the most powerful bite force ever recorded
and they are masters of the ambush attack.
But can I learn to love these cold-blooded killers,
or are they just a total nightmare?
My guide today is croc expert Adam Britton.
I've never been searching for crocodiles before.
Can you give me some spotting tips?
You've come to the best place to start with.
There's plenty of crocodiles here.
Because it's getting really hot, they'll sit in the water,
so keep your eyes on the water itself.
Sometimes you'll see two little bumps -
the first bump is their nostrils and the one behind it is the eyes.
Look at him. Look at him!
Straight up ahead?
-What have you seen?
-In the water.
Whoa! Do we need to be quiet?
No, no - he's good.
I never thought I was going to get this close in the boat.
Oh! This one is enormous! What prey do they go after?
Most of the things these crocs eat are small.
They eat lots and lots of small things.
Occasionally, they get lucky,
and they'll be in just the right place when something like a wallaby
will come down to the water, then they'll get a lot more food.
They've got these incredibly powerful jaws, as we all know,
and the reason they've got these powerful jaws is so they can
clamp on to something, and then they use the rest of their body,
which is basically pure muscle, to then rip it apart.
One of the things that crocs do, which is really cool,
is they can jump out of the water.
So for example, if you happened to be a bird sitting in that branch,
the crocodile will come underneath, and he'll tilt his tail down
and then swim upwards and his tail is so powerful,
he can push all that body weight up out of the water
to get his jaws around the bird.
A lot of people get grabbed with their back to crocodiles.
Oh! I'll just ask you all the questions like this!
It's hard to imagine what it would feel like to be in the water
and see an animal this big
and this ferocious lunging at you out of the darkness.
Unfortunately, I don't have to imagine, because I'm going to do it.
I'm going to get into the water with a fully-grown, hungry, saltwater crocodile.
Obviously it's not a great idea to just jump into the water
and go for a swim with a saltie!
But Adam reckons he knows a way
I can enter the watery world of the crocodile without being eaten.
On this side of the fence, there's a 4.8 metre croc called Smaug.
And on this side of the fence, we have an underwater viewing platform,
and that's where I'm going - in there.
Adam is going to lure Smaug in with a meaty morsel.
I'm about to go face to face with a predator the size of a small car.
My heart is racing.
Oh! I don't like underwater stuff.
-He's actually looking at you.
-He is. He's looking straight at me, I can see his teeth from up here.
Right, Naomi, deep breath. One, two, three.
Flipping heck! This is taking every bit of courage I have got.
Oh. He's really intimidating.
I wish I could put into words how small I feel next to him!
Just as I'm getting used to the idea of being in the water with such a massive predator,
Adam drops in a little surprise!
I didn't realise that was going to happen and all of a sudden,
he just opened his mouth and whooo!
You know what, I think the scariest thing about a crocodile is that they are motionless,
and as if they're just a statue, and then from nowhere,
lightning reaction kicks in, reflexes and...
Good grief! I am going to take a lot of persuading
that this is not a total nightmare of nature!
I'm not done with crocs yet - I'll be back later
for a spooky encounter with a true monster of the night.
You can feel the power of this animal.
The whole boat is just being pulled around.
But first, I'm heading over to the Queensland coast
in search of some more nightmare contenders.
Imagine a hidden horror, one that lies in plain sight,
but you can't see it.
One that delivers a toxin so powerful
it will kill you within hours.
A terror that lurks even in the heart of a busy resort like this.
Well, the nightmare of nature I'm on the trail of now
is all of those things!
The seldom-seen stonefish is a hide-and-seek champion.
Disguising itself as a harmless lump of rock,
it waits on the seabed and snaps up unsuspecting prey
with rapid-fire strikes - almost too fast for the human eye to see.
But it's defence, not attack, that makes this fish a nightmare to us.
For protection, stonefish are armed with a set of hidden toxic spines
that inject a painful, potentially lethal venom
into anyone unlucky enough to stand on one.
To find out more about these super-stealthy stingers,
I've come to meet marine biologist Jenna.
Jenna, how can we see a stonefish?
Well, stonefish are very, very difficult to find in the wild.
I've spent a lot of hours looking for stonefish underwater
to no avail, so what I've done today is borrow one from a local aquarium
and I've brought him here to the beach today.
-Where is it?
-Well, we're going to have some fun actually.
I have hidden him somewhere in the ocean around us,
and your challenge is going to be to uncover him.
-Right. But you're not going let me tread on him though, are you?
-No. I'll look after you!
The problem is, there are lots of rocks here.
-You can see him now?
-I can see him right now.
He's in this vicinity here, if that helps.
I don't want to move anywhere!
Is that him? That brown, the dark brown?
Yep, that is him. That big thing right there.
-It's really big!
-Huge, isn't he?
-He looks just like a rock!
If I was paddling along here, there is no way I would see him.
So what does happen when you stand on one?
OK, so if you look closely you can see here
the spines along the back - there's 13 spines.
If we went a bit closer, or he was threatened, he'd erect those spines
and they'd stand up really high and straight, and each spine
works like a syringe, so it pumps the venom up and into the needle.
It's very interesting because the amount of poison that goes in
is actually directly related to the amount of pressure
that's put on the fish. So it's not like the fish really attacks you,
it's like the victim stumbles into the fish.
If you were to have a terrible incident and stand on all 13 spines,
with full force, that's going to kill?
That could definitely kill you.
Mostly, it's just an extremely painful experience.
I've heard the pain is so bad, people beg to have their limb amputated!
-So we probably don't want to get much closer!
-Let's leave him alone!
The thought of accidentally treading on a practically invisible fish
with a back bristling with poisonous spines
is certainly enough to make me think twice about going for a paddle.
The stonefish is definitely a strong contender for my worst nightmare.
My next nightmare of nature is a little bit different.
It's not a ferocious predator, it's not a venomous insect.
It's not even an animal. It's this stuff!
I'm in the mangroves, where the sea meets the land.
It's hot, humid, filled with mosquitoes,
and there's plenty of thick, sticky mud.
To me, it sounds like a nightmarish place to set up home,
but I'm off to find lots of animals that love to live in it.
Spotting anything in all this muck won't be easy.
Luckily, local guide Linc is on hand to assist.
So what's the best way to walk around on all this sludgy mud?
No shoes out here - get your shoes off.
If you wear shoes, sometimes you'll sink down and lose your shoes
You won't get them back. So we leave them on the beach.
It's a bit creepy. The minute you have bare feet,
you feel like things are starting to move round your toes
and nibble your feet.
I won't tell you what's in the mud until we get back on the beach!
-Then I'll let you know what's down there.
These mangroves provide a haven for all sorts of mud-lovers.
Periwinkles - edible snails.
That's one of the mud whelks.
That's a little fiddler crab.
Aw, I like him.
But there's one animal leaping around in all these muddy forests
that has to be seen to be believed -
and that's because it's a fish!
Mudskippers are a mini marvel of the mangroves.
They love the mud so much that when the tide goes out,
they simply stay put, burrowing, hunting, and even climbing trees
right here in the mangroves.
But to get a really good look at this fish out of water,
we've got to catch one!
-Oh, oh, oh!
-You see him jumping?
-I saw something jumping over here.
-Just in there.
-That's the one.
Now, how to catch him in amongst all these roots?
-Oh, he's fast!
-Never going to be able to catch you.
Mudskippers are quick for a reason.
They're on the menu for birds, lizards and even crocodiles.
Get him, get him, get him - come back!
I don't really like it!
Oh, they even sense my shadow!
I don't think humans are cut out to spend their time in mangroves.
If you can't catch them by hand, use a net.
Come here, mudskippers!
Going to get the whole crew looking.
Hooray! We have one in the net.
-You can come over to it.
-I'll just come over there to show you.
Just give me half an hour!
Oh, he's so sweet!
As you can see, the mudskipper is a fish that is as happy
out of the water as in the water.
In fact, they can stay out of the water for a few days.
The way they do that is to store a supply of water
in a special chamber inside their bodies,
much the same way as a scuba diver would store air in a tank.
Those two bulging, protruding eyes stick upwards above the mud or water
so it can look out for prey or predators.
Then when the tide comes in,
he'll just disappear, burrowing down into the mud.
Oh! Where's he gone?
So the mudskipper can breathe both in and out of the water,
has high-speed evasion techniques,
and is fitted with bulging eyes
for a panoramic view.
All making it perfectly adapted for mucking around in the mud!
It's been a real surprise to discover just how many creatures
are living in this,
but I don't think I'd fancy spending all my time
up to my eyeballs in mud.
So this really could be my worst nightmare.
The coast of Queensland is home to one of our planet's greatest wonders.
It's one of the largest,
most impressive spectacles found anywhere in the natural world.
And one of the best ways to appreciate its sheer scale
is to view it from the air!
Ah! Look at the view!
What a sensational view!
It's beautiful down there, isn't it?
What you can see down there is the Great Barrier Reef.
It stretches over 1,000 miles along the Australian coast.
In fact, it's so big, it can be seen from space.
The reef itself is actually alive,
because it's made up of billions upon billions of tiny organisms
called coral polyps.
The polyps' hard exoskeletons create the beautiful shapes
and colours of the reef, and the vast communities they form
provide shelter and food sources for all the other life around them,
from tiny crustaceans
to giant manta rays.
You beauty! That's magic.
I can't get over how far it goes on!
Just as far as your eye can see.
Now you might think anything this size would be impervious to attack,
but there is a hostile takeover underway down there of nightmarish proportions.
So I need to go in for a closer look.
The coral is under attack from a creeping terror -
the crown-of-thorns starfish.
These multi-pronged monsters make their home on the reef,
but in recent years their numbers have swelled,
creating an army of starfish so big,
they are destroying huge portions of this natural wonder.
I'm heading offshore with marine biologist Chris.
He's going to introduce me to this marauding menace.
So here we have the culprit.
-Indeed we do.
-You can see why it's called the crown-of-thorns.
But it's not the spikes that do the damage to the reef?
No, this guy is eating the reef. It's eating coral. It is a corallivore.
How is it doing it?
This particular guy can invert his stomach.
-So he turns himself inside out?
He turns himself inside out and envelops his prey, the coral,
with his stomach...
..sucks the animal out of its skeleton,
and withdraws its stomach back into its body,
marches off, and does that again.
Ugh! But how much damage can starfish really cause to the reef?
It's really a numbers game.
If you're talking about millions upon millions of these guys
eating coral, they can quickly eat themselves out of house and home.
I want to see this damage for myself,
so it's time to take the plunge.
At first, we're surrounded by vibrant, healthy coral.
Absolutely stunning how much life there is. It's so busy.
It's like the most fantastic tropical fish tank ever!
But it's not long before we come across the trail of destruction
left by our marauding starfish army.
It just looks like a ghost town, doesn't it?
-Like a spooky ghost town.
And everywhere you look,
in the healthy coral it's like a really busy city,
all the fish just going about their business,
but then you get to the dead coral, and it's just...
-There's no life around it, is there?
-It's truly lifeless.
It's really sad to see, actually.
-Look what's right in the middle of us, right down in front of us.
-A massive one.
-A huge crown-of-thorns.
It's so evident where you've just got those white patches
right next to a crown-of-thorns starfish -
you can see it's exactly where it's just been.
You can see the pattern quite clearly.
And as the population increases, as it is on the Great Barrier Reef,
it is a true nightmare.
The reason for the huge rise in crown-of-thorns numbers
is linked to nutrients being washed into the sea by deforestation
and development along the coast.
These nutrients create food for infant crown-of-thorns,
meaning more and more are surviving to adulthood
and a life of coral chomping.
Chris and others are working hard to tackle these problems,
but for now, the future of the reef remains in doubt.
An animal that can eject its guts out of its mouth
and slowly digest you is surely enough to turn anyone's stomach,
but for me, the potential damage and destruction
of these beautiful, stunning coral reefs
has got to be the real nightmare of nature.
My Australian adventure is almost over, but before I head for home,
I have some unfinished business with the saltwater crocodile.
Expert Adam is trying to convince me that these ravenous reptiles
aren't a total nightmare. He's even had me in the water with one!
And now he's aiming to get me close enough
to actually touch a wild croc!
We're launching our boat out onto the river
because we're heading out on a night-time nightmare mission.
We're going to try and find, catch and tag a saltwater crocodile.
If there's one thing scarier than trying to catch a crocodile,
it is trying to catch a crocodile in the dark!
In order to learn more about the local crocodile population,
Adam has been fitting them with satellite tags,
which allow him to track their movements.
But attaching anything to a predator several metres long
is always a risky business.
Thankfully we have a team of park rangers with us
who are crocodile-catching experts.
Whoa! He's a big one!
We seem to have gone for one of the biggest crocodiles
in the whole of Australia tonight!
Stay well out of the way!
All this thrashing will help to tire out the croc,
making it easier to work with.
You can feel the power of this animal, though.
The whole boat is just being pulled around.
But it's not until the croc is fully out of the water
that I can appreciate the terrifying scale of this living dinosaur!
Once the exhausted croc is properly secured, it's finally safe
for me to touch my first-ever wild crocodile.
-I'm OK to touch him?
-You're perfectly OK to touch him.
Oh! So soft!
But feel that.
-And that is like rock.
I thought he was going to be really hard! He's really squidgy!
-It's a big one.
Nearly 3.9 metres.
While the park rangers take measurements, Adam gets on with fitting the tag.
The data it provides will help to ensure that crocs and people don't come into conflict.
We'll be able to tell so much about what this crocodile is doing,
it will give us a huge amount of really useful information,
so he's a really good ambassador.
Naomi, we're going to call him Naomi!
-Are you really?
-Yeah. That's what he's called.
-Aw! I feel honoured.
Do you think crocodiles and people can live safely together?
Given the number of crocodiles here and the number of people,
and the number of people who go out on the water fishing
and recreating around the water,
on average you get one person a year who gets killed by a crocodile.
-That's so few really, isn't it?
-It's a pretty good statistic.
The fact is, we have this amazing creature here, which is a huge asset.
I think it's much better to have this animal here,
with the tiny risk that someone is going to get attacked.
It's just incredibly important.
Just cutting loose that duct tape around his mouth.
When everybody's ready, they'll release it,
and, hopefully, he'll head straight for the water
and not back towards us!
And off he goes.
I've got to say, getting that close to a saltwater crocodile
has got to rank up there as one of the scariest,
but most exhilarating animal encounters of my life.
The more you get to know about them, the more you have to respect them -
the power, the size, how well they are adapted for life in the water.
Am I really getting to like crocodiles,
or are they still the stuff of nightmares?
So it turns out the Australian coast isn't quite
the perfect paradise I thought it was.
Yes, it has the sun, it has the beautiful beaches,
but it also has some surprisingly scary wildlife!
But which is my worst nightmare here?
Was it the stomach-ejecting, coral-chomping crown-of-thorns?
The muddy mangroves - hot, humid and plenty of thick, sticky mud?
Or the camouflaged toxic terror, the stonefish?
But because of its size, power and ferocity,
the coastal crown for my worst nightmare here
is going to go to the giant prehistoric monster, the saltwater crocodile!
Second time lucky!
Thank you! Oh, dear.
Very gracefully done!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd