Naomi Wilkinson continues her global search for nightmares of the natural world in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, where she witnesses an army of over two million bats.
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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.
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, we are in Mexico,
a sizzling Latin American nation bursting with creepy jungles,
spooky temples and plenty of natural nightmares.
We're setting out to explore the Yucatan
peninsula on the eastern coast of this giant Central American country.
witnessing one of the greatest natural spectacles on earth...
..placating a prehistoric monster...
I'm going to give it some space.
..hunting down a lethal kung fu assassin...
..and turning detective on the trail of a mischievous mammal.
But first, I'm off to solve a cold-blooded conundrum.
Snakes are firm favourites here on Nightmares Of Nature.
They rank amongst the most dangerous animals on the planet.
But for every snake that's equipped with lethal life-threatening venom,
there are many more that are completely harmless to us humans.
The big question is, how do you tell them apart?
There are two colourful characters here in Yucatan
that look just like twins.
The king snake and the coral snake.
One of these is harmless.
The other is so venomous, it could kill me with a single bite.
So, which is which?
I've come to the home of local vet Martin
for help unpicking this puzzle.
-Good to meet you.
-Good to meet you.
Do both of these species occur commonly here in Yucatan?
Very common. You can find it in your garden, sometimes inside a house.
-Under the rocks, under the roots.
Why do the two of them look so similar?
Because predators and people is afraid of their poisons.
So the other one is protecting from the predators.
-So it protects itself by trying to pretend it's the venomous one?
Even though it's harmless.
The king snake is a constrictor.
It kills its prey by wrapping itself around its victim
and squeezing it to death.
But it's too small to be a threat to humans.
Not so for the highly toxic coral snake.
And people have died from coral snake bites, haven't they?
Many, many people.
How quickly could you die from coral snake bite?
It depends on your reaction.
If you're allergic, immediately, but if not, probably two hours.
-So you'd die in about two hours.
Right, well, I would quite like to try and handle a king snake,
but I don't want to end up accidentally handling
the coral snake by mistake, so how do I tell them apart?
No problem, don't worry. I can help you.
There's an old rhyme, which is this one.
Oh, right. OK.
Um, "red on yellow will kill a fellow
"but red on black is a friend of Jack." OK.
Oh, thank you.
Um, "Red next to black, venom I lack, yellow and red, you are dead." What?
And... What's this?
"Black and white, say goodnight..."
Oh, you're just doing this to confuse me.
With the "helpful" suggestions from the crew,
it's time to make a decision.
Which snake is safe?
"Red next to black, venom I lack,
"Red on yellow will kill a fellow,
"Red on black is a friend of Jack."
OK, I've thought about this very carefully
and because this one has red on black -
"next to black, venom lack" - I think this is the king snake.
Well, you can try it.
I should just try it.
Of course, these little rhymes are fun, but it's important to
remember that we've got an expert here to make sure we don't go wrong.
You should never try to do anything like this yourself.
I hope this is the right one.
-Yes, that's OK.
Is this the right snake?
Thank goodness for that.
I mean, both species are absolutely beautiful, aren't they?
-Oh! I got the right one. Phew!
Identifying snakes is an expert's game,
so if you come across one in the wild,
probably best to stay out of its way.
When it comes to tests, the king snake/coral snake conundrum
is definitely one you want to revise for.
Get it wrong, and you could end up with a dose of potentially
lethal venom and that's why this puzzling pair could certainly
be in contention for my worst nightmare.
Yucatan is rich with reptilian nightmares,
and to meet my next one, I'm going in search of an ancient wonder.
There's an old Mexican legend that the remote regions
of the Yucatan Peninsula hide a place that time forgot...
..where giant prehistoric monsters still rule the earth.
My trusty crew and I have travelled far...
..braved many dangers to reach this lost world...
..through dark, dense jungle...
..past ancient forgotten temples...
..and across the scorching sands of...
..a tourist beach?
OK, so it's not the land that time forgot.
It's Tulum, an ancient walled city on the shore of the Caribbean Sea
and it is one of the most popular destinations in all of Mexico.
But believe it or not, it does have a population of prehistoric monsters.
Iguanas are among the largest of all lizards
and look about as close to a living,
breathing dinosaur as it's possible to get in this day and age.
There are many species of iguana.
But the black spiny-tailed iguanas that live here at Tulum look
particularly like petrifying prehistoric predators.
So I'm on my guard.
One advantage of being in tourist territory,
rather than the lost world, is there is an expert at hand to show me
around, in the form of local biologist Raul.
Oh, it's coming to see us. RAUL LAUGHS
Those spines look dangerous.
What are they used for?
This tail is an amazing way to defend themselves
from predators like birds of prey and foxes, and they will whip
the tail against other males also, fighting for territory and females.
Well, occasionally, they will eat small animals, such as mice
or even bats and tiny lizards, but their main diet is plants.
That's weird, isn't it? Because it looks like such a ferocious creature.
Plants and flowers.
And it likes to eat flowers and not flesh? That's really funny!
So they don't have to chase after prey and hunt it down.
Does that mean they're rather slow animals?
-Oh, no! It can run up to 20mph.
Imagine that. Faster than you.
Why do they need to be able to run so fast?
Mainly running away from dangers.
So it's all for defence? It's not to try and attack anything?
No. Mainly for defence, yeah.
'That's not to say that iguanas don't get angry, though.'
What's he doing now? What's that head-nodding behaviour?
Well, males do that to attract females.
But mainly, it's like, "Get out of my territory".
-"Give me some space!"
I'm going to give it some space.
'But it seems he's not the only one on the defensive.'
Look at that one. Look at that male over there doing his display.
'Thankfully, it's not aimed at me this time.'
Oh, there's another male!
'It's for another iguana.'
Oh, there might be a fight, because we've got this male
defending his territory and this one coming to try and invade.
-Oh, yes, yes.
-And he doesn't like it.
Let's follow this.
The other one is running away.
-So he knows that this one should not be messed with.
With his territory secure, he can get back to flirting with his females.
"Hey, ladies. How you doing?"
So, despite their fierce and prehistoric looks,
these iguanas aren't the dangerous dinosaurs you might expect.
Their speed is for escape, not pursuit.
Their spines are for defence rather than attack
and they would much rather sink their teeth into a nice
bunch of flowers instead of another animal,
so can I really call these reptiles of the ruins my worst nightmare?
To catch a glimpse of my next animal,
I'm going to have to get streetwise.
This seems like a nice, quiet everyday neighbourhood
but I've heard reports that this town is home to
an unruly gang of banditos, plaguing the local residents with
a crime spree of theft and vandalism.
So it's time for me to put on my detective hat
and launch an investigation.
The first thing any good detective will do
is go and examine the crime scene.
Yep, I think we might have found a clue right here.
Clearly, something has been going through this bin,
leaving rubbish everywhere - very antisocial.
I bet they were after those tortillas.
Probably made a quick getaway into those trees.
I think we're on the right track.
The next step is to look for witnesses, and there are plenty
of locals who have suffered at the hands of this mystery mob.
What have you seen them doing?
Begging for food, climbing the walls in the houses.
They've got this beautiful long snout and a really, really long tail
that has rings on it.
They're furry. What else?
-That's how they walk?
-How did they walk?
Oh! They walk like that! Ooh!
Armed with all this evidence, I have a fair idea
of where our little criminal gang likes to hang out.
We've just pulled into a local shopping centre car park,
because an informant tells us that our suspects, daily between five
and six o'clock, run across this wall and over to those bins there...
..to raid them.
So we are on a stakeout.
Look. He's putting rubbish there. That's good.
They'll come for the rubbish.
Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Just when we're thinking they've given us the slip...
They're at the... There's one. Can you see it?
There it is, just coming over the fence now.
'Long snout. Ringed tail.'
There's our culprit.
It's a coatimundi.
And they're mammals, closely related to kinkajou and racoons.
This particular species is called the white-nosed coati
and with the black fur around its eyes too,
it really does make it look like it's wearing a burglar's mask
and considering its behaviour - that's pretty appropriate.
'In the jungle, they live in the trees,
'coming down to the ground in the day,
'to forage for insects and fruit.'
But here in a more urban setting,
sometimes they'll just pick up whatever we throw away,
other times, they'll pinch it when we're not looking.
Their long claws make them great climbers.
Look at it. Climbing down the tree.
No trouble at all.
They're not dangerous to humans.
Oh, look how cute that one is!
I think they might be too cute to call criminals.
It's time to wrap up our investigation
and what have we learnt?
Well, yes, coatis can be a bit of a menace, raiding our bins
and stealing the occasional sandwich, but, in their defence,
they're just doing what comes naturally to them -
foraging for food.
So should I let them off, or send them down as my worst nightmare?
During my search for the world's nastiest natural nightmares,
I've come face-to-face with plenty of creepy crawlies,
things that bite, sting, inject venom, even drink your blood.
D'you know what?
I think I might have finally found an insect I'm really going to love.
The praying mantis has no venom or sting
and there's even one species that looks like a flower.
The "praying" in its name has nothing to do with a predatory nature.
It's down to the prayer-like position of its forelimbs.
So I'm betting on the praying mantis being
just as saintly as its name suggests.
The praying mantis is a master of disguise.
Many have evolved to blend perfectly in with their surroundings
so they can look like leaves, bark,
which in here, makes them virtually invisible.
To help you look for this needle in a haystack,
I've once again called on the services of local biologist Raul.
And he knows exactly where to look.
Hey, Naomi. There's a praying mantis on this tree. Can you spot it?
-It's right here.
Oh, my goodness. Yes!
-Oh, it's quite tiny, isn't it?
Are they usually that sort of size?
Well, praying mantis came in different sizes. They can be
-as small as your fingernail and as big as your hand.
That camouflage is just incredible. It looks just like a twig.
Does it use that camouflage to protect itself?
Yeah. They can be the prey of birds, or lizards, even frogs.
They use it for protection, but also for hunting.
Ah, so they're disguised.
So how do they hunt?
KUNG-FU FIGHTING MUSIC
Butterfly, or whatever the prey is, will come.
And in less than a second it will be on top of him.
And these spiky little things that they have in their arms
is helping them to do that.
So those little spikes, barbed weapons,
chop down on their unsuspecting prey like a kung fu fighter?
KUNG-FU FIGHTING SOUND EFFECTS
And then they start eating their prey alive.
Starting with their head also.
'Yes, a praying mantis dinner party is not for the squeamish.
'Forget the starter.
'These guys like to go straight for the main course -
'while it's still moving!
'But these ghastly gourmets have an even darker side.'
Raul, I've heard that praying mantises
-have a rather unusual mating ritual.
The females, when they finish, they eat the male,
starting with the head.
Well, I'm all for girl power, but that does sound a bit extreme.
You don't want to mess with the praying mantis.
-I don't want to be a male...
So to summarise, they use their camouflage to launch sneak attacks,
skewering their victims before eating them alive.
And if they're still hungry,
they might just snack on their boyfriend, too!
Having learned a bit about this beastie,
I think the praying mantis should perhaps consider changing its name -
maybe to the kung fu mantis,
or the head-munching mantis might be more appropriate.
Whatever you call it, this cannibalistic creepy-crawlie
is certainly in the running for my worst nightmare!
For my final outing, I'm heading deep into the jungle...
..for a nocturnal nightmare encounter.
At night, the jungle comes alive with things that sneak, slither,
creep and crawl.
Even the very air itself is filled with nocturnal nightmares.
True horror story stars.
They are the masters of stealth.
And when they take to the air, they do it in their millions.
137 different species darken Mexico's skies every night
and nine of those could be out hunting in this remote
patch of Yucatan jungle right now.
I've got to say, it's pretty unnerving.
However, if there is one thing that this show has taught me
about fear, it's that it's best to meet it face-to-face.
Helping me do that tonight is a bat research team,
headed by wildlife expert Jorge.
He's been monitoring the bat species here by catching them
in these very fine mist nets, before releasing them unharmed.
As my Spanish isn't up to much, our translator Scott
is going to help introduce me to Jorge's first catch of the night.
What have we got here?
This is known as a ghost-faced bat.
It's a really peculiar-looking bat. Hang on.
So those...those are his eyes.
And that's his mouth!
What do the bats do all night?
This bat leaves the cave to go out to hunt mosquitoes and insects.
And how many mosquitoes and insects will one bat eat in a night?
Each bat eats approximately half of its own bodyweight.
Which is a lot, cos mosquitoes weigh nothing.
'Jorge's nets are attracting a raft of colourful characters tonight.'
Oh! Is he happy? Looks like he's going "Argh!"
Quite a scary face he's got there.
Common Moustached Bat.
It does have big long hairs around its mouth.
Ooh! Does that hurt?
Are you going off bats, now that it's doing this to you?
Oh, you're good! You love bats.
Isn't that an odd-looking bat?
Why is it got no hair on its back?
It actually does have hair there.
What you're looking at is a membrane that covers the hairs on its back.
Oh, look at its little body. It's totally cute.
How can anyone think you're a nightmare?
In fact, this looks so friendly, I want to release this one.
He's going to put it there, and you just hold it down with your thumb.
-If it lets go, it's fine.
-If it... If it goes, it's OK.
Oh, it's going to go. It's going to go.
Straight up into the night.
That was a little treat for me.
Well, we have met several members of the local bat population tonight
and I have to say that, up close, they really aren't that scary at all.
OK, some aren't exactly blessed in the looks department,
but nightmares of nature? Absolutely not.
"Meeting one bat face-to-face may not be frightening, but what
"about meeting an army of bats so huge, they number
"into the millions?
"Dare you face the force of El Volcan de los Murcielagos?"
The bat volcano? What's the bat volcano?
Well, I'm about to find out.
We returned to the forest in daylight and while it certainly seems
a little less spooky now, that might be about to change.
Down here in this sinkhole is the entrance to a cave
and that cave is home to around 2.5 million individual bats.
Well, we know they're there, cos we can see quite a few already,
but it also reeks of bat droppings around here.
It's a pretty overwhelming smell.
We're told that just before sunset,
all the bats in this cage will emerge to hunt.
I'm a little bit nervous and a little bit excited.
I hope they're not going to fly straight at my face!
They use a high-pitched navigation system,
which will steer them clear of objects - like me - but only just.
They went right in front of my face!
I'm suddenly starting to think this might not be quite so fun
when there are millions.
But as the bat army's main body of troops emerged, my fear turns to awe!
Can you hear that?
The beating of all their wings? Can you hear?
Oh, my word! That's amazing.
Have you ever seen anything like it? I haven't.
They're all moving so fast.
They're making all the trees
and leaves whirl round in the same direction.
Actually creating a real breeze. Oh!
Cor! No wonder the locals refer to this as the bat volcano.
It's literally like an eruption of bats rising up from the ground. Wow!
Wow, wow, wow, wow!
I'm absolutely speechless.
Which is not very helpful when you're a television presenter.
I thought this was going to be a frightening experience,
but it is not. This is just truly beautiful sight.
As the sun begins to set,
we make a quick dash up the hill to see them off into the night.
No matter how long you spend watching wildlife,
nature always has new ways of surprising you.
I thought that 2.5 million bats would be a terrifying prospect,
but it's turned out to be one of the most amazing things I've ever seen.
They might call it the bat volcano,
but this is one eruption I'm happy to have been here to witness.
My Mexican adventures are at an end,
but have you managed to guess what my worst nightmare will be?
Is it the spines and spikes of the prehistoric iguana?
"Hey, ladies! How you doing?"
The sneaky antics of the furry coarti?
There it is, just coming over the fence now.
Perhaps dicing with death on a snake identity parade?
I hope this is the right one!
No, it was none of those.
My worst nightmare is the kung fu fighting, boyfriend-chomping
cannibal critter, the praying mantis.
So it's five letters, Rich.
It starts with a C, ends with an I. And you haven't got any idea?
Is it an animal?
Naomi Wilkinson's quest to find nature's worst nightmares takes her to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. She plays Russian roulette with a pair of colourful characters, meets a head-munching, boyfriend-chomping, kung fu-fighting master of disguise and witnesses one of nature's most sensational spectacles - an army of over two million bats.