Steve Backshall journeys to the heart of South America. A hunt for the mighty anaconda goes badly wrong when Steve is attacked by an unseen predator.
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My name's Steve Backshall.
And this is Deadly 60 On a Mission.
My team and I are travelling the world
in search of the planet's deadliest animals.
I want to find out what makes them so deadly.
And that means getting close to them in the wild.
Only the most lethal will make my list.
And this series, we're showing you my most extreme animal encounters.
And you're coming with me, every step of the way!
For this Deadly 60 mission, we're off to South America
to meet the region's giant killers.
Some could potentially be dangerous to humans,
others are deadly in their own world.
I'm in Argentina and Peru,
to bring you the deadliest encounters on offer.
We're starting in the Ibera wetlands of Argentina.
It's a swamp the size of a small country,
and we're looking for predators in these waters.
They harbour a cast of killers made famous by horror movies,
and I'm raring to go!
South America is renowned for its giant snakes,
and the first animal I am after is a master of swamp hunting.
The yellow anaconda.
The anaconda group includes the largest snakes on Earth.
Adapted to life on land and in the water.
They can hold their breath for up to half an hour.
Anacondas use their muscular body
to squeeze the life out of their victims.
But to catch their prey, they need to set an ambush.
It'll lie in wait for days, weeks, sometimes months on end.
Its eyes and nostrils are on top of its head,
so it can leave the minimum exposed.
Which makes it difficult for its prey to spot,
but also very difficult for us to spot, too.
We could be here some time.
'The plan is to ride around the area,
'hoping the horses' hooves will disturb a snake.
'And I'll get the chance to see one up close.'
'It's quite spooky, what could be lying beneath this stuff.'
'This is definitely perfect habitat for anacondas.'
'These weird-looking capybara are one of its favourite foods.'
'They're the world's largest rodents.'
'But no sign yet of an anaconda.'
'After three hours, one of the team spots movement in the water.'
Can you take my reins?
'It could be what we're looking for. Time to get off and investigate.'
I saw something else move.
'It's virtually impossible to see anything in this murky water.'
Is there anywhere I haven't covered?
'Suddenly, my foot hits something solid.'
That was a caiman.
And I've just been given a really nasty bite.
Are you all right?
I don't think so.
It's whipped round and taken a chunk out of my leg.
'That's put an end to our anaconda hunt for today.'
A mess, isn't it?
The most important thing is to get me to hospital.
Crocodile bites have enormous amounts of bacteria in them,
so we need to get it cleaned up,
stitched up and I'll be back snake hunting tomorrow.
'Well, at least that's what I was hoping.'
Anaconda hunting on horseback is
going to have to wait for my wound to heal.
So next, I want to show you the beast that bit me. A caiman.
It's 24 hours since my disagreement with a spectacled caiman.
I've been all patched up.
It's a bit sore, but I can still walk all right.
The last thing I want is people thinking that spectacled caiman
are evil monsters. In actual fact,
spectacled caimans are one of
the least aggressive crocodilians towards people.
'Assuming you don't step on them!
'Let's have a proper look at one.'
What I'm hoping is...
I can make some vibrations in the water...
..and they'll think that it's a struggling animal, and investigate.
Keep your eyes open, guys.
'It doesn't take long for them to sense us.'
See those eyes above the surface?
He's definitely got his eyes on me.
Look at that! 'He seems intrigued by the disturbance.'
Everything about its profile is perfect for its method of hunting.
Even in water this shallow,
the only thing above the surface are the eyes and nostrils.
So he can breathe
and get a good look at what he's thinking of hunting.
'Unusually for spectacled caiman, this one seems unafraid of people.'
He might even come up out of the water if we give him a bit of space.
Here he comes.
'This caiman is about the same size as the one that bit me.
'We're getting a better look than I dared to hope for.'
Look at that mouth!
It's lined with around 70 cone-shaped teeth
that are replaced throughout its life.
The upper and lower teeth overlap the mouth, and its muscular jaws
bite down, crushing its prey in a vice-like grip.
The reason it's known as the spectacled caiman
is that, between the eyes, there's a bony ridge that looks like
the bridge on a pair of glasses.
Now we've got one that's being friendly,
what I'd really like to do is to show you one hunting.
To do that, we head back into the water.
Because that's where these guys get deadly.
'With vibration sensors around their mouth,
'spectacled caiman can detect tiny movements.
'A specialised heart means they can hold their breath for over an hour.
'But thanks to fast-twitch muscles in their tails,
'they attack with phenomenal speed, lunging at their prey
'and grabbing it in their jaws.'
'To see our caiman in action,
'we're going to use a fishing rod and bait
'to lure it as close as possible to the underwater camera.'
Caiman are opportunistic hunters, and he can't resist
our bait for long.
He's getting over his natural nerves.
This is quite a strange sensation,
being this close to a crocodile, in the water,
looking into its mouth. Look at that!
Whoa! It's got the fish!
I never thought I'd be able to be this close
to a wild crocodilian feeding.
Give it a good pull!
He's going to lift his head out the water
and throw that fish back in one gulp.
'Having seen it hunting, and experienced its bite first-hand,
'I know it's not a man-eater, but it is deadly to just about
'all the other animals living in this swamp.'
The spectacled caiman - fish-munching,
absolutely awesome, and on the Deadly 60.
They can hold their breath for over an hour
thanks to adaptations of the heart and lungs.
Fast-twitch muscles give it awesome speed.
With multiple replaceable teeth.
Take it from me, it's a vice-like bite.
'With my leg too sore for anaconda hunting on horseback,
'we're looking for an even more infamous local predator.
'So feared that they've inspired blockbuster horror movies.
'Marcus, the owner of this ranch, knows the best way
'to get a look at these creatures.'
How do I cast this thing?
'Using a fishing rod and a chunk of meat.
'In seconds, I've hooked a killer.'
Ooh. Have something. I've got piranha already. Look at that.
There are several species of piranhas in these waterways.
This is a smaller one.
Beautiful yellow colours.
Black bar down the tail.
This isn't what we're looking for.
There's a species of piranha in here that dwarfs this baby.
That's what we're hoping to catch.
I want to wash my fingers, but I don't want to put them in the water.
More bait, please.
'Piranhas are virtually throwing themselves into the boat,
'but not the ones we're after.
'Luckily, Marcus is a much better fisherman than I am.'
Yay! Good catch!
'He's got the one I'm looking for.'
Now, THAT is a piranha.
This is the real deal.
Local people call these the brave piranha.
Also, the yellow, from the wonderful bright yellow belly.
I'm now about to show you one of the most awesome sets of gnashers
you'll ever see in the animal kingdom.
Hopefully, without losing one of my fingers.
-Look at those!
The teeth are fiercely sharp.
They interlock with the teeth on the upper jaw.
Forming a vicious trap that it uses to munch into other fish
and animals unlucky enough to be struggling in these waters.
'To show you how sharp their teeth are, watch this.'
That's what I call sharp.
When the water's murky, I wouldn't think of getting in with these guys.
But I have a plan for showing you how piranhas feed up close.
'Piranhas sense the movement of potential prey in the water,
'with a row of tiny hairs on their side called a lateral line.
'Plus, they have an extraordinary sense of smell,
'they can detect one drop of blood in 200 litres of water.
'Then, the frenetic feeding begins.'
We've found ourselves a sheltered lagoon. The water is much clearer.
I'm hoping that this is piranha paradise,
but there's only one way to find out, and that's to jump in.
'You did hear me right, I'm going to have to risk it,
'leg wound and all, before I can put them on the list.
'For protection, I've just got a wetsuit and some gloves,
'and a big piece of steak for bait.'
I'm in piranha-infested waters!
'Within five seconds of dunking the bait and the camera,
'the piranhas are all around me.'
Look at the size of that one!
Hey, hey! It's starting to happen!
Once we get a few of those showing interest,
all of its fellow piranhas will pick up the signals.
They'll start feeding, and that's when it gets spectacular.
They are tearing the meat to shreds.
'Whether they're scavenging dead meat
'or taking on live prey, this technique is the same.'
They come in at great speed
and sink those interlocking surgical scalpel-sharp teeth into the meat,
then wrench away, using all of their bulk,
taking a great big chunk of meat.
Then, the next one comes in.
It's like a conveyor belt of frenzied fish.
'One reason for this hit-and-run strategy
'is to avoid being eaten by each other.'
This is just one of the phenomenal displays of predatory behaviour
you'll ever see.
'And just three minutes later...'
Look at this!
Look what's left of our meat!
They've totally destroyed it.
A few little sad bits of bone left.
And I'm stood here, hoping that my wetsuit's going to protect me.
'Many piranha species are actually vegetarian.
'But not these.'
I don't think anyone's going to doubt
piranhas have got to go on the Deadly 60.
-Can I get out now, please?
With built-in motion sensors to find prey in murky water,
the ability to smell a single drop of blood,
and scalpel-sharp teeth for shearing off flesh...
..piranhas are deadly to the core.
'Two days after my altercation with the caiman,
'my leg's healed enough to get back in the saddle.
'It's out last day in Argentina and I really want
'to fulfil my objective - to find a yellow anaconda.'
We have such a vast area of swampy land to cover.
We're trying to spread out as much as possible.
'Time is really running out.
'We know they're out there -
'people sometimes find them in their back yards.
'But they're so well camouflaged in this swamp, we just can't see them.
'Empty-handed, we head back to base.
'But while we've been out scouring the countryside for snakes,
'the owner of the ranch nearly ran one over on his way home.
'He rescued it and put it in this box.'
Will it let me just get it out?
'We're going to return it to the wild,
'but first I want to show you its assassin skills.'
this beautiful snake is a yellow anaconda.
It's actually quite a small one.
This snake can get up to four metres, the big females.
As it's opening its mouth,
it's revealing the rows of razor-sharp teeth.
They're like needles, and they all point back towards the throat.
Once it's got a hold of prey,
it's almost impossible for them to escape.
Look how those teeth point backwards, into the mouth.
Even though this is a non-venomous snake, a bite would be very painful.
Obviously, yellow anacondas don't eat people.
What they eat is the water birds and small mammals
around the swamp where they live.
'This may not see me as prey,
'but he's giving me a good example of how they overpower their victim.'
This little male is transmitting
an enormous amount of power into my hand.
Look how it's doing it.
It's wrapped several coils around,
and then has this extra coil going lengthways across it
that it's using to anchor itself.
Just increasing its grip and its squeeze.
That is like the firmest handshake I've ever had!
If I was to allow that to continue,
it would probably start breaking my hand bones.
I wasn't joking. This will actually start to break my hand pretty soon.
Can I help?
That is a perfect example of how strong
the yellow anaconda can be.
Almost brought me to my knees.
'That strength is backed up by acute senses.'
Look at that tongue flicking out.
This is the prime method of sense for snakes.
Drawing in molecules of taste and smell from the air,
and processing them in their mouths.
OK, back to the swamps where he belongs.
This is about as perfect habitat as you will ever see.
So...back to the swamp for our beautiful yellow anaconda.
Look how quickly he disappears.
I mean, you would never know he was there.
That's why yellow anacondas have to go on the Deadly 60.
It's a camouflaged ambush predator
with a tongue that can taste the odour of its prey,
and when its got a hold, it squeezes the life out of them
in a matter of minutes.
'Argentina's swamp monsters have been full of surprises.'
'But there's another South American giant
'that could eat these guys for breakfast. And to show you that,
'I'm leaving Argentina and heading north and west
'to the Peruvian Amazon.'
This is Peru, and the Amazon rainforest.
If we can't find deadly predators here, we might as well give up.
'But there's no time to waste,
'because we've got a tip-off that the giant predator I'm after
'is in the vicinity.'
Just over the other side of this lake
is one of the most elusive but one of the most fascinating creatures
found in the whole of the Amazon - the giant river otter.
'As their name suggests, this is no ordinary otter.
'At a length of two metres, they're longer than I am tall.
The only thing on our minds is getting to these animals
before they disappear.
'We can hear them on the edge of the lake,
'and from the sound of it, they're trying to scare something off.
'But hearing them is far easier than seeing them.'
'Giant otters are incredibly rare,
'and very few people actually get to witness them at close quarters.'
(Steve, Steve! Slow down.)
'And there they are.'
This is just extraordinary!
There's a group of about seven animals in front of us,
and one of them has just made a kill.
-And... Look, this branch here.
And I can hear him crunching from here!
Local people call these animals river wolves,
and it's a really apt name.
Firstly, you look in their mouths,
and they've got canine teeth that wouldn't look out of place
on a wolf.
Secondly, they're the longest of the weasel family,
and in weight - about 35 kilos -
actually not that dissimilar to a wolf.
And thirdly, they hunt in packs.
'And it's by ganging together that these guys
'can take on South America's other deadly predators.
'They can kill a caiman twice their size,
'slicing it open with their long, pointed canines.'
'They've been seen dispatching five-metre anacondas,
'giant catfish, and piranhas are regular prey.
'Whether it's hunting or defending its territory,
'this animal dominates the flooded forest.
'I never thought for a second we'd see otters hunting.'
The water's just parting in front of him,
he's coming right up to us.
You can see the power of them as they swim!
'They need to be powerful swimmers because,
'although they will eat reptiles, over 90% of their diet is fish.
'They're perfectly adapted
'for hunting in the murky waters of the Amazon basin.
'They can stay under water for eight minutes at a time,
'using their paddle-like tails to propel them forward
'and webbed feet for quick manoeuvring.
'When visibility is poor, their long, sensitive whiskers
'feel the movement of fish in the water...
'..allowing them to hone in on their prey.
'By working together, a group of giant otters confuse the fish,
'rendering them helpless.'
One, two, three heads come to the surface. Five heads to the surface.
Three of them have got fish.
That is incredible.
You'd be hard-pressed to find any other predator in the world
that has that kind of success ratio when they're hunting.
OTTER GRUNTS AND CRUNCHES
I may be a battle-hardened naturalist.
I've seen lions hunting, orca, great white,
but none of them come even close to being as efficient as these guys.
And that's why they're going on the Deadly 60.
How good was that?!
Giant otters use tactile whiskers to detect prey,
they can hold their breath for eight minutes to hunt it down,
and work as a team to make the kill.
When otters get together, the outcome is always deadly.
'It's into the jungle to top off this mission,
'not looking for anything specific this time,
'but in this jungle, I'm bound to find something that fits the bill.
'There are poisonous frogs, venomous centipedes and scorpions,
'and snakes - some of the most impressive found anywhere.'
Great stuff! OK.
-I really want to kneel down here,
but there's loads of nasty stinging ants.
is an enormous snake!
Torch, someone? Torch?
It just keeps on coming and coming and coming.
Look at the size of it!
'At first sight, this snake may look similar to the yellow anaconda,
'but it couldn't be more different. It's not a constrictor,
'but it bites with utter ferocity,
'then thrashes its prey against stones or tree roots,
'battering it to death.'
This...is a yellow-tailed cribo,
and it is absolutely enormous, by far the biggest one I've ever seen.
The tail is a glorious golden-yellow colour.
The scales are so shiny, it's almost like handling a snake made of silk.
It's almost impossible to keep a hold of him.
He just keeps shifting through my hands. Look at that!
You just can't grip him.
'And it's this smooth, muscular body allows the cribo
'to move silently through the forest in search of prey.'
Now, this is a snake that will feed on all sorts of things,
and also on other snakes, and a big one like this
could take on some of THE most dangerous, THE most venomous snakes
found in Latin America.
'Lanceheads, coral snakes, rattlesnakes, even the bushmaster.
'And it dispatches them headfirst,
'with possibly the most powerful bite of all snakes.'
'This snake's a real handful,
'and it's easy to see how it overpowers its prey.'
Well, I got absolutely covered in ant bites and stings,
but it is absolutely worth it.
This is one of THE most magnificent snakes found around here,
and by far the biggest yellow-tailed cribo I've ever seen.
I reckon this awesome animal that eats other snakes,
birds, lizards, frogs, anything that is unlucky enough
to come into its path -
yellow-tailed cribo is on the Deadly 60.
The yellow-tailed cribo is a giant snake-hunting serpent,
it'll eat anything it can swallow...
..with possibly the most powerful bite of any snake.
Now, THAT is a killer appetite.
'This mission has been deadly in name,
'and very nearly deadly in nature.'
'I've been bitten by a caiman,
'I experienced a piranha feeding frenzy...
'..and a yellow anaconda put the squeeze on me.
'In the Amazon, I witnessed giant otters hunting as a pack,
'before winding up with the largest yellow-tailed cribo I've ever seen.
'It's been a killer trip,
'so join me next time for Deadly 60 On A Mission.'
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Join Steve Backshall on one of his best ever missions, this time to the heart of South America. A hunt for the mighty anaconda goes badly wrong when Steve is attacked by an unseen predator; when he does find his snake it almost breaks his hand.
Steve takes a dip in piranha-infested waters to see these voracious predators up close, and has a surprising face-to-face encounter with the creature that bit him.
Steve's mission then takes him over the border into Peru, where he meets the fierce giant river otter and another very different - but equally formidable - snake.