David Attenborough examines how living long enough to breed is a monumental struggle, and how many animals and plants go to extremes to give themselves a chance.
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Our planet may be home
to 30 million different kinds of animals and plants.
Each individual locked in its own life-long fight for survival.
Everywhere you look, on land or in the ocean, there are extraordinary
examples of the lengths living things go to to stay alive.
This is the coast of Florida.
Here, strange scars on the sea bed
hint at one animal's remarkable strategy.
These are bottlenose dolphins,
one of the most intelligent animals on Earth.
Their prey is very elusive, fast-swimming fish.
But the dolphins have invented a completely new way of hunting.
By beating its tail down hard, this dolphin stirs up the shallow silt.
And by swimming in a tight circle
it creates a ring of mushrooming mud around a shoal of fish.
The contracting ring traps the fish just like a net.
Panicked, the fish jump to escape.
Right into the open mouths of the waiting dolphins.
Again and again, the lead dolphin creates a circle,
before they all line up with perfect timing.
These dolphins are the only ones known to have developed this hunting behaviour and it gives them an edge.
This sort of advantage may mean the difference between life and death
in the survival of the fittest.
This series reveals the most spectacular and extraordinary
strategies that animals and plants have developed to stay alive.
For every creature, every day is full of challenges,
all of which must be overcome, somehow, in order to survive.
Kenya, famous for its big cats.
The supreme hunters.
Cheetahs specialise in hunting at speed.
Though fast, they are fragile creatures,
built to sprint after small prey.
They don't have the strength or weight of a lion
to bring down larger animals.
This male is different.
He doesn't hunt alone. He's learnt that there is strength in numbers.
But here there are not just two, but three cheetahs.
A band of brothers.
They have changed their tactics and, by doing so,
have taken their prey by surprise.
They have learnt that working together
they can bring down large prey.
A bird that towers over a cheetah and is more than twice as heavy.
It can't fly to escape danger, but it can lash out with a deadly kick.
A female, unaware as yet, of any danger.
Even with three of them this is still highly risky.
If one gets injured the other two couldn't hope to tackle such large prey.
On the other hand, if they get it right, the rewards
The male has spotted one of the brothers, but only one.
It's not too worried.
Then suddenly there are three!
The female is slower to realise the danger
and the cheetahs switch targets.
It takes the combined effort and weight of all three brothers to bring down this powerful bird.
Even now the ostrich could land a fatal kick.
So far, the brothers are winning.
Ostriches have yet to find a way to foil such tactics.
Other animals have also evolved surprising tactics to outmanoeuvre
the enemy, not with brute strength but with extraordinary weapons.
A strange world where nothing is quite as it seems.
To hunt here requires stealth and subterfuge.
And living within the trees is a master of ambush.
A preying mantis.
Well camouflaged and lightning quick,
these insects are highly efficient predators.
But even they are outgunned.
Its camouflage is exceptional because it can change its skin colour to match its surroundings.
Its eyes move independently to spot prey.
It creeps towards to its victim, until just in range.
Then it unleashes a super weapon.
Its tongue shoots out at 15 metres per second.
And not only hits, but grasps its target.
But few hunters are always successful.
For them a hunt is just one meal.
For prey, the stakes are higher.
It's life...or death.
As Antarctica moves from spring into summer, the inlets and bays, once choked with ice, become free.
And animals move in to feed.
These are crabeater seals.
They don't actually eat crabs, but krill, small shrimps that swarm in their billions in these waters.
Resting on a large ice floe, these crabeaters are safe.
But as soon as they enter the water, they are on their guard,
for good reason.
Here in Antarctica, many killer whales prey only on fish.
But these whales are different, they specialise in hunting seals.
This seal swimming to open water is unaware of the danger heading his way.
He's in real trouble. There is no escape unless he can hide behind this small piece of floating ice.
But he's been spotted and surrounded.
Now agility is his only chance.
He dodges for his life, staying as close as he can to the iceberg.
And the whales tighten the circle, going for the kill.
But hunters don't always get their own way.
In the end, the seal's determination and skill, using
the ice for protection, kept him just out of reach.
And the whales move on.
Recently it's been observed that killer whales
are much more successful when hunting other types of seal.
Crabeaters like this put up too much of a fight.
For creatures living in the open ocean there is nowhere to hide from predators.
But there is safety in numbers.
One fish, however, has evolved a different escape tactic.
To leave the water completely, take to the air and fly!
After a huge effort to get airborne, flying fish
can glide 200 metres or so, to escape the predators chasing them.
Not all animals are hunters, many are vegetarians.
But the battle between animals and plants can also be intense.
Boa Vista, central Brazil.
This valley is peppered with strangely pitted rocks.
These are not natural formations but the legacy of a long struggle between one animal and one plant.
Brown-tufted capuchins, highly intelligent monkeys.
They spend their nights in the safety of caves,
emerging each morning to find food.
Down in the valley is a particular favourite.
A nut palm.
The palms produce huge seeds, but they have very strong shells
that protect them against attack from hungry animals.
For the capuchins this is a war of attrition.
They check which seed is the ripest, and the battle commences.
The first job is to tear the tough fibrous husk from the nut.
He doesn't try to crack the nut straight away,
but drops it to the ground.
He's learnt that a nut should be given a week or so drying in the sun.
These are ones he prepared earlier.
He taps them to see if they're ready.
This huge flat rock is his anvil.
And this is a hammer.
It's made of a different and much harder rock than the anvil.
Now something extraordinary happens.
The capuchins' use of these stone tools requires an exceptional level
of intelligence, planning and dexterity.
The nut finally cracks and exposes a rich, oily kernel.
Youngsters watch and imitate the adults, just as human toddlers do.
If they are to become independent,
they must learn to crack their own nuts.
But the learning process is long, with many frustrations.
They learn early on that to do a job properly,
you need the right tool.
It can take eight years for a capuchin to master this art
and overcome the palm's formidable defences.
But some plants have turned the tables and feed on animals.
This is a highly sophisticated trap. The bait,
sugary nectar around the rim of the disc.
The triggers, fine hairs, two of which have to be touched within 20 seconds of each other.
The victim, a fly which finds the colour and nectar irresistible.
When triggered, the trap snaps shut so fast that the fly is imprisoned.
The Venus flytrap now slowly digests its victim.
Life's challenges are more than just finding food.
In every animal's life there comes a time when its mind turns to breeding.
One creature's approach is mind-boggling.
This strange insect has been lying dormant on the forest floor.
Once safe in the trees, these males hide among the leaves and begin an extraordinary transformation.
One that will make the difference between fathering offspring or not.
He begins by gulping in air bubbles, forcing them up into his head.
He then pumps the bubbles into the stalks supporting his eyes,
just like blowing up a balloon.
And this is what earns these creatures their name,
the stalk-eyed fly.
A few final adjustments to straighten out any remaining creases
and he's ready for action.
They may look unwieldy, but eyes on stalks improve not only his ability
to spot predators, but they are key when it comes to winning females.
In the evening both males and females gather and the males begin to size one another up, eyeball to eyeball.
Having the widest eye span puts you at the top of the pecking order.
The eye stalks are not weapons, they're measuring sticks,
used to gauge how big, and so how strong, a male is.
But there's trouble if two top males have exactly the same eye width.
Then the contest descends into a brawl.
The winner. He now has the right to mate with all the females nearby.
The rather gentlemanly way stalk-eyed flies settle their differences over females is not the only way.
Some animals are much more violent.
It's the dry season in Zambia.
The lagoons are either baked dry, or the mud is so thick animals get stuck, with fatal consequences.
This male hippo has been living in one small lagoon, but as it dries, it's turning into a death trap.
Understandably, the females that once shared it with him have all left.
Even if he wants to, he can't stay much longer.
He needs water to keep cool and females to mate with.
And this is where they all are.
Almost all the hippos in the area are in what is left of the Luangwa River,
because it's the last place where there's still deep water.
This bend is controlled by an all-powerful male.
Since the drought many more females have joined his herd.
They are happy to live cheek by jowl, but any male who comes here
in the hope of mating must first defeat the overlord.
The wandering male arrives and has a decision to make - submit or fight.
Victory for the overlord.
His domination of his channel in the river remains and with it mating rights with the females.
The loser is alive, but is an outcast.
He retreats to another part of the river where it's so shallow that no females will follow.
His chance to father offspring is over for now.
For some animals the challenges of breeding are not about fighting but about courtship.
Among birds, displays, songs and rituals can reach extraordinary levels of complexity and beauty.
During spring, on the freshwater lakes of Oregon,
grebes join together to renew their partnership.
The ceremony starts with a series of graceful duets,
in which one partner echoes the actions of the other.
But the real test comes now.
Only the strongest and the most faithful
are prepared to join together for the final exultant dance.
Those animals which have young now face a whole new set of challenges,
to protect and nurture their offspring.
In the cold waters of the northern Pacific Ocean, there lives a giant.
A giant Pacific octopus at over four metres long.
She is hunting, not for prey, but for a den.
Somewhere to settle down and hide.
Her den has to be just right.
She's going to live here for the rest of her life.
She's carrying fertilised eggs,
and now, happy and settled, she lays them.
100,000 of them.
Over the next six months she carefully tends her precious brood.
She caresses them with her arms
to keep them free of algae and properly supplied with oxygen.
This is her first and only brood.
And so she takes great care of them.
While she's guarding her eggs she doesn't leave the den.
Unable to feed,
she is starving.
Her last act of devotion is to blow water over the eggs to help them hatch.
Young, fully-developed octopus pop out.
Though only a few will survive to adulthood, she's given them the best chance she can.
After her long and lonely vigil,
she is dead.
Surely this sacrifice must make her one of nature's most devoted mothers.
Here, 30 metres beneath the Costa Rican forest canopy, another dedicated mother
ensures that her young also have the best possible start in life.
This tiny strawberry poison arrow frog, only the size of a finger nail, is guarding her fertilised eggs.
Whilst the eggs and tadpoles are developing, she and her mate keep
watch, making sure that they are safe from predators.
But they can't stay here for ever.
The leaf litter is drying out and tadpoles need water.
She must do something, and fast.
She needs to move them and so encourages one tadpole to climb on her back.
She now begins an epic journey.
But it's not to a pond, as you might expect,
she is looking for something very particular.
Her journey takes her across the forest floor to the foot of a tall tree and then she starts to climb.
For such a little frog it is a marathon ascent,
like a human mother climbing the Empire State Building with a child on her back.
She's looking for a plant, a bromeliad, growing on the tree.
It holds a pool of water at its centre, the perfect nursery pool for a developing tadpole.
In slides her youngster.
But this is only one of six tadpoles.
She must rush back down to rescue the others.
One by one she collects them and carries each to its own bromeliad.
But there is another problem.
The little pools contain no food.
So she has to provide it.
She lays an unfertilised egg in each pool for her tadpoles to eat.
And then she leaves.
But one egg won't sustain a growing tadpole for long,
so she has to return every few days with another egg.
Over the next two weeks she can climb almost half a mile tending her young.
An astonishing feat for such a tiny creature.
While she's busy delivering eggs,
the tadpole grows legs and its tail begins to disappear.
And then one day it leaves its bromeliad nursery for ever
and climbs out into the forest.
Whilst its mother has a well-deserved rest.
Birds are also diligent parents.
Over their lifetime they invest huge effort in just a few young.
But there is only so much a parent can do.
All along the Antarctic peninsula both male and female chinstrap penguins have been commuting
daily from the open ocean to collect food for their chicks.
Mouthfuls of krill, caught many miles away at sea, are regurgitated.
But one day the chicks wait in vain for food.
Their parents do not return.
The chicks now face life on their own.
This is the toughest time in an animal's life
and some are not going to make it.
Over the next few days, driven by hunger, the chicks make their way down to the shore.
Instinct tells them they have to head out to sea.
Built to withstand the cold, they have already accumulated
a layer of fat, and their outer feathers act as a waterproof shield.
But they still have to learn to swim.
The polar sea is challenging enough
but with a change in the wind,
a slick of broken ice has choked the bay.
For any penguin this ice presents a real problem.
But for the chicks it's a disaster.
They must get through this barrier to the open water, if they are to feed.
One, perhaps hungrier or braver than the rest,
leads the way and tries skittering over the top, while the others watch.
The ice is hard to swim through, and progress is painfully slow.
A leopard seal.
This chick never had the chance to learn how to avoid the seal.
Its end is inevitable.
The leopard seal efficiently flays the chick, tearing off a small piece with each throw.
Others take their chance.
But the leopard seal is now ready for its next victim.
It's a lottery, and the lucky chicks make it out to open water.
There is still an element of chance in life which an individual can do little about.
In the end, overcoming life's challenges,
whether finding enough to eat or outwitting your predators,
is only significant if life's final challenge can be met.
From a tiny frog dedicating weeks to her few cherished tadpoles, to an orang-utan who spends
eight years bringing up her baby,
individual animals strive to reach this one ultimate goal,
to pass on their genes and to ensure the survival of the next generation.
Ultimately, in nature,
that is what life is all about.
During the three years it took to film Life, our camera crews
visited every continent on Earth, but the most challenging was Antarctica.
Here filming was only possible
with the help of an extraordinary range of people and organisations.
An Air Force jet delivering supplies to McMurdo research station
ferried one of our crews to the Ross Ice Shelf.
And on the other side of the continent a team sailed for five days
across the Drake Passage to reach the Antarctic peninsula.
Once there, a small crew was put ashore on Deception Island
to spend a month camping on the edge of a penguin colony.
Two people and 200,000 penguins.
Another team joined scientists
drilling through the ice
to explore the beautiful and bizarre world below.
But the hardiest and most ambitious shoot involved four film crews,
a celebrated French yachtsman and the Ministry of Defence.
The teams had a two-month window
to film Antarctica's two top predators in action.
We knew that one could be found prowling the coast of
Rosenthal Island, waiting for young penguins to take their first plunge.
And the man to take us there was Jerome Poncet.
He skippered the first yacht to sail south of the Antarctic Circle and has been back every year for the past 35.
He knows Antarctic sailing like no-one else.
His yacht, the Golden Fleece, is not an ice breaker,
but Jerome has his own unique way of getting through.
He shunts one floe against another
to clear a way through like playing marbles.
Jerome, once he gets his teeth into,
into a situation he doesn't like to let it go.
So, maybe we'll be here for a few hours yet.
Jerome is determined to get through this channel.
We talk about hundred, hundreds of tonnes,
maybe 1,000, 250,000 tonnes or more.
It's a pooling of water, you have to push.
Some marbles are just too big.
For now, Jerome is foiled and has to moor for the night.
For him, tying up to 100,000 tonnes of ice
is just another day at the office.
Progress is slow, but they need to get to Rosenthal before the penguins leave.
They make it through and the penguins are still there.
Chinstrap penguin chicks fledge at a particular time of year.
The crew knew this would draw leopard seals like a magnet.
Leopard seals are giants among their kind, they have teeth
bigger than a lion and a mouth that can open nearly 180 degrees.
How close can Doug get?
With this seal, very.
He loses interest in his reflection
and goes back to eating penguins.
That was very exciting.
He was a super seal,
super seal, gave me lots of action nice and close,
but I must admit you do have to feel sorry for the penguin,
just doesn't stand a chance.
The team knew where to find leopard seals,
but finding the other top predator
was going to be another matter entirely.
Very little is known about Antarctic killer whales.
Time to bring in reinforcements.
the Royal Navy's ice patrol ship.
She surveys Antarctic waters and the crew see changes every year.
The latest chart of this area, we are now six miles inside an ice shelf, which just goes to show
how much retreation of this ice shelf has occurred over the past five or six years.
Would you get complications...?
Series producer Martha Holmes and cameraman David Baillie
were on board to find and film the killer whales from the air.
Endurance carries two Lynx helicopters used to assist
the British Antarctic Survey and the Hydrographic Office.
On this trip,
some time on one of the helicopters is assigned to the Life team.
No-one has succeeded in filming killer whales hunting off the Antarctic peninsula before.
Our two teams have just a few days when they can film together.
At water level the Golden Fleece has exciting news.
They've found killer whales which look as though they could be hunting.
And Navy 435, Navy 435, this is Golden Fleece, Golden Fleece over.
INDISTINCT VOICE ON RADIO
'Copy that. We're on our way.'
Guys, really windy, we'll be...
pretty lucky to stay with them through this. But we can try though.
435, this is Golden Fleece, we have lost sight of the orca.
-'Yeah, OK, they're in direct line with that iceberg now,
'between us and the iceberg about 100 metres this side of it.'
'Visual. Yeah, visual.'
From the air, the helicopter team can follow the killer whales more easily than the boat team.
435, this is Golden Fleece, full copy. Out.
By working together the helicopter and yacht are able to keep track of the whales in the rough sea.
'There's four now actually yes, four, and four I can see.'
A change in the weather gives a chance to film at last.
They've gone further up this way, if we follow them that's good.
But will they hunt?
OK, here they come through.
Oops, yeah, they 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, it's a good 12 huh, easy.
Doug has spotted a crabeater seal near some ice, but have the killer whales seen it?
No, just keep loosening the square screen.
Some good action.
Can you go closer?
It's over, that's it, they've got him.
It's still there.
For a wildlife cameraman there are always surprises.
It has taken two months, but they've succeeded thanks to extraordinary
collaboration from an entire ship's company to a lone skipper.
Collaborations like this would be the foundation of the whole three years of filming across the world.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
In nature, living long enough to breed is a monumental struggle. Many animals and plants go to extremes to give themselves a chance.
Uniquely, three brother cheetahs band together to bring down a huge ostrich. Aerial photography reveals how bottle-nosed dolphins trap fish in a ring of mud, and time-lapse cameras show how the Venus flytrap ensnares insect victims.
The strawberry frog carries a tadpole high into a tree and drops it in a water-filled bromeliad. The frog must climb back from the ground every day to feed it.
Fledgling chinstrap penguins undertake a heroic and tragic journey through the broken ice to get out to sea. Many can barely swim and the formidable leopard seal lies in wait.