Episode 1 Nature's Weirdest Events


Episode 1

Documentary series exploring bizarre and extraordinary natural events. Featuring footage taken by eyewitnesses, presenter Chris Packham reveals how these events occur.


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Transcript


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No matter how well we think we know

our planet, the natural world still

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has the ability to surprise us,

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to shock us and maybe sometimes even

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to scare us with its extraordinary

events and bizarre behaviour.

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And new technology means

that nature's weirdest phenomena

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are being caught ever more readily

on camera.

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So we're going to bring you

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the strangest stories

our world has to offer.

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To kick off, we're going to look at

some of nature's weirdest romantics.

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The shores of Lake Erie on America's

beautiful border with Canada

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have always been a tranquil place

of peace and quiet.

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Until, early in the summer of 2010,

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it became the setting for a swarm

of phenomenal proportions.

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This gas station is being

attacked by...something.

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And that lady

won't even get out of her car.

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It's like it's snowing.

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A swarm of literally billions

stretched over a mile inland

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and for miles

along the western shore.

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Local resident Greg Stewart

recalls the experience.

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They were all over the wall

of the city,

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and I didn't know if I should even

get out of my car, it was that bad.

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And, as I got out, they started

crunching under my feet.

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Then, within days,

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they spontaneously started to die

in their billions.

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Seriously, a pile of bugs.

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The drifts of dead bodies got

so deep that the local authorities

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had to use snow ploughs

to unblock the roads.

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And, as they started to break down,

they left another treat, too.

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It smelled of motor oil and vomit.

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So what were these insects,

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and what could have caused

such an extraordinary plague?

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Don Schloesser is an expert

in the wildlife of Lake Erie

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The big swarms are really the result

of the life history pattern

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of the western Lake Erie mayflies.

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They live in the mud for about two

years and they grow and they moult.

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About the middle of May,

the first of June,

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they all come

out of the water at one time.

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They mate, and then the females

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go back out into the water

to lay the eggs.

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And then the whole process

starts all over again.

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Mayfly spend about 99%

of their lives

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as aquatic larvae at the bottom

of ponds and rivers.

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They spend their time feeding

and growing

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until, in a cunning plan

to avoid getting eaten,

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they all emerge en masse to mate.

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The first few are easy pickings.

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But soon the sheer numbers

overwhelm predators -

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they simply can't make a dent

in the overall population.

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After about two days,

there's a swarm,

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a swirling swarm like

a little funnel cloud

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that's formed by the mayflies.

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And what happens is the females

jump into that swarm,

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they are fertilized in the air.

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Once they have mated, the male dies

and the female heads out

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over the water

to release her fertilised eggs

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before she too passes away.

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The entire process takes

just a matter of days.

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Each year, as the event

comes to an abrupt end,

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it's all hands on deck for the task

of clearing up the dead.

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But there's still a lot of questions

surrounding their mass emergence.

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When they come out is still

a mystery to us.

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We can't predict very well in that

two- or three-week period

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when they are actually going

to be coming out.

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Sometimes it is related to

storm events,

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sometimes it is related to rain

events, but somehow

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the mayflies all get a cue when they

are down in the bottom of the lake.

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But why are there

so many in Lake Erie?

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Lake Erie supplies

the types of sediment

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that this critter

likes to burrow into.

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It used to have mayflies

many years ago,

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then they went away

for many years due to pollution.

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Now they're back and they've

come back with sort of a vengeance

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in terms of the numbers

and the abundances

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that we see come out of the water.

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So this almighty insect orgy

is all down

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to a particularly perfect

set of conditions.

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The enormous size of the lake and

its newly clean waters contribute to

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a swarm so large that it can bring

a whole city to a grinding halt.

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No-one likes a relationship

that's all give and no take.

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Coming up next, a few love affairs

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that have become

a little bit too one-sided -

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from the worm

with an eye on a new home

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to the fly whose young

play hard to get out.

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We investigate nature's weird world

of the unwanted guest.

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Back in 2009, climbing expert

Tim Fogg arrived back in the UK

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from a trip to the

Central African Republic.

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Nothing odd to report,

until one day...this happened.

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Suddenly, my hand swelled up

for no apparent reason.

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Then it went down, then about

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ten days later my arm swelled up

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and then it went down.

Just bits of me kept swelling up.

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As a rope access specialist,

Tim has travelled

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to some of the world's most

bizarre and extreme environments,

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but never before had his body parts

randomly swollen

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for no apparent reason.

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This bizarre bodily behaviour

continued for two years.

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So what could be causing

these spontaneous swellings?

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After several medical tests,

Tim was diagnosed as having

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contracted loa loa,

or the African eye worm.

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It gets its gruesome name from

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the only time it becomes visible

in infected humans -

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as it passes through

its host's eyeballs.

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It's an incredible parasite

that's carried by certain types

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of day biting flies

in the swamps of west Africa,

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exactly where Tim had returned

home from two years earlier.

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I think I got it wading through

a load of mud in the forest where

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mango flies live, which is

the thing that transmits it.

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Infection occurs

when the larvae of the worm

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are passed to a human

as the fly bites.

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The larvae then develop under

the skin until they become adults

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and start their travels

around the body.

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As they move about under the skin,

the immune system

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starts to react and it's this

that causes the swelling.

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I guess it was in my hand

to start with,

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it presumably went up one arm

then my other arm swelled up,

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so presumably somehow it got

right across my shoulder

and down into the other arm.

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Or maybe it was another worm.

I have no idea.

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Incredibly, the worm can grow to

be seven centimetres long and live

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for 17 years creeping around under

the surface of the host's body.

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for 17 years creeping around under

the surface of the host's body.

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The worst thing about this thing

wandering about under your skin

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is its habit of coming up to your eye

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and wandering across your eye and

across the bridge of your nose

and into the other eye.

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And that is apparently very,

very painful.

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And I did have one incident where

the side of my face swelled up

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which meant it was there,

it was getting close

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and thinking about going

across my eye.

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Luckily, it changed its mind.

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The beauty of this parasite

is that it doesn't hurt you at all,

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and it didn't make me feel ill.

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It was just the swelling,

so it's very clever.

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I mean, it just wants to feed off me,

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it doesn't want to give me

bother if it can, cos I might

get rid of it.

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After he was diagnosed in 2011,

Tim's doctor put him

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on an intensive course of drugs,

and a year later in June 2012

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he was deemed tentatively clear

of his tenacious little body mate.

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Our last story is more body

burrowing than bunny boiling,

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a gruesome but truly ingenious

example of nature's

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weird relationships gone bad.

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And so to Panama, where an innocent

traveller has picked up

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a couple of unwanted passengers.

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Do you see it? Right there.

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SHRIEKING

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What started as two small insect

bites has become swollen and angry.

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SHRIEKING

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It's ready to come out.

Yeah, it is.

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And there was something inside.

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Whatever they were simply

had to be extracted.

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They are big. I can feel it trying to

pull back in. Gross.

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You mean it's still alive?

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GASPS AND LAUGHTER

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That's huge!

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So, what on earth are they?

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Dr Mark Rowland works at

the London School Of Hygiene

and Tropical Medicine

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and has travelled the world

studying parasites.

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Those insects that we are trying to

pull out of people's bodies are

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the larvae of the botfly and I have

some here, pickled inside this jar.

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They are quite large. They are about

one and a half centimetres long.

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But how does something this big get

under your skin in the first place?

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The botfly itself is quite large,

it's about the size

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of a bumblebee, so if it were

to actually land on a host itself,

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it would probably be detected

by the human or by the cattle or pig

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and be brushed away.

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That makes it

less likely for the fly

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to succeed in laying its eggs

successfully on the host.

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So the botfly has come up with

a very sneaky tactic.

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What the fly has cleverly done

is to grab,

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usually an insect like a mosquito

or a tick or even a housefly.

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After a quick air ambush,

the botfly pins down the fly

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and quickly attaches its eggs.

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And then off it goes to do

the botfly's dirty work.

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On contacting the human, or animal

host, the small botfly larvae

inside the egg will be able

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to detect the warmth of the host,

and it will hatch at that point.

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And it does this very

quickly indeed.

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The larvae is able to penetrate

and embed itself

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in the skin of the host.

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Over the course of several

weeks, it will grow

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and eat its way into the flesh.

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And just in case you were thinking

of getting rid of it at that stage,

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it has spiny bristles

that hold it in

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and make it impossible to pull out.

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Oh, my God! Oh, God!

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That definitely is the trick,

man, overnight.

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The only way to win this tug of war

is to play dirty.

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One trick that you can do to make

it easier is to

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smear a gel or fat

over the rear end of the larvae.

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This will block the breathing

tubes of the larvae.

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That makes it easier to actually

draw the larvae from the body.

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GROANING

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SHOUTS AND GROANS

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Only when you've cut off its air

supply will the botfly let go.

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Of course, the other option is

to let nature take its course

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and wait six weeks for the larva

to become a maggot,

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eat its way out and drop onto the

ground before becoming an adult fly.

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It's a nasty business,

however they exit.

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But after all of this, you should

just end up with a little scar -

no problem.

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What all of the stories in

this programme seem to illustrate

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is that a bit of understanding

and tolerance help in all

of our relationships.

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So, if we can implement

a bit of love and respect

towards all of nature's wonders,

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there's absolutely no doubt that

the world would be a richer place.

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And of course,

the world is always getting smaller.

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So as we welcome more and more

of these bizarre creatures

into our own back-yards,

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what we think of as weird now

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might be a lot weirder

in the future.

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Documentary series exploring bizarre and extraordinary natural events. Featuring footage taken by eyewitnesses and first-hand accounts, presenter Chris Packham reveals how these fantastic events occur.


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