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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No matter how well we think we know
our planet, the natural world still
has the ability to surprise us,
to shock us and maybe sometimes even
to scare us with its extraordinary
events and bizarre behaviour.
And new technology means
that nature's weirdest phenomena
are being caught ever more readily
So we're going to bring you
the strangest stories
our world has to offer.
To kick off, we're going to look at
some of nature's weirdest romantics.
The shores of Lake Erie on America's
beautiful border with Canada
have always been a tranquil place
of peace and quiet.
Until, early in the summer of 2010,
it became the setting for a swarm
of phenomenal proportions.
This gas station is being
And that lady
won't even get out of her car.
It's like it's snowing.
A swarm of literally billions
stretched over a mile inland
and for miles
along the western shore.
Local resident Greg Stewart
recalls the experience.
They were all over the wall
of the city,
and I didn't know if I should even
get out of my car, it was that bad.
And, as I got out, they started
crunching under my feet.
Then, within days,
they spontaneously started to die
in their billions.
Seriously, a pile of bugs.
The drifts of dead bodies got
so deep that the local authorities
had to use snow ploughs
to unblock the roads.
And, as they started to break down,
they left another treat, too.
It smelled of motor oil and vomit.
So what were these insects,
and what could have caused
such an extraordinary plague?
Don Schloesser is an expert
in the wildlife of Lake Erie
The big swarms are really the result
of the life history pattern
of the western Lake Erie mayflies.
They live in the mud for about two
years and they grow and they moult.
About the middle of May,
the first of June,
they all come
out of the water at one time.
They mate, and then the females
go back out into the water
to lay the eggs.
And then the whole process
starts all over again.
Mayfly spend about 99%
of their lives
as aquatic larvae at the bottom
of ponds and rivers.
They spend their time feeding
until, in a cunning plan
to avoid getting eaten,
they all emerge en masse to mate.
The first few are easy pickings.
But soon the sheer numbers
overwhelm predators -
they simply can't make a dent
in the overall population.
After about two days,
there's a swarm,
a swirling swarm like
a little funnel cloud
that's formed by the mayflies.
And what happens is the females
jump into that swarm,
they are fertilized in the air.
Once they have mated, the male dies
and the female heads out
over the water
to release her fertilised eggs
before she too passes away.
The entire process takes
just a matter of days.
Each year, as the event
comes to an abrupt end,
it's all hands on deck for the task
of clearing up the dead.
But there's still a lot of questions
surrounding their mass emergence.
When they come out is still
a mystery to us.
We can't predict very well in that
two- or three-week period
when they are actually going
to be coming out.
Sometimes it is related to
sometimes it is related to rain
events, but somehow
the mayflies all get a cue when they
are down in the bottom of the lake.
But why are there
so many in Lake Erie?
Lake Erie supplies
the types of sediment
that this critter
likes to burrow into.
It used to have mayflies
many years ago,
then they went away
for many years due to pollution.
Now they're back and they've
come back with sort of a vengeance
in terms of the numbers
and the abundances
that we see come out of the water.
So this almighty insect orgy
is all down
to a particularly perfect
set of conditions.
The enormous size of the lake and
its newly clean waters contribute to
a swarm so large that it can bring
a whole city to a grinding halt.
No-one likes a relationship
that's all give and no take.
Coming up next, a few love affairs
that have become
a little bit too one-sided -
from the worm
with an eye on a new home
to the fly whose young
play hard to get out.
We investigate nature's weird world
of the unwanted guest.
Back in 2009, climbing expert
Tim Fogg arrived back in the UK
from a trip to the
Central African Republic.
Nothing odd to report,
until one day...this happened.
Suddenly, my hand swelled up
for no apparent reason.
Then it went down, then about
ten days later my arm swelled up
and then it went down.
Just bits of me kept swelling up.
As a rope access specialist,
Tim has travelled
to some of the world's most
bizarre and extreme environments,
but never before had his body parts
for no apparent reason.
This bizarre bodily behaviour
continued for two years.
So what could be causing
these spontaneous swellings?
After several medical tests,
Tim was diagnosed as having
contracted loa loa,
or the African eye worm.
It gets its gruesome name from
the only time it becomes visible
in infected humans -
as it passes through
its host's eyeballs.
It's an incredible parasite
that's carried by certain types
of day biting flies
in the swamps of west Africa,
exactly where Tim had returned
home from two years earlier.
I think I got it wading through
a load of mud in the forest where
mango flies live, which is
the thing that transmits it.
when the larvae of the worm
are passed to a human
as the fly bites.
The larvae then develop under
the skin until they become adults
and start their travels
around the body.
As they move about under the skin,
the immune system
starts to react and it's this
that causes the swelling.
I guess it was in my hand
to start with,
it presumably went up one arm
then my other arm swelled up,
so presumably somehow it got
right across my shoulder
and down into the other arm.
Or maybe it was another worm.
I have no idea.
Incredibly, the worm can grow to
be seven centimetres long and live
for 17 years creeping around under
the surface of the host's body.
for 17 years creeping around under
the surface of the host's body.
The worst thing about this thing
wandering about under your skin
is its habit of coming up to your eye
and wandering across your eye and
across the bridge of your nose
and into the other eye.
And that is apparently very,
And I did have one incident where
the side of my face swelled up
which meant it was there,
it was getting close
and thinking about going
across my eye.
Luckily, it changed its mind.
The beauty of this parasite
is that it doesn't hurt you at all,
and it didn't make me feel ill.
It was just the swelling,
so it's very clever.
I mean, it just wants to feed off me,
it doesn't want to give me
bother if it can, cos I might
get rid of it.
After he was diagnosed in 2011,
Tim's doctor put him
on an intensive course of drugs,
and a year later in June 2012
he was deemed tentatively clear
of his tenacious little body mate.
Our last story is more body
burrowing than bunny boiling,
a gruesome but truly ingenious
example of nature's
weird relationships gone bad.
And so to Panama, where an innocent
traveller has picked up
a couple of unwanted passengers.
Do you see it? Right there.
What started as two small insect
bites has become swollen and angry.
It's ready to come out.
Yeah, it is.
And there was something inside.
Whatever they were simply
had to be extracted.
They are big. I can feel it trying to
pull back in. Gross.
You mean it's still alive?
GASPS AND LAUGHTER
So, what on earth are they?
Dr Mark Rowland works at
the London School Of Hygiene
and Tropical Medicine
and has travelled the world
Those insects that we are trying to
pull out of people's bodies are
the larvae of the botfly and I have
some here, pickled inside this jar.
They are quite large. They are about
one and a half centimetres long.
But how does something this big get
under your skin in the first place?
The botfly itself is quite large,
it's about the size
of a bumblebee, so if it were
to actually land on a host itself,
it would probably be detected
by the human or by the cattle or pig
and be brushed away.
That makes it
less likely for the fly
to succeed in laying its eggs
successfully on the host.
So the botfly has come up with
a very sneaky tactic.
What the fly has cleverly done
is to grab,
usually an insect like a mosquito
or a tick or even a housefly.
After a quick air ambush,
the botfly pins down the fly
and quickly attaches its eggs.
And then off it goes to do
the botfly's dirty work.
On contacting the human, or animal
host, the small botfly larvae
inside the egg will be able
to detect the warmth of the host,
and it will hatch at that point.
And it does this very
The larvae is able to penetrate
and embed itself
in the skin of the host.
Over the course of several
weeks, it will grow
and eat its way into the flesh.
And just in case you were thinking
of getting rid of it at that stage,
it has spiny bristles
that hold it in
and make it impossible to pull out.
Oh, my God! Oh, God!
That definitely is the trick,
The only way to win this tug of war
is to play dirty.
One trick that you can do to make
it easier is to
smear a gel or fat
over the rear end of the larvae.
This will block the breathing
tubes of the larvae.
That makes it easier to actually
draw the larvae from the body.
SHOUTS AND GROANS
Only when you've cut off its air
supply will the botfly let go.
Of course, the other option is
to let nature take its course
and wait six weeks for the larva
to become a maggot,
eat its way out and drop onto the
ground before becoming an adult fly.
It's a nasty business,
however they exit.
But after all of this, you should
just end up with a little scar -
What all of the stories in
this programme seem to illustrate
is that a bit of understanding
and tolerance help in all
of our relationships.
So, if we can implement
a bit of love and respect
towards all of nature's wonders,
there's absolutely no doubt that
the world would be a richer place.
And of course,
the world is always getting smaller.
So as we welcome more and more
of these bizarre creatures
into our own back-yards,
what we think of as weird now
might be a lot weirder
in the future.
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.