Thursday, 12 January 2017

Life in the Undergrowth (2005)

I recently had the annual pest inspection at my place, which is apropos since this 2005 entry into the "Life" collection focuses on invertebrates: insects, arachnids, crustaceans and molluscs.

In other words, if you're squeamish about creepy-crawlies, you might find this particular series a tough one to get through!

As is the usual approach with the "Life" shows, each episode focuses on a particular theme.  We begin with the information that invertebrates were the first animals to emerge from the seas onto the land - probably about 100 million years earlier than vertebrates such as ourselves - and the first episode then looks at how these creatures adapted to the new environment, and adapted it in turn.  Earthworms, for instance, were vital to encouraging the growth of plant life.

Episode two examines the invertebrates that have developed flight, including beetles, bees and dragonflies.  Episode three turns to those that produce silk - an ability that only invertebrates share.  Obviously this includes spiders, but there are many other creatures which use the material, and for many different purposes.

Episode four examines how invertebrates interact with other animals or plants, either to mutual benefit - such as ants which protect the plant which in turn grants them a home to live in - or for parasitical or predatory purposes.  This latter group includes for example a number of species of wasp which inject their eggs into fertilised oak tree flowers, mutating the acorns into "galls" which protect the larva when it hatches.  Well, protect it except from another type of wasp that specifically seeks out galls and injects its eggs into the larval chamber, and whose young then consume the original larva.

Finally in episode five Attenborough discusses invertebrate supersocieties: the collective organisation of bees, ants and termites that allows them to achieve extraordinary feats comparative to their size.

There is a wealth of fascinating information here, and as long as hours of close-up footage of "creepy-crawlies" isn't going to gross you out, it is well worth a look.

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