Tuesday, 11 April 2017
Life in Cold Blood (2008)
David Attenborough was 80 when this, the last of his Life documentaries, was being made. You'd never know it though, at least not from seeing him roam volcanoes, rainforests and deserts in pursuit of the reptiles and amphibians that are his subject matter.
Life in Cold Blood is a five part series, and as with all of Attenborough's work, it is obvious that considerable time and effort has been spent on planning the structure of the show. This attention to detail is a hallmark of the Life documentaries and probably a key component of why the shows have been able to be the first to film many previously undocumented activities. In this series, for instance, we have footage of the tiny pygmy leaf chameleon, and the first known video of a rattlesnake killing and each its prey.
Attenborough begins with an episode that focuses on the diversity of reptilian and amphibian life, showing why they are much more complex and varied creatures than we tend to think of them being. The other four episodes then each focus on a specific subset of creatures.
Episode two covers the first vertebrates to leave the oceans and come onto the land: amphibians. Attenborough discusses the ways in which these creatures are still linked to the water (in particular, many of them must return to it to breed), and introduces us to the lungfish, which dates back some 380 million years and still lives in Australia today. He also covers salamanders, frogs and caecilians - limbless, burrowing amphibians.
Episode three moves onto lizards, which are the largest and most diverse group of reptiles. More time is spent with chameleons here, but we also meet the shingleback lizard, which has long monogamous relationships, as well as the pygmy bluetongue skink, which is so rare and hard to find that for 30 years it was thought to be extinct.
Episode four is the one that a significant subset of people will want to skip: it covers snakes. This is where we get the rattlesnake footage I mentioned above, as well as see Attenborough interact with the Mozambique spitting cobra much more closely than most of us would ever want to!
Finally Attenborough turns his attention to the tortoises, turtles, and crocolidians. This last group prove far more diverse and nurturing than you might expect, with the spectacled caiman being a particularly notable example as it nursemaids an entire creche of young from multiple parents.
If you have any interest in the cold-blooded animals of the world, you should check this out.