For any serious wildlife devotee a new series of programmes by sir David Attenborough is a major event in the year.
The first episode of Attenborough's latest series just aired on the BBC and what a series it will be. If you missed it and are fortunate enough to get BBC where you live the BBC will repeat it on sunday so check your program guide. (American viewers may wish to harass BBC america for details.)
Called Life in Cold Blood
it will show us the lives and loves of those coldblooded creatures: amphibians and reptiles. Sorry but Molluscs need not apply.
Episode 1 was mostly an introduction with particular attention to the way reptiles have adapted their lifestyle to keeping warm in the absence of a central heating system. Basking in the sun, warming themselves on rocks, pumping anti-freeze into their system so they can safely freeze during winter, generating heat by digesting prey, it's all lovingly presented by mr. wildlife himself.
Attenborough holds a special place in my heart, his warmth and honest enthusiasm for the things he's witnessing make for extremely good television. He's also not above making himself look a bit foolish, sometimes wearing pith helmets in grand old british colonialism style, asthmatically breathing when trekking through the jungle or to the tops of mountain ranges to witness a species and launching into the telling without giving himself time to catch his breath. It's as if he's waited so long for the opportunity to show us these animals that he has no patience to wait for his body to catch up, he simply has
to tell you about this amazing stuff right now
Not for him the Discovery exposÚs of dangerous man-eating killer-stuff, instead he is able to show us truly amazing animals and their behaviour without resorting to cheap effects. Well most of the time, but he'll never make things sound more dangerous than they really are and he always takes care to give equal opportunity to the small and the harmless. In fact he gives these things more attention simply because there are so many more of them.
Today's episode contained some truly remarkable stuff already and as it's always fun to learn new stuff and be smart here's some fun things you may not know:
- Large snakes can fast for a long time and when they do eat a big prey they can grow their liver by 200% and their hearts by 40% over a period of two days to help with the digesting process.
- Probably the smallest reptiles are pygmy chameleons, about the size of your little pinky or less. David went out to find some 47 years ago for one of his first television shows and never found one, this time he did and when he found one he was almost moved to tears by the sheer beauty of the tiny little creature, a touching moment.
- Chameleons are active during the day but can most easily be found at night, when their protective colouring is less camouflaging and they migrate to the tips of branches so that they are safe from nocturnal predators like snakes.
Here's the single most amazing thing though:
A species of small Mediterranean lizard basks on the Dead Horse Arum
which produces the smell of rotting meat. The chemical process that creates the ghastly smell also makes the flowers slightly warmer than their surroundings, making an ideal place for lizards to hang out: they get warm and the smell attracts flies which is kind of like the lizard equivalent of going out for a meal in a restaurant. Even more amazing is the fact that about 20 years ago these lizards found out that the fruits of these Arum are rather nice to eat. The seeds in the fruit pass undigested through the alimentary canal. Since this time the lizards have spread the seeds all along the island and the Dead Horse Arum are now everywhere.
So let's see: flower smells and attracts flies. Flowers also nice and warm which attracts lizards. Lizards bask and get tasty fly meal. Lizards also spread seeds so plants do well, attracting more flies, feeding more lizards, or if they escape pollinating more flowers. Win!
I can't wait for next week when we'll look in closer detail at the life of amphibians. Including apparently the giant chinese salamander Andrias davidianus