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Life of Mammals Previous Broadcasts

Plant Predators (Episode #103Z)

KQED Plus: Sun, Oct 20, 2013 -- 8:00 PM

Some of the biggest predators to walk the earth face a constant battle - their prey is heavily armoured, often indigestible, sometimes even poisonous, and what makes this struggle between predator and prey the more remarkable is that these predators do not prey on animals, but on plants... Although we live on a green planet, eating plants presents one of the greatest challenges to mammals, shaping them and their lives in the most extraordinary ways.
The sloth is 'half blind, half deaf' and moves at a snail's pace - an extreme example of what can happen to you if you live on nothing but leaves! Plants arm themselves with deadly weapons, from razor sharp spines to deadly poisons, but plant predators are not deterred. The elusive tapir of the South American jungle visits secret clay licks in search of a natural antidote to the poisons. The pika, or rubble rabbit of the Canadian Rockies has found a way to make poisons work to its advantage, exploiting them as a natural preservative.
But sometimes the problem is not what's in your food, but what is not - we bugged the caves of Mount Elgon to reveal startling images of underground elephants mining for salts deficient in their green diet. Even the great wildebeest migration is now understood to be driven by the need for minerals... The next great battle that plant predators face takes place on the open plains - behind every plant-eater lurks a meat-eater.
For once we see the hunt from the plant predators' point of view; wrap-around vision, ears that rotate 360 degrees and elongated limbs make it harder for them to be caught than most wildlife films would make you think... Plant predators are equipped with dangerous weapons used in the greatest battle of all - with each other. We witness the drama of the annual bison rut in the Badlands of North America, discover the secret of the battering rams of the big-horned sheep of Canada, and analyse the fighting technique of horned animals as they ram, wrestle and stab their opponents. Amazing to think that all these extraordinary behaviours stem from the apparently simple act of eating leaves...

Repeat Broadcasts:

  • KQED Plus: Mon, Oct 21, 2013 -- 2:00 AM

Insect Hunters (Episode #102Z)

KQED Plus: Sun, Oct 13, 2013 -- 8:00 PM

When mammals first appeared, insects were abundant on earth, and mammals made meals of them. Crucially, they were the first creatures able to make and regulate their own body heat, so they could hunt insects in the cool of the night, when most of the predatory dinosaurs were asleep. The modern musk shrew gives us an insight into how these first mammals might have lived. After the dinosaurs so suddenly disappeared, the mammals were free to conquer new territories. We meet shrews that dive under water, moles that swim in sand, and extraordinary creatures that gather their prey by running at speed down trail systems above and below ground.
It's hard to sustain a large body by catching insects one by one but about 50 million years ago, some of them broadened their diet. The hedgehogs and armadillos mix their insects with fruit and birds eggs. Halfway through the history of the mammals, insects started to build huge nests, protected with walls of baked mud - these were impenetrable to any creature of the time. But with pangolins and giant anteaters, the mammals rose to the challenge. These spectacular animals survive entirely on a diet of social ants and termites - they have the biggest claws of any mammals, long tongues and the ability to protect themselves against angry insects and large predators. But many of the insects could fly and were out of reach for ground dwelling mammals.
But way back in mammalian history - probably when the dinosaurs still roamed - one mammal took to the air. Today, the earth holds a bewildering array of insect eating bats. We even meet one - the Natterers bat - that can take spiders from their webs without becoming tangled in the silk. And another, in New Zealand, that has retraced its origins and returned to the ground to forage like a shrew. The insect eating mammals were there at the very beginning of the mammals and are still thriving today, they are one of the great success stories in The Life of Mammals.

Repeat Broadcasts:

  • KQED Plus: Mon, Oct 14, 2013 -- 2:00 AM

A Winning Design (Episode #101Z)

KQED Plus: Sun, Oct 6, 2013 -- 8:00 PM

David Attenborough makes a world-wide journey of discovery in search of fascinating mammals to illustrate why they are so incredibly successful and diverse. Watching an arctic fox hunting at 20 degrees below, he observes... 'The only reason that it and I don't freeze solid up here is that we are both mammals and have the ability to use our food to heat our bodies - we're warm blooded. The fox also has more of that other mammalian characteristic, hair - its body is insulated by fur'.
In Australia David watches echidnas and platypus, bizarre mammals that share a remarkable link with the reptiles... they still lay eggs! No one had ever seen what happens inside a platypus' breeding burrow before but using the latest optical probe, David catches the astonishing sight of a newly hatched platypus baby with its mother - and it's feeding on that other uniquely mammalian substance - milk.
Most of Australia's mammals give birth to tiny, under-developed babies, which crawl into the safety of a pouch and attach to a rich supply of milk to complete their growth. These are the marsupials and they thrive in an amazing variety of forms, from koalas in the trees and wombats in the snow, to red kangaroos in the desert and rock wallabies on the cliffs. Grey kangaroos might be renowned for their hopping speed but big males are also the kick-boxing champions of the animal world!
Marsupials are also found in Central and South America - mostly possums living up in the trees - although one, the yapok, is uniquely adapted to a watery lifestyle. Rarely observed in their natural environment, our infra-red cameras record how these strange mammals catch fish in the pitch dark, using only their front paws and whiskers to feel for their prey. And when a mother yapok dives underwater, her baby is saved from drowning by a waterproof pouch!
A different kind of mammal, to which we ourselves belong, has come to dominate the rest of the world. Their babies, developing inside the womb, are nurtured through a remarkable organ - the placenta. Giving birth to well-grown babies might be harder on their mothers but does mean that the youngsters are able to look after themselves much sooner - such as running from predators!
As David Attenborough concludes, "Whether mammals lay eggs, or give birth to live young. Whether their babies develop in a womb or a pouch, they have managed to live almost everywhere. The warm blooded, furry, mammalian body - in all its multitudinous variations - really is a winning design".

Repeat Broadcasts:

  • KQED Plus: Mon, Oct 7, 2013 -- 2:00 AM
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      (this includes all DT9, DT54 and DT25 channels, along with all paid services) We will be doing upgrade and maintenance work in our Master Control area during the overnight hours of late Thurs/early Fri 12/19. Work will begin shortly after midnight early Friday, which may last until 6am, though we hope to finish earlier. This […]

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