Life of Mammals
Sir David Attenborough introduces viewers to the most diverse group of animals ever to live on earth: from the tiny two-inch pygmy shrew to the enormous blue whale; from the sloth to the swift cheetah; from the unattractive naked mole-rat to the human baby. This series is the story of 4000 species that have outlived the dinosaurs and conquered the farthest places on earth. With bodies kept warm by thick coats of fur and their developing young protected and nourished within their bodies, they have managed to colonize every part of the globe, dry or wet, hot or cold. Adapting their bodies for finding food has had a profound effect on the way they move, socialize, mate and breed.
Life of Mammals Previous Broadcasts
Social Climbers (Episode #109Z)
KQED Plus: Sun, Nov 24, 2013 -- 8:00 PM
The most brilliantly coloured of all mammals are our relatives the monkeys. The scarlet face of a Uakari and bright blue bottom of a Mandrill, are matchless. But colour-vision first gave this group another advantage up in the trees - finding ripe fruits and leaves. Hanging from a rope high in the canopy of Venezuela, Sir David watches brilliantly-coloured red howler monkeys use their sharp eyes to pick only the best leaves, before seeing off their rivals with one of the loudest sounds in nature.
Acute vision and a lively intelligence allows the capuchin monkey to eat clams in the swamps of Costa Rica. A group crack open shellfish on their favourite tree-anvil as Sir David commentates. The swamps are also full of insects, but the monkeys rub themselves with a special plant that repels them. The only nocturnal monkey is caught in David's torch beam. Far from losing it's reliance on vision, the Douracouli, or Owl monkey, compensates with enormous eyes and reserves social activity for moonlit nights. In the dim light of the West Africa forest beautiful guenon monkeys send messages to each other with colourful face patterns.
These forests are full of eagles, leopards and chimps, but the guenons have an extraordinary anti-predator alliance to deal with them. Communication in monkeys goes way beyond simple colour signals though. These intelligent mammals often live in large groups - where the socially skilled excel. When toque macaque monkeys battle for mates, we see how brain can triumph over brawn. A change in climate forced one group of African monkeys down from the trees and on to the grasslands. But living on the ground brought an increased risk from predators, forcing baboons to live in larger groups where social skills became even more important. Life on the ground also opened up new hunting opportunities - the hapless flamingos of Kenya are now on the menu.
- KQED Plus: Mon, Nov 25, 2013 -- 2:00 AM
Life in the Trees (Episode #108Z)
KQED Plus: Sun, Nov 10, 2013 -- 8:00 PM
An emergent tree in a tropical forest can grow to over forty metres high. The first branch may be twenty metres from the ground. A slip from this height would almost certainly be fatal. To make matters worse, branches may break without warning, or the tree may blow over. But, though life may seem precarious here, for those mammals which have made this three dimensional world their home the rewards are great; trees provide food, security from ground living predators and a refuge from the elements.
To reap these benefits, however, some very specialised adaptations are needed. Rock hyrax are not your typical tree dweller. They look more like ground hugging guinea pigs than accomplished climbers but, surprisingly, they are well adapted to walking around the low level branches of the acacia trees on which they feed. The soles of their feet are moist and rubbery creating a slight suction which allows the hyrax to almost stick to the branches.
But this adaptation would not be sufficient to negotiate much taller trees - for that, tree dwelling mammals have evolved other more unique adaptations. Clearly a good grip is a basic requirement for moving around at height - sloths and slender lorises may have very different looking mechanisms for gripping (claws on one, fingers and thumbs on the other) but both can grip tightly with all four limbs. If, however, you require both your hands for feeding, like the tamandua, another adaptation is necessary - a prehensile tail. This gripping tail allows the termite eating tamandua to hang on while keeping its front limbs free for breaking into the hard mounds of its prey.
Some tree dwelling mammals spend little time actually hanging on to branches. A grey squirrel's agility is legendary - their light body, balancing tail and sharp claws allows them to move around the tree tops at an astonishing speed. But evolution hasn't stopped there. Flying squirrels don't just leap they glide - as much as 90 metres. Fruit bats, or flying foxes let go of the trees all together. They, along with their insectivorous cousins, are the only group of mammals to have developed true flight. For the flying foxes, this ability has enabled them to travel large distances looking for fruiting trees.
Across the globe, mammals have evolved to exploit every conceivable type of forest. In one special place - the island of Madagascar - an ancestral tree dweller diversified into an astonishing range of species. Lemurs have now filled almost every niche - the sifaka is perhaps the most spectacular, leaping as much as fifteen metres between branches. But the lemurs don't have the trees all to themselves. Living alongside them is the predatory fossa - a sort of giant mongoose - which can match any lemur for agility.
- KQED Plus: Mon, Nov 11, 2013 -- 2:00 AM
Return to the Water (Episode #107Z)
KQED Plus: Sun, Nov 3, 2013 -- 8:00 PM
As the first signs of life left its watery environment to colonize dry land the race was on in the search for food. After millions of years the increasing competition to survive made some mammals take one of the greatest steps in evolution - they returned to the water. Retaining the fur of their shore bound ancestors' mammals like voles, otters and seals still return to land to breed but yet have the ability to swim to great depths in their search for food. Still breathing air and giving birth to live young, dolphins and whales became the new hunters of the world's oceans. With complex communication, perfect streamlining and great underwater speed these mammals have mastered all the problems that had to be solved to survive in this harsh alien world.
- KQED Plus: Mon, Nov 4, 2013 -- 2:00 AM