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But they are all the more comprehensible and engaging for they are the trials that we also face ourselves. In one of the most profligate of strategies adopted by a species for survival, we meet the crimson crab , which is endemic to the Christmas Island , and their saga of annual mass migration from forest through the islands towns to reach the sea for spawning.

In the same chapter we come across the Malleefowl living in the open scrub country of Southern Australia and their complex process of keeping the eggs warm using a primitive form of incubator that they make from decaying vegetation and sand. Attenborough explains this process in great detail and the science involved in it that the birds perform like clockwork will amaze the reader. They use a number of ants — specialized workers known as repletes — virtually as jars.

These repletes are kept in galleries down the ground and are fed with the honeydew and nectar collected by worker ants. This book is full of such mesmerizing stories related to the mechanisms of survival from the animal world. Altogether the ' Trials of Life ' — and the entire 'Life' series — is a very good introduction to natural history, which apart from the tonnage of information it presents is further enriched by the energetic, ever curious mind of Attenborough.

By contrast, electric eels use fields of electricity to sense their environment. During the hours of daylight, other methods are employed: the rufous elephant shrew , with its carefully cleared network of pathways, has a sharp mental picture of its habitat — even knowing the various shortcuts with which to evade capture. Attenborough visits the Sahara to illustrate a species that makes the longest overland journey of any insect: cataglyphis , an ant that uses the sun 's position to enable it to return to its nest in a straight line.

Lobsters in the Bahamas are shown marching in columns to escape stormy waters. In its search for perpetual daylight in which to fish, the Arctic tern makes a 19,kilometre journey from one end of the earth to the other.

The Trials of Life : Sir David Attenborough :

The albatross is highlighted as one of the most skilled navigators: it can travel up to kilometres over sea in search of food for its chicks, and still find its way back to the nest. Finally, Attenborough stands on a waterfall in Ireland to tell of the three-year, 10,kilometre journey made by elvers. Broadcast 7 November , this instalment deals with how animals construct their shelters from the elements and predators.

Burrows and holes can provide considerable refuge, and Attenborough inspects the home of the American prairie dog , an elaborate construction that has its own air conditioning system.

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Silk is such a valuable commodity that those that can't make it steal it instead. The hermit hummingbird uses it to attach its nest to the underside of a leaf, while the Indian tailorbird stitches two leaves together.

The ‘Life’ Trilogy

However, the expert in complex nest-building is the weaverbird which makes its abode from over 1, strips of grass that are perfectly interwoven — and dismantling it if it fails to attract a mate. The beaver is responsible for one of the biggest animal dwellings: its wooden lodge that rises from the river bed stays in place from one generation to the next, and so requires constant maintenance. Some stingless bees use their wax and the resin of tree bark to create labyrinthine structures containing various compartments. Mud is also used by several creatures, such as the potter wasp and the cliff swallow.

The termites ' intricate creations allow for security, heating, air conditioning, self-contained nurseries and gardens, and sanitation systems. Attenborough hails the species as the consummate home maker, and explores a foot colony in West Africa that contains 1. Broadcast 14 November , this episode focuses on those species that co-operate and depend on or exploit others. Spotted deer follow langur monkeys as they travel from tree to tree, eating any leaves that get dropped from above. In return, the deer serve as a lookout when the primates are feeding on the ground.

Underwater, a hermit crab is shown adding sea anemones to its shell in order to protect itself from attack by an octopus , and a goby assists a virtually blind shrimp. Fleas , lice and mites are parasites : they share no mutual partnership and instead take advantage of creatures for food or shelter.

The Trials of Life: A Natural History of Animal Behavior

Some fish regularly clean others, and wrasse and shrimp appear to specialise in this regard, as do remora , which permanently hang on to their hosts. One parasite that grows inside its host is the fluke , and one is shown gestating inside a snail , having previously been unknowingly eaten. Because it needs to transfer to a bird's gut to develop further, it causes the snail to advertise its presence to allow itself to be consumed — thus completing the circle.

However, some microscopic creatures inhabit the stomachs of large herbivores in order to break down the cellulose of their diet, thereby aiding their digestion. Broadcast 21 November , this programme details how fighting — both physical and psychological — is used for food, land or to gain a mate. Territorial conflict is demonstrated by the hummingbird, and Attenborough illustrates its aggressiveness by placing a stuffed specimen nearby, only to have it speared by its opponent's bill.

The midas cichlid on the other hand, has no weapons to speak of, and so uses its mouth to hold on for trials of strength. By contrast, the forelegs of a mantis shrimp are powerful enough to crack the shell of another crustacean : therefore disputes or courtship are fraught with danger. Animals that possess lethal food-gathering weapons usually don't use them against one another, as neither side wishes to risk death.

For example, one venomous snake will aim to floor the other, rather than bite. Wolves and big cats largely use snarls and body posture to convey their threat.


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There are no holds barred between rival zebras : kicking and biting is employed until a victor emerges, whereas giraffes slam their necks against each other. Normally peaceful mountain gorillas are shown squabbling when play gets out of hand, and one of them communicates real fright by urinating uncontrollably. Large herbivores that have horns or antlers are naturally inclined to use them to assert their dominance over the females in a herd.

Duelling male ibex and Alaskan bull moose undergo some of the most ferocious engagements — sometimes to the death. Broadcast 28 November , this instalment investigates the ways in which those animals that live in social groups interact with each other. The solitary eagle is contrasted with whooper swans landing in Scotland after a 1,kilometre journey from Iceland.

Animal Behavior

Once arrived, they must battle for territory with those already there, and pairs or families are usually victorious. Attenborough uses a group of farmyard chickens to demonstrate a pecking order. Caciques are shown cooperating to deter predators, despite their fights amongst themselves to establish a pecking order.

A pride of lions is shown co-operating to subdue a buffalo. Afterwards, each animal peacefully awaits its turn at the carcass. Baboons live in troops of up to , and their complex dominance hierarchy is examined in detail. Vampire bats display reciprocal altruism by regurgitating blood for any neighbour that has missed out on a night's feeding. Dwarf mongooses live in family groups of around a dozen. While some look for food or sleep, others are always posted on the lookout for predators and quickly raise the alarm if necessary.

Meanwhile, some of the most extreme co-operation is demonstrated by the underground naked mole-rat , whose strong clusters are divided into workers who tunnel perpetually , soldiers who only act when danger threatens , and a single queen for breeding. Leafcutter ants are shown transporting their food deep below ground: it has to be planted in a special fungus to convert its indigestible cellulose into something edible, and each stage of the operation is carried out by a different caste of individuals. Broadcast 5 December , this episode concentrates on animal communication.

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In Kenya , Attenborough accompanies a tribesman who calls to a honeyguide , which in turn answers him and leads the pair to a bees' nest. The tribesman extracts the honey , and some is left to reward the bird. African hunting dogs are shown hunting gazelles , of which the target is the individual that leaps lowest. Larks evade merlin by sending a similar message: by continuing to sing while being chased, it tells the pursuer that its prey is fit and therefore will be difficult to catch see handicap principle. Vervet monkeys ' cries are among the most complex.

Their utterances are effectively words: a vocabulary that defines each of their predators, so an alarm call is specific to a particular threat. Some creatures transmit their presence by display, and Attenborough observes thousands of fireflies illuminating the darkness. Sounds travel faster and further underwater, and over species of fish use them to communicate. In turn, sea lions have become adept at sensing their proximity. However, the most visual aquatic animal is the squid , which uses colour change and posture to communicate.

Finally, Attenborough swims with spotted dolphins. They converse with a series of ultrasonic clicks, and each has a family call inherited from its mother: effectively a ' surname '. They also use normal sound, body posture and touch — in short, in terms of ability to communicate, they are man 's closest rival.

The trials of life: A natural history of animal behaviour

Broadcast 12 December , this programme surveys the methods employed in attracting a mate, mainly those of birds. The Indian florican inhabits long grass, and so is difficult to see. In order to gain attention, it 'trampolines' in the same spot for up to times a day. Whales sing to their prospective partners, and the female's calls can be heard by suitors for over eight kilometres. When animals send out signals of attraction, they must also ensure that they don't entice the wrong species, and so have markings that differ prominently.

Attenborough highlights the booby as an example: there are around half a dozen species, all of which may occupy the same island. However, the blue-footed booby reassures its chosen mate by continually lifting its feet. Tropicbirds and marsh harriers are shown providing graceful aerobatic displays, while the sac-winged bat uses a strong perfume to lure a companion.

Among those birds that produce the most spectacular visual displays are the lyrebird which also has an elaborate song , the peacock , and the riflebird and indeed most other birds of paradise.

The bowerbird invites potential partners to inspect its bower: a specially prepared area that contains a hut or walkway augmented by strikingly coloured objects. The intricate dances performed by manakins in Trinidad are also examined. Finally, Attenborough observes the topi 's display courts, whose sharply defined boundaries are jealously guarded by rival males.

It is a universal problem, but one which has given rise to a variety of solutions. Barnacles cannot move, but each has both male and female sex cells, allowing each neighbour to be a potential mate. On the other end of the scale, a female elephant undergoes a long pregnancy — 22 months — and so wishes to ensure that her calf is fathered by a strong and proven male. She is therefore very choosy about her partner.

A female chinchilla is even more so, and rejects an unwanted suitor by squirting urine in its face. Mating is a dangerous business when weapons are involved, and a male tarantula approaches his intended with trepidation. Only when he succeeds in holding off her poison fangs is he able to progress any further. For some, the right moments to get together are few and far between: a male crab , for example, must wait until a female moults her shell before he is able to fertilise her.