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Thursday 27 Nov 2014

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Life – Reptiles And Amphibians (episode two)

Komodo dragon feeding on buffalo carcass,  Komodo Archipelago, Indonesia (copyright: Kevin Flay)

Reptiles and amphibians might appear to be hang-overs from the past, struggling to cope in today's natural world. But Life reveals how they overcome their shortcomings through extraordinary tricks and strategies to be a global success.

A very slow-moving toad just an inch long, and with an inability to hop further than an inch, might seem living proof that this group can no longer compete. Yet when a predatory tarantula suddenly appears the pebble toad, from Venezuela's Mount Roraima, tucks up its legs and bounces away down the rocks like a rubber ball. The tarantula is left far behind while the amphibian lands safely at the bottom. It is so small and light its trick does it no harm at all.

The Jesus Christ lizard, from Central America, can move really fast but a predatory bird is at least as quick. The only way the lizard can escape in a chase is to trick the bird, sending it in the wrong direction, and gaining itself a few extra seconds. It lives beside rivers and, rather than running into the forest, as the predator would expect, it goes in the opposite direction and runs to the river. It pedals its hind legs so fast that it only ever sinks a few inches into the water as it races across the surface. A human being would need to run at 60 mph to achieve the same feat.

Breeding is a vulnerable time for any snake, especially the Niuean Sea krait. It has taken to a life underwater, but a female must leave the water when it's time to lay her eggs on land – where she, and they, will be vulnerable. But she has a unique solution – she dives and swims down an underwater tunnel to an air-filled cavern at the far end. It is sealed off from the outer world and is a totally safe place.

Chameleons are so slow they have no chance of running down their prey. Yet they are one of the most effective predators in the reptile world. After sitting and waiting for prey to come close they then fire a muscle-propelled, extendible tongue at it. Extreme slow-motion photography reveals that their vision is so acute they can fire with near absolute accuracy, grabbing their prey by the head almost every the time.

In an incredible TV first, Life reveals the unique hunting technique used by one of the largest of reptiles – the nine foot Komodo dragon – which enables it to bring down a massive water buffalo. Although dragons don't hunt as a pack, like lions, as many as 12 will gather around a victim. A new discovery demonstrates that they have a bite that is as poisonous as a snake's. A single wound to the back of a buffalo's leg can kill it but it can take several weeks, during which time the dragon pursues it relentlessly.

Chasing The Dragon

No-one has ever followed or filmed a Komodo dragon hunting a water buffalo – this was the challenge for cameraman Kevin Flay.

At one waterhole, and after a long wait, he managed to film a dragon biting a buffalo. He followed the buffalo constantly over the next three weeks as it was trailed by up to seven dragons. This meant staying close to the dragons, which was potentially a very dangerous position.

The tracking process was emotionally difficult as Kevin couldn't help but feel for the buffalo, weakening daily from the venomous bite. Yet he was also impressed by the power and charisma of the dragons.

Finally, the buffalo died and he filmed ten big dragons reduce it to bones in just four hours.

Producer: Rupert Barrington.

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