Five remarkable creatures to meet on A Perfect Planet
The latest natural history series from David Attenborough shows how life on Earth deals with whatever conditions it encounters.
From searing heat to Arctic tundra, animals have spent thousands of years adapting to the conditions around them, and thriving.
In A Perfect Planet, we meet a variety of creatures living in jungles, oceans, deserts and other terrain. These are just some of the memorable ‘stars’ of the show, living their intriguing day-to-day existence.
The tiny world of the fig wasp
There are more than 600 types of fig tree across the world’s jungles. They are an important source of food for thousands of animals as they flower all year round.
The growth of figs remains constant because of a tiny assistant no more than two millimetres in length. The female fig wasp plays a key part in the pollination of fig trees. There are a handful of days when a fig - which is not a fruit, but a type of flower - is in the correct stage of development for the wasp to burrow through an opening into its centre.
Entering the fig is such a tight squeeze that the wasp can lose her wings in the process. Once inside, she lays hundreds of eggs, pollinating the flowers at the same time with pollen stored in her abdomen. The eggs hatch weeks later, with the male wasps clearing the way for their sisters by digging through the fig, which is now completely sealed, creating a tunnel to the outside world.
The females can then leave, find other figs, and continue the process of pollination. The mother wasp remains in the fig and is absorbed into the flesh, which is why you won’t find a dead wasp in your fig when you slice it open.
The frog in a frozen hole
Hibernation enables many animals to survive the harsher temperatures of winter. Their body functions slow down, saving them energy and cutting down on heart and breathing rates.
Some types of hibernation are more extreme than others. Take, for example, the wood frog. While it waits out the winter in a small burrow on the forest floor, it freezes completely solid and becomes hard to the touch.
It can be dangerous for many other animals to have their body temperature reduced so low, as it can damage healthy cells. The wood frog combats this by replacing the water in its cells with a sugary solution that acts like antifreeze.
Once the sun returns, the frog’s blood melts and flows around its body again. Seven hours after being completely frozen, it can be hopping about its business once more.
The cuttlefish that are in the pink
They sure know how to razzle dazzle them down on the sea bed. The Indonesian Throughflow is where the Pacific and Indian Oceans meet. The warm waters of the Pacific passing through to the Indian Ocean helps create a rich ecosystem of coral and diverse marine life.
One of these is the flamboyant cuttlefish. Part of the same family as octopus and squid, they have the ability to change colour, becoming a vibrant combination of pinks and yellows when trying to attract a mate. This is an important ability as, unlike other cuttlefish, this species can’t swim for too long at any one time, so spends a lot of its time scuttling across the ocean floor. Their colour changing skills also come in handy when camouflaging themselves from a predator.
The flamboyant female can lay up to 50 eggs at a time. They are smaller than one of our fingernails when they hatch and the current of the Indonesian Throughflow carries them away to other parts of the reef.
One big trip for one tiny penguin
Where the tide crashes against the rocks of the Falkland Islands, the rockhopper penguin must navigate the tricky terrain, both to feed and protect its babies.
Once a female rockhopper has laid her eggs, her mate incubates them (by sitting on them) while she hunts for food such as squid and fish.
She times her return with the food for when the chicks hatch (a little like coming back from the supermarket with the big shop). The way back up to the penguin colony is a tough trek, as he surf hitting the rock could easily drag the mother penguin into the sea. It can take several attempts, with perfect timing required to avoid the tide, but there is still the challenge of clinging to the slippery rock with their claws. Rockhopper is a well-earned name.
The labours of the land iguana
The female land iguana of the Galapogas Islands have a similar problem to their rockhopper penguin counterparts. But it’s not crashing waves they have to deal with, it’s volcanic craters.
Every year, around the beginning of May, about 2,000 of the iguana must walk for two weeks from the coast to the summit of the volcano La Cumbre. Each one is carrying the eggs that need to be laid in warmth of the volcanic ash which is the ideal heat for incubation.
With spaces to do this restricted on the rim of the crater, iguana who arrive later than others have to risk travelling further down into the crater, where there is always space, but the journey can be dangerous. A sudden rock fall caused by an iguana descending further up the crater, an earth tremor or flow of lava could be enough to bring the iguana’s journey to a terrifying end.
All episodes of A Perfect Planet are available to view on BBC iPlayer.