When nat­u­ral-his­tory film-mak­ers work with sci­en­tists, we learn about new be­hav­iour and de­velop our un­der­stand­ing of na­ture. Here are three ex­am­ples:

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Agenda Analysis -


In 1982, cam­era­man Rodger Jack­man was film­ing bombardier bee­tles in Ari­zona when he no­ticed spade­foot toadlets be­ing preyed upon by huge horse­fly lar­vae buried in the mud around ponds. Jack­man teamed up with en­to­mol­o­gist Thomas Eis­ner to study the be­hav­iour in more de­tail. “The lar­vae har­poon the pass­ing toads, drag them un­der the mud and suck them dry. There was a whole layer un­der the sur­face con­tain­ing the car­casses of toadlets,” said Jack­man in one ac­count. The fol­low­ing year, their work was pub­lished for­mally in the pres­ti­gious jour­nal Science, in which they wrote that “the case we re­port is a re­ver­sal of the usual toad-eats-fly par­a­digm”.


“Col­lab­o­ra­tions with film­mak­ers are ab­so­lutely vi­tal,” says bi­ol­o­gist Jeremy Thomas, who has ded­i­cated his ca­reer to un­cov­er­ing the ex­tra­or­di­nary re­la­tion­ship be­tween large blue cater­pil­lars and the ants whose nests they par­a­sitise. “It in­spires sci­en­tific progress, which in turn leads to new films, and so on. It goes back and forth like ping-pong.”

For Life In the Un­der­growth, sound recordist Chris Wat­son used highly sen­si­tive state-of- the-art mi­cro­phones to record sounds made by the cater­pil­lars which, it tran­spired, mimic those made by the ant queens.

“Chris pro­duced some won­der­ful record­ings, which alerted us to the full com­plex­ity of the sounds,” says Thomas. “His equip­ment and ex­pe­ri­ence pro­vided us with the full reper­toire.

“We might have got there our­selves even­tu­ally, but it wouldn’t have been as good.”


“For the BBC’s Planet Earth se­ries, we filmed a se­quence on a par­a­sitic fun­gus called Cordy­ceps – no re­la­tion!” says Huw Cordey.y “It’s about as close as you get to a real-life alien. This thing first takes over the brains of the in­sects and then bursts from the vic­tim’s body. We filmed, for the first time, a Cordy­ceps fun­gus emerg­ing from an ant. This cap­tured many imag­i­na­tions. It even made it onto The Oprah Win­frey Show. Now, years later, I’m work­ing on an­other Cordy­ceps se­quence. We con­tacted a Brazil­ian Cordy­ceps sci­en­tist, João Araújo, who had writ­ten an ar­ti­cle on his web­site about how he was in­spired to get into this field af­ter see­ing the orig­i­nal se­quence in Planet Earth.”

Cater­pil­lar sounds recorded by Chris Wat­son helped bi­ol­o­gists.

The Cordy­ceps fun­gus takes over the brain of an ant be­fore killing it.

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