HOW WILDLIFE FILM-MAKERS HAVE INFLUENCED SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
When natural-history film-makers work with scientists, we learn about new behaviour and develop our understanding of nature. Here are three examples:
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.