The trials of life : a natural history of behaviour

Publication Details Click to collapse Cite/Export


  • Arriving: This program shows the spawning and birth processes of various creatures of land and sea. The necessary environmental conditions are shown as well as some of the dangers and hazards facing the new arrivals. For many animals, life begins with spawning. Christmas Island crabs by the thousands risk drowning to launch millions of eggs into the sea. The giant clam spews out both semen and eggs. Large schools of herring cloud the water with acres of eggs and milt. Living between the land and water, the Trinidad tree frog creates a pool in a leaf where tadpoles begin development; mosquitoes create rafts of eggs in isolated water pockets; mantis egg masses are laid on land. Some parents provide food for the young by "body snatching," as when wasps lay their eggs in a host. Cichlid fish protect their developing young and allow them to feed off adult body secretions. Snow geese defend their eggs from preying foxes, while development inside the egg proceeds to hatching. The Australian crested hawk feeds only the first hatched young, leaving the smaller chicks to starve. The tsetse fly can produce only a few large eggs in a lifetime. The sea louse is literally consumed by her offspring. Even males play a role in harboring developing young, as in the pipefish. Mammalian births shown include the sea lion, saiga antelope, chinchilla, hyena and a bat. -- Growing up: How do various creatures accomplish the task of growing to the size and strength need to survive on their own in the face of many dangers? Creatures shown range in size from insects (lace bugs who defend their offspring from predators) and scorpions (carry young on their back) to birds and mammals. Birds shown include terns (defending young from marauding gulls), snow geese (imprinting), eider ducks ("aunts" watch over ducklings in collaborative nurseries), Florida scrub jays (helpers at the nest) and albatross (young learn to fly as tiger sharks threaten them). Mammals include Saiga antelope (newborns must be able to walk to follow the herd), shrew (infants raised in the nest), elephant seals (pups have only a limited time to feed before mothers return to the sea), freetail bats (mothers must find their own offspring amidst millions in a Texas cave) and elephants (a long childhood where all female members of the group offer protection). The only primate shown is the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) from the Ivory Coast. Behaviors shown include carrying infants, male displays, and several feeding behaviors. Most notable is a long sequence on nut-cracking behavior, and how infants learn to use the anvil and hammer method to crack nuts. -- Finding food: Finding enough to eat is a problem which faces every animal on the planet, and since animals (unlike plants) cannot manufacture their own food, they must eat other organisms which, by and large, don't welcome the experience! -- Hunting and escaping: Examines the means by which birds,water and land animals, reptiles, and insects, trap their prey, and avoid being eaten themselves. Camouflage is but one of the weapons used; others range from strength in numbers, as almost a million ants overwhelm wasps and scorpions, to strength in strategy, as a commando squad of Ivory Coast chimps (Pan troglodytes) stalks a nimble colobus monkey. -- Finding the way: How do animals find their way around the globe with such extraordinary accuracy, an accuracy which we have been able to match only in recent years with satellite navigation? -- Homemaking: Shows how animals, birds, fish and insects choose, dig or construct dwelling spaces. This video explores the way animals exert some control over their surroundings by establishing homes. Examples of shelter construction by hermit crabs, rosy bee-eaters, prairie dogs, tent-making birds, weaver birds, cliff swallows, Indian tailor birds, wasps, beavers, African termites and caterpillars are shown. There is no primate footage in this video. -- Living together: This program shows how a variety of creatures, though of widely different species, may be of mutual benefit when living and working together. A goby acts as a look-out for a shrimp, which is almost blind. Ferocious Australian ants milk a certain caterpillar, and, like good farmers, return it to shelter at night. Some microscopic parasites perform beneficial cleaning services for their hosts. Other examples include: deer and monkeys; and tortoises and birds. Other animal partners simply live and let live. -- Fighting: Whether to win food, to claim and hold territory, or to capture a mate, fighting is accepted practice in the wild. Deciding whether to fight or to flee depends on costs and rewards. Animals assess their own abilities against the potential damage caused to the opponent by their teeth, hooves, and horns. They fight with intensity proportionate to what they stand to gain or lose. This video looks at direct competition between conspecifics in nature. Reasons for fighting are discussed. The major part of the video is close-ups of one-on-one fights in a wide variety of species from damselfly larvae to the mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei). The mountain gorilla sequence is several minutes long, showing chest beating and charging threat, and a prolonged vocal fight between two females. Some play and feeding behavior are also portrayed. Also seen is a langur, probably a sacred langur (Presbytis entellus), to illustrate the large canines found in some primate males. -- Friends and rivals: This video looks at problems and opportunities of group living. It covers establishing dominance (whooper swans and chickens); cooperation (lions, weaver birds driving off a egg-predating capuchin (cebus) monkey); food sharing (vampire bats); raising young (dwarf mongoose); and communal living (naked mole rats and the fungus farms of leaf cutting ants). The featured primate is the baboon (Papio) in Kenya. Behaviors shown are grooming, presenting, lipsmacking, eyelid flash, threats and attacks. Male-infant interactions, including holding and defending infants, are shown. The importance of male-female friendships and agonistic support is discussed and illustrated. -- Talking to strangers: Anthropologist Sir David Attenborough journeys far and wide, seeking out the animal world's best communicators. Most animals use ripples in the air, but the sea is also full of sound; in fact, the loudest of all natural sounds is made by blue whales who can sing to each other on opposite sides of the ocean. Competing male frogs in Panama make so much noise they have a special system to avoid jamming each others' signals. Male toadfish hum so loud that once residents of a houseboat tried to sue the local electricity board for making the buzz before discovering its origin. -- Courting: Courting in the animal world is not merely pursuit and conquest. The natural ritual is subtle and varied, involving sound, smell, and sight. Nightingales and whales sing. Hamsters and moose lay perfumed messages. Female birds often select partners on the basis of visual splendor, although it is of little value in raising a family. Some males forego charm and resort to violent tactics: harlequin beetles hurl one ahother off trees; topi antelope clash horns in bitter struggles. Like humans, animals can become a little crazy when looking for a mate. -- Continuing the line: The ultimate trial of life may be to perpetuate it. This video examines the strategies animals, birds, fish, and insects use to locate, select, and pass their genes on to the next generation. Palolo seaworms use overwhelming numbers as millions swarm a Samoan reef to breed. Barnacles and wrasse fish become either male or female, depending on the time of day or the stage of development. Huge sea lions practice polygamy by setting up harems on a Patagonian beach.


  • Requires multi-system playback equipment.
  • Originally broadcast on television in 1990.
  • DVD 9, 2+4 colour PAL UK ; aspect ratio 4:3 ; stereo.
  • Optional English subtitles ; closed-captioned in English for the hearing impaired.


  • Disc 1. Episode 1. Arriving. Episode 2. Growing up. Episode 3. Finding food -- Disc 2. Episode 4. Hunting and escaping. Episode 5. Finding the way. Episode 6. Homemaking -- Disc 3. Episode 7. Living together. Episode 8. Fighting. Episode 9. Friends and rivals -- Disc 4. Episode 10. Talking to strangers. Episode 11. Courting. Episode 12. Continuing the line. Bonus feature. The making of The trials of life
Checking the Web...