Review: BBC Series Planet Earth II with Sir David Attenborough

Hatchling Marine Iguana from the 'Islands' episode of the BBC series Planet Earth II with Sir David Attenborough.

Hatchling Marine Iguana from the 'Islands' episode of the BBC series Planet Earth II with Sir David Attenborough.

As most people will already know, the BBC have released a sequel to the 2006 Planet Earth series. The sequel, appropriately named Planet Earth II and featuring Sir David Attenborough as the narrator, was as stunning as you would expect.

Even if you haven't watched any of the Planet Earth II episodes, you are likely to have come across one of the many clips shared on the internet of the hatchling Marine Iguanas (photo above) escaping a gauntlet of racer snakes. It was probably one of the most memorable wildlife documentary moments of 2016. 

One of the reasons I like wildlife documentaries so much is that they tend to appeal to so many different types of people. Unlike other types of content, they are the kind of thing that will appeal to a varied demographic and individuals from all walks of life. As such, it is to be expected that many people will also have strong views and opinions about it.

I believe it is fair to say that the series was overwhelmingly hailed as magnificent by the vast majority of people who watched it. However, some have pointed out the 'gruesomeness' of certain scenes and sensationalist 'newspapers' such as The Mirror have unsurprisingly written articles talking about how some of the footage has 'horrified thousands of viewers'. 

I can definitely understand how some people may have found it difficult to watch certain scenes. Let's not forget that we humans love to coo over animals and perhaps seeing them in such a realistic light tarnishes that image. However, I can't say that I share their opinion. I love the fact that the series was realistic. That it shared how beautiful, dangerous and terrifying life in the wild can be. To me, that is exactly what a wildlife documentary should show. 

Although I absolutely loved the series, I wanted to focus the review on the 'Diaries' part of it. At the end of each episode, they showcased how the crew managed to capture the footage, the difficulties they encountered and their journey to these sometimes incredibly remote areas of the world. The truth is that I honestly feel rather guilty about loving them. 

I loved the 'Diaries' sections because it somehow makes it all even more real to me. I have expressed in previous reviews that I like seeing how the crew manages to capture these amazing images. How they get there, how they solve problems along the way, etc. However, I also worry that they may somehow lead more people to these locations. People that would perhaps not be so mindful and respectful of the environment and the wildlife they encounter. Who knows? Maybe this is a bit of a stretch and I'm overthinking things. Oh well...c'est la vie. 

If you like wildlife documentaries, you will probably have already watched it. I don't think you need me to say this but I will anyway - if you haven't watched it yet, do it. I believe it's still on iPlayer, though I'm not sure how much longer it will be available there. I, for one, will definitely be buying the DVD when it's out. 

 

Reptiles of Ikaria: The Mediterranean House Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus)

Photograph by Adem Adakul

Photograph by Adem Adakul

Like many other small gecko species, the Hemidactylus turcicus is one of those species that we tend to take for granted. The type that most people will see on the walls of the house they rented for their holidays but never really stop to think about.

Growing up in Brazil, I would often see other species of the same genus such as the H. mabouia and the H. frenatus around the house. Unfortunately, I am ashamed to say that when I was around 6 years old, I did capture one and tried to keep it as my pet whilst "feeding" it vegetables. However, as I grew, I became more interested in their behaviour and started to study their biology more closely.

Most Brazilians will look at these small geckos and call them by the exact same common name - lagartixa. It doesn't matter what type of gecko it is. If it is on the wall and small, it's a lagartixa. This sort of 'non-reaction' is what drove me to write about the H. turcicus in the first place. When people think about reptiles they will often imagine big snakes and lizards. They will say things like 'I don't like reptiles' but wouldn't bat an eyelash at the little geckos on the wall. These tiny little creatures are reptiles too - and they are fascinating!

I encountered my first H. turcicus during a trip to Ikaria, one of the Greek islands. In my head, I immediately started comparing their colouration, size and behaviour to the tropical species with which I am familiar. The similarities, as expected, are many - they are insectivores, active during the evening or night and can be found near human dwellings on dry stone walls. They tend to hide under rocks during the day or inside cracks on the walls. Like many other geckos, they tend to sit near light sources that attract moths and other insects. You can sometimes find a small group of the H. turcicus banded together near light bulbs appraising potential prey. Hayley & Blackshaw (2015) had a research article published in The Herpetological Bulletin on how habitat structure may affect the foraging behaviour of the H. turcicus that is definitely worth a read. 

Figure 1. H. turcicus toe

Figure 1. H. turcicus toe

Although they have adhesive toes that help them cling to walls and rocks whilst maintaining even an upside down position, the adhesive pads don't extend to the end of the toes. Instead, they stop short of the tip of the toe where a small claw helps the geckos grip to rougher surfaces. This is illustrated in Figure 1 (Arnold & Ovenden, 2002, plate 20) where the diagram clearly shows where the adhesive pads end and a little claw sticks out from the tip of the gecko's toe. The photograph in Figure 2 gives us a better idea of what this looks like in real life.

Photograph by Gary Nafis

Photograph by Gary Nafis

It is no secret that instances of cannibalism occur in many reptile and amphibian species worldwide. Geckos are no exception to the rule. For instance, David Soulsby noted evidence of cannibalism in one of H. turcicus' most similar species - the Common House Gecko (H. frenatus) in his book 'Animal Cannibalism: The Dark Side of Evolution'. Although he did not mention H. turcicus specifically in his book, it is not a stretch to imagine that such a successive invasive species would display instances of cannibalism. Other gecko species have been reported to prey on smaller gecko species as well as smaller individuals of their own species. Parves & Alam (2015) highlight this occurrence in their paper published in The Herpetological Bulletin with H. flaviviridis as an example. As they noted, however, an individual's size would greatly affect its ability to predate on other individuals.

As some types of geckos are commonly kept as pets nowadays, it may come as no surprise that some species can produce a high pitched sound similar to a squeak when they feel threatened. Males of the H. turcicus species are known to be fairly territorial and warn-off competitors through a series of clicks and squeaks. It's important to note that these squeaky sounds are also used in a range of other social situations such as calling and attracting potential mates.

Females tend to lay a couple of eggs 2-3 times a year. They usually hide their clutches under rocks or in cracks where the eggs stay for 6-12 weeks before hatching. Younglings tend to be translucent pink in colour with a banded tail.

Next time you spot a gecko on the wall, try to get a good look at it - maybe take a couple of photos if you can. This will help you identify the gecko species and will make these encounters all the more interesting!

References:

  • Arnold, N. & Ovenden, D. (2002). A Field Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe. London, Harper Collins Publisher.
  • Soulsby, D. (2013). Animal Cannibalism: The Dark Side of Evolution. Sheffield, 5m Publishing.
  • Mattison, C. (2014). Nature Guide: Snakes and Other Reptiles and Amphibians. London, Dorling Kindersley.
  • Haley, T. & Blackshaw, R. (2015). Does Habitat Structure Affect Foraging Success in the Mediterranean House Gecko, Hemidactylus turcicus?. The Herpetological Bulletin 133: 10-12.
  • Parves, N. & Alam, S.M.I. (2015). Hemidactylus flaviviridis: Predation on Congeneric Hemidactylus frenatus in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Herpetological Bulletin 132: 28-29. 
 

Review: BBC Four - Born To Be Wild: Reptiles & Amphibians Episode

I cannot even start with my usual anecdotes. This short but incredibly sweet episode of the series was one of the most inspiring and positive documentaries I have ever seen on British herptiles. 

As you would expect, the animals were stunning and it did not even matter that I was not looking directly at them. I still got butterflies in my stomach every time footage of the herptiles was shown. However, to be able to listen to the stories of these incredible people who share my passion was, in all honestly, rather emotional. 

I liked the fact that the BBC did not try and make a huge sob fest out of the stories - which sometimes happen in documentaries. The stories were told in each of the individuals' own words and any added commentary made by the narrator was a mere supplementation to the story. I do wish the episode was longer and featured a bit more details on each story. However, I appreciate this is not always possible and the theme is perhaps not most people's cup of tea.

I have previously written about the Adder and the impact that its bad reputation has on potential conservation work to help increase their numbers. To be able to see that same point of discussion  addressed on national television was an absolute treat!  I hope this is only the first of many more documentaries on herptiles. However, if nothing less, I hope that it inspires at least one person to start treating these creatures with the respect that they certainly deserve.  

Well done BBC and thank you to the amazing people featured who, as stated in the documentary,  do it for love and not for money. I am now going to watch all the previous episodes and am especially looking forward to the one featuring bats!