Life in the Undergrowth


The springtail, one of the most common animals in the world.
I didn’t know they existed.

I think David Attenborough’s Life in the Undergrowth is my new favorite nature documentary. It is composed of five 50-minute episodes about terrestrial invertebrates- insects, spiders, scorpions, worms, slugs, snails, and many other creatures that are typically ignored or thought of as gross.

The series starts with the story of how mollusks and arthropods were the first animals to come on land (episode 1), and how some species took to the skies (episode 2). An entire episode is devoted to the various (often incredibly clever) ways silk is used (episode 3). In what I thought was the best episode, insects (mostly ants and wasps) take advantage of life around them, some taking the role of parasite, some taking the role of defender, all being ingenious (episode 4). The series concludes with a survey of social insects (episode 5).

This series is gorgeous. To see these animals at a scale where we can see them like any other was incredible. The behavior and survival strategies these creatures have taken on are amazing to see. There is so much to life on earth that I think we just do not ever recognize. It was like seeing a documentary of an alien world. These creatures are just as interesting any other animal, they’re just smaller. It will be difficult for me to an organism as “just a bug” again.

I have some (possibly) negative thoughts on the series, but they’re minor. The first is the use of computer graphics. While it’s admirable how David Attenborough has adopted many new technologies that made this series possible, I feel that knowing something is CG just takes one out of the movie. I believe it’s only used on two occasions though, and it isn’t terrible. The second is the use of sound effects, it’s difficult to tell when something is really the sound of the environment or just something they put in in the editing room. The third is that David Attenborough interacts with the fauna, which I don’t mind so much but some people think that naturalists should only record behavior that has not been in any way influenced by man. Finally, it often seemed the story of mating was always told from a male perspective. I am not actually sure there is a better way to do this, as most of the time the male seems to be acting, and the female only indicates that she approves of the male, often with cues we’re not aware of. Just something I noticed!

STILL, I think this series amazed me more than Planet Earth (which Attenborough also lent his voice to). This is a world we do not often see and appreciate, and to see these creatures presented like any other transforms them from creepy crawlers to amazing and surprisingly beautiful animals. 9.5 out of 10 (I know, this is so useful considering I haven’t given anything else a rating yet.)

Amazon link (US) | Wikipedia link | Netflix link

(For full disclosure, the links are Amazon Associate links, so if you were to click on them, and make a purchase on Amazon, I would get a small percent of the money form that transaction. I’m not posting this to get money though, I really think it great! I am not part of a Netflix affiliate program as of this posting, and just include the link because that’s how I found this series, and I think it’s a good way to watch movies. If I were to somehow get some money from this though, I’d put some money (maybe 25% of whatever I got?) into a conservation program or get some libraries this DVD set. I’m sure my sister will help me pick a good conservation program. I’ll put up a disclosure page up sometime soon, I’m not trying to do anything to be evil!)

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