The spectacular Planet Earth 2 has the nation captivated by natural events, and in light of this our editor, Kara Watson, counts down her top 5 animal events
By now you have seen the intense baby iguana vs snake battle from the first episode of Planet Earth II. It was just plain terrifying. Following on from that viral video, here are some other spectacular animal events that occur in the natural world.
5. Massive Spider Webs
If you’re an arachnophobe, stop reading now. This phenomenon has been seen in Pakistan and Australia after bad flooding. When the areas become waterlogged, tens of thousands of spiders that live on the ground start moving to higher ground. This is just the same as any other animal escaping a flood, just a lot scarier for some people. Because so many spiders have moved upwards, they form mass webs that can span an area of 800 metres.
To reach the higher trees and bushes spiders use a technique named ‘ballooning’, where they shoot their silk into the air where it is caught by the wind, causing the spider to be swept off to higher ground. The species are mostly money spiders and juvenile wolf spiders, and are described as harmless. If anything, it’s probably simply irritating to have so many webs blocking your way.
4. Killer Whale Hunt
Most people are familiar with the killer whales, (also known as orcas), intelligence when it comes to hunting in their pods, as well as their ruthlessness. There is a great place to see these methods in action; there is annual migration of dolphins and whales that passes by South Africa. During this migration, pods of killer whales will hunt groups of thousands of dolphins.
Here they have been observed using clever strategies to hunt including mock attacks, where one individual will pretend to chase the dolphin, then pass by it. The dolphin, thinking it’s safe, will slow down. Unknown to the dolphin, another killer whale is lurking nearby to snatch it up. They even use this event to teach the young orcas how to hunt, and have been seen to just ‘play’ with the dolphins to encourage their children to have a go. Frankly, I find them more scary than the spiders.
3. The Sardine Run
This mass gathering of sardines is probably one of the most manic events I’ve seen on film. Billions of sardines all come together up the coast of South Africa where they migrate from May to July. To this day no one quite knows why they do this. But of course, where prey animals gather, the predators will follow. First, the dolphins will work together to round up the sardines into ‘baitballs’, which are about 10-20 metres in diameter. These dolphins form groups ranging from 100 to 30,000 individuals.
Then, the sharks arrive, taking advantage of the dolphin’s organisation to grab some food. Many different species of sharks can be seen in their thousands, including hammerheads and great whites. All this activity pushes the sardines towards the surface of the water, which is when the birds, like Cape gannets, start their assault, diving up to 10 metres into the water to snatch some fish. And it doesn’t even end there. Other predators such as Bryde’s whales, seals and tuna all come to take part in the feeding frenzy. The baitballs last no longer than 10 minutes, when all the sardines have been consumed.
2. Gosling Leap of Faith
Another spectacular event featured on an Attenborough programme, one that took my breath away. Barnacle geese nest in Greenland, high up on the sides of cliffs to avoid their predators. Sounds like a good idea, right? Unfortunately, geese don’t feed their young like most birds, and barnacle geese will only eat grass, which is further below on the ground. So, only a few hours old, these goslings must take a real leap of faith.
Their parents are on the ground, calling to them, and they have to throw themselves off the cliff. Once they jump, the little birds spread themselves out to sort of parachute down the 400ft drop, trying to avoid hitting the rocks too much. The goslings do have soft, flexible bones, so they can take a few knocks from the fall and survive. To makes matters worse, predators are waiting at the bottom to snatch up any unfortunate chicks. If all goes well, they reach the ground, and trot off with their parents to find some food, looking only slightly confused. I would highly recommend looking up the footage if you haven’t seen it, the jump looks completely impossible.
1. Army Ant Migrations
Now this is an amazing and terrifying sight. Army ants can be found in places like Africa, and South and Central America. Unlike other ant species, army ants make temporary nests, called bivouacs, to house the queen while she lays her eggs and rests. Then, approximately 10 days after the queen lays her eggs, they are on the move. Known as ‘raids’, the group of ants can be made up of 15 million workers, and can span 20 metres wide and 100 metres long. On their way, they basically kill anything in their path. They slice up their prey using their huge jaws, known as mandibles. They use acid to effectively melt the unfortunate animal so that they don’t have to waste time digesting it. They’ll feed on pretty much anything; insects, spiders, snakes, lizards, and they can consume up to 500,000 of these per day. They are an unstoppable force. But on the upside, if they go through your house, they will get rid of all the bugs you don’t like.