We all know why a chameleon changes colour: to camouflage itself…right? But did you also know that it does this to communicate? Asserting its dominance, enticing a mate, and reflecting its emotional state are all reasons for its fluctuating colours. These, amongst other surprising facts, are revealed in BBC2’s intriguing new series, David Attenborough’s Natural Curiosities. At the mere mention of Attenborough, I expected the same old song: sweeping panoramic shots of Africa, never-seen-before footage of a polar bear and faultless narration from the national treasure himself.
This familiar set-up is often associated with anything involving the buzzwords ‘Attenborough’ and the ‘BBC’.
However, Natural Curiosities surprised me with a different twist. Primarily, we see far more of Attenborough compared to similar programmes like Planet Earth. He remains in front of the camera, walking you through his handpicked Natural Curiosities, which delights those with no interest in animals.
Then, the show focuses mainly on the seldom-told and curious histories of seemingly familiar animals.
First, we learn about the history of the chameleon, its changing colour being only one of the many abnormalities that has baffled scientists for years. Once again, the high standard of footage we expect from the BBC prevails.
Footage ranges from old, grainy film featuring Attenborough in his 20s with a chameleon on his shoulder, to a slow-motion x-ray of a chameleon’s elongated tongue catching an insect. This underlines the key theme to the series: how technology has found the answers to once mystifying questions. This is true of the next curiosity examined: the platypus. Attenborough discloses the history of the platypus, a creature which perplexed even Darwin himself – was it an animal or a bird? Some even believed it to be a mermaid. The answer is uncovered thanks to modern cameras, which squeeze into its burrows.
Overall, the show is fascinating. It combines history and science to produce a thoroughly entertaining series. Natural Curiosities conveys Attenborough’s unwitting charm and passion for nature, making it well worth a watch.
Image: Johann Edwin Heupel