Our planet may be home to more than thirty million different animals and plants. And every single one is locked in its own life-long fight for survival. Everywhere you look, there are extraordinary examples of the lengths living things go to to stay alive, and to breed.
The first and most important lesson that all creatures learn in life is how to get enough food.
The bottlenose dolphins that live in Florida Bay have made a breakthrough. To catch their fast-swimming prey one dolphin creates a ring of mud to surround the fish by beating its tail down hard in the soft silt, as it swims in a large circle. As the mud mushrooms in the water, the ring gets smaller and the fish get trapped. Panicking, they jump out of the water – right into the waiting dolphins’ mouths!
In northern Kenya three cheetah brothers have developed a new way of hunting. Rather than tackle small prey on their own, they have learned that together they can bring down ostriches. Running the risk of a mighty kick, which could be fatal, they have to be unusually careful.
The battle between animals and plants can be intense. Brown-tufted capuchin monkeys in Brazil demonstrate an extraordinary level of skills to crack the hard shell of the palm nuts they love. They harvest the nuts, strip them of their husks and leave them to dry. After a few weeks they transport them to a huge anvil-like stone and smash it with a heavy hammer stone. It can take eight years for a capuchin to perfect this complex art of nut-smashing.
In every animal’s life there comes a time when its mind turns to breeding. The stalk-eyed fly has a mind boggling technique. It sucks in air bubbles and blows them through its head to push its eyes out… on stalks! These are vital for winning females, because the males with the biggest eye span gets the most females.
Animals go to extraordinary lengths to protect and nurture their offspring. The tiny strawberry poison arrow frog carries its tadpoles to nursery pools held within plants that are high up in the rainforest canopy. But there is no food there for the growing tadpoles, she delivers an unfertilized egg for each tadpole every few days, and climbs the equivalent of nearly half a mile in her endeavors.
But there is only so much a parent can do. When chinstrap penguins fledge, they have no adult to teach them about the dangers that await them. Driven by instinct, the chicks know they have to go to sea to find food. They can barely swim and many fall victim to the formidable leopard seal lying in wait.
In the end, overcoming life’s challenges – whether finding enough to eat or outwitting predators – is only significant if life’s final challenge can be met – to pass on the genes to ensure the survival of the next generation.