Life on Our Planet (2023) s01e05 Episode Script

Chapter 5: In the Shadow of Giants

[thunder rumbling]
[intriguing music playing]
[Morgan Freeman] Since life first emerged
on planet Earth,
it has never stopped evolving
driven by an ever-changing world
and by intense competition.
But there was one remarkable era
when evolution went into overdrive
giving us many of the animals
we still have today
and the iconic giants
that once ruled over them.
[bleating, snorting]
This is the story of the age of dinosaurs.
[music intensifies]
[music ends]
[rousing music playing]
[rousing music continues]
[wind howling]
[rousing music intensifies]
[music fades]
[ominous music playing]
It's the dawn of the Jurassic period.
Pangaea, the supercontinent
that witnessed the age of reptiles,
is slowly tearing itself apart.
Shifting tectonic plates
force rivers of magma to the surface
beginning the total transformation
of the planet.
Over millions of years,
a molten fissure
slices the giant landmass in two.
Water fills the rift
between the newly formed continents.
As they grow further and further apart,
brand-new environments are created
causing the extinction of many
but turbocharging evolution
for the survivors
and one group of animals in particular.
[insects chirping]
Deep in the towering forests
of Jurassic North America
[animals bellowing]
the biggest animals
to ever walk the Earth are on the rise.
[low growling]
[gentle music playing]
In the breakup of Pangaea,
they've found themselves
in a world of plenty.
Some, like Diplodocus,
have grown to become 25 meters long.
But even at their size,
they can never let down their guard
[branches snapping]
[thunder crackling]
for they aren't the only giants
of the Jurassic.
[thunder crackling]
[tense ambient music playing]
[growls softly]
[ominous music playing]
Nearly nine meters long
it's one of the largest predators on land
in these early days
of the dinosaurs' reign.
It probes for opportunity.
[Allosaurus hisses]
[Diplodocus grunting]
But it's not the adults it's after.
This Allosaurus is looking
for much easier prey.
A baby Diplodocus.
Hatched from an egg
no bigger than a grapefruit,
she's too small to live among the herd
where she might be trampled.
Instead, she must fend for herself.
- [soft thud]
- [rustling]
The Allosaurus
will make quick work of the baby
if it can find her.
[snorting, snarling]
The youngster's best hope
is to stay as still as possible.
[ominous music intensifies]
The Allosaurus has keen senses
[snarling, snorting]
but the storm is masking any clues
to the baby's location.
A very close call
and not just for one young Diplodocus.
[thunder rumbling]
[calling softly]
[gentle music playing]
To boost their chances of survival,
these youngsters must eat
as much as they can
as fast as possible
[uplifting music playing]
so they can grow into giant-sized adults.
But just as these huge dinosaurs
were devouring the plants around them,
the plants themselves were changing
[music ends]
in ways that would revolutionize
life on Earth.
[birds squawking]
Once upon a time, plants relied solely
on wind or water to spread their pollen
but in the age of dinosaurs,
an innovation in plant reproduction arose
that is still very much with us today.
[elegant music playing]
The flower.
At 40 centimeters across,
this one belongs to a giant water lily
in South America's Amazon rainforest
and its sole purpose
is to attract an animal to pollinate it.
As evening approaches, the flower produces
a powerful pineapple-like scent
irresistible to this beetle.
[music fades]
[ethereal music playing]
Much like his ancient ancestors,
the bewitched beetle
can't help but be enticed inside.
He squeezes through the outer petals,
into the heart of the flower,
where paradise awaits.
Inside, it's a balmy ten degrees warmer
than the surrounding night air.
Here, it happily feasts
on the flower's succulent flesh.
But the beetle also offers
something in return.
Pollen picked up
from another giant water lily.
As it feeds, the pollen rubs off
onto the flower's reproductive parts.
When dawn arrives,
the flower closes
enveloping the beetle
in its velvety petals
and covering it in its own sticky pollen.
At dusk, the flower opens once more.
[elegant music playing]
Having served its purpose
in helping the plant to reproduce,
it changes color
and loses its alluring scent
[music continues]
allowing the beetle,
now covered in this flower's pollen,
to fly off
and unwittingly pollinate
another giant water lily.
[birds tweeting]
But the relationship between flowers
and their beetle pollinators
was just the beginning.
Other insects in the dinosaur era
soon got in on the action
taking pollen from flower to flower
in return for their sweet liquid nectar.
[ethereal music playing]
By 130 million years ago
flowers were becoming more vivid,
and varied,
as they competed to attract
the very best pollinators.
As they spread
the land turned from an endless green
to a kaleidoscope of different colors.
Today, there are ten times
more flowering plants
than all other plant species combined.
- [music ends]
- [insects chirping]
However, as the world blossomed,
other creatures began to exploit
the relationship
between flower and insect
- [ominous music playing]
- [buzzing]
spawning a surge
in the variety of predator and prey.
Spiders had been around
for over 100 million years
but now started spinning their silk
into complex webs
taking advantage of this new wave of life.
[serene music playing]
By the middle of the dinosaurs' reign
there was such an explosion
in biodiversity
fueled by the arrival of flowering plants
that, for the very first time
in Earth's history,
there were more species on land
than in the oceans.
[serene music continues]
[music fades]
But it wasn't just the smaller creatures
that were changing
in new and radical ways.
This is Deinonychus.
Despite its endearing appearance,
it's a dinosaur.
A baby dinosaur.
"Deinonychus" translates
as "terrible claw."
But that's not his only strength.
[distant call]
He's also got keen vision
and excellent hearing.
[distant call]
[distant call]
But his most eye-catching adaptation
is his feathers.
Simple feather-like structures
first appeared back in the Triassic.
Not for flight but for warmth.
[juvenile croaks]
Being able to stay warm
means this branch of dinosaurs,
the theropods,
can be active day and night
giving them more time to raise their young
as part of a family.
[nearby squawk]
- [squawks]
- [nearby squawk]
Living in a group
has other advantages too,
especially when it's time to find food.
[energetic music playing]
For Deinonychus is a pack hunter.
And a clever one at that.
Their prey, Arkansaurus,
is also a dinosaur
but it leads a very different,
mainly plant-eating life.
What they both share, however
is speed.
[dramatic music playing]
Catching up with their prey is one thing.
- Bringing it down
- [trilling]
Working together,
they take turns to tire it out.
[dramatic music intensifies]
- [squawking]
- [trilling]
- [squawking]
- [music fades]
Their terrible claws bring a swift end
to the exhausted Arkansaurus.
As dinosaurs diversified,
many became increasingly social.
But even they couldn't compare
with the greatest social animals
of their age,
animals that were evolving
just beneath their feet.
[birds tweeting]
Today, in West Africa,
we can still find the descendants
of those early supersocializers.
One immense family of siblings
five million strong
all working tirelessly for the colony
and their mother, the queen.
Social insects like termites
first appeared in the age of dinosaurs
recycling the new vegetation
while also being the prime food source
of their enemies.
A scout has followed their scent.
[ominous music playing]
Armed with the news of her discovery,
she races back to her nest.
She's a member of another ancient group
of social insects
the ants.
Competition between these rival species
has been raging for millions of years
in a remarkable evolutionary arms race.
Back at her nest,
the scout summons an army of her own.
These are predatory Megaponera ants.
Like a well-drilled Roman legion
a thousand soldiers march to war.
When close to the termite workers,
the scout gives a signal
and the column starts to fan out,
becoming a wave poised to break.
Now, at full force,
the scout gives one final order.
[tense music playing]
The termites are not defenseless.
They've evolved a separate caste
of armed soldiers who protect the workers.
Catching an ant,
they quickly dismember it.
But these ants
have their own specialist weapons.
They thrust their venomous stings
at their ancient rivals' only weak spot.
Right between the jaws.
The casualties in this age-old battle
rapidly mount up.
But the marauding ants
overwhelm the termites.
The victors gather up the vanquished
and carry them back to the nest
to feed the rest of the colony.
Underground, the ants display the pinnacle
of their evolutionary achievements
as they tend to their injured comrades.
Many have lost limbs.
But the workers
lick the wounds of the injured,
using antibiotics carried in their saliva
to help them heal.
Without this, most would die.
But thanks to the treatment,
they're able to march back out to war
within 24 hours,
even with missing limbs.
This is the only example of animals,
other than humans,
using medicine to save another's life.
By working together,
social animals like ants and termites
flourished under the dinosaurs.
But the ground beneath all their feet
was still on the move,
causing seismic change.
Ninety million years ago,
and Earth's shifting tectonic plates
continued to reshape the planet.
[poignant music playing]
As the fragments of Pangaea spread out
upwellings of magma
began to lift the seafloor
raising global sea levels.
This flooded the land
[music intensifies]
[music softens]
creating numerous shallow seas
and multiple island continents,
each with their own climate and character.
Isolated on their respective landmasses,
dinosaurs thrived like never before.
Alongside the long-necked giant sauropods
and the feathered theropods
another group of dinosaurs
were also finding success.
The ornithischians.
Just like Diplodocus,
they were mostly herbivores
[snorting, munching]
but they had evolved jaws
that could chew.
Combined with the surge in plant life,
this saw ornithischians, like Maiasaura,
form some of the largest herds
the Earth had ever seen.
[majestic music playing]
Across the world,
dinosaurs now dominated every land habitat
the changing planet had to offer.
- But at the same time
- [creature squeaking]
our own dynasty, the first true mammals,
were also making the most
of the new abundance.
In the shadows of the giants,
these small creatures were limited
to a life in the margins.
But they, too, were becoming
increasingly sophisticated, social,
and able to take care of their young.
[birds tweeting]
Today, in the forests
of Southwest Australia,
it's possible to get a glimpse
of what life may have been like
for some of those ancient mammals.
[whimsical music playing]
This is a numbat,
an endangered marsupial
thought to number only 3,000 in the wild.
Like some of her prehistoric ancestors,
she, too, survives on a diet
of tasty termites.
Using her long, sticky tongue,
she scoops them up with relish.
And the more, the merrier
for back at the den
a handful of pups await her return.
[calm music playing]
Crucial to the success of mammals
was the evolution of parental care.
Giving birth to live young
and nourishing them on their mother's milk
until they reach independence.
But for these nervous little youngsters
that might take a while.
Most early mammals didn't have armor
or size to protect them
yet just like in today's forests
danger was never far away.
[music becomes tense]
The discarded skin
of their ancient adversary.
- The snake.
- [hissing]
Snakes evolved around the same time
as the first true mammals.
They lost the arms and legs
of their reptilian ancestors
and developed a streamlined body
making them perfectly adapted
to hunting in burrows
and silently pursuing their prey
through the undergrowth.
But young mammals
aren't entirely helpless.
They have their mothers
to look after them.
She spots the danger
[tense music continues]
and raises the alarm.
But the snake
is headed straight for her youngster.
[music intensifies]
[tense music ends]
[serene music playing]
Thanks to parental care,
in this instance, the mammals win out.
[dramatic music playing]
But reptiles have patience.
They've been playing this game
since the dawn of the dinosaurs.
And as mammals prospered,
so too did the snakes that fed on them.
[dramatic music continues]
Today, there are more
than 3,000 species of snake.
With their sinuous bodies
packed with muscle
they've evolved to exploit
almost every habitat on Earth.
Even the oceans.
Like many reptiles,
their skin can offer perfect camouflage.
[dramatic music continues]
When paired with venom,
the effect can be deadly.
But mammals have acquired
some extraordinary defenses
having been locked
in an arms race with snakes
for more than a hundred million years.
The sidewinder snake.
It will wait for hours at a time
for signs of passing heat.
Heat that comes
from small warm-blooded mammals.
[tense music playing]
But kangaroo rats
are not your average rodent.
They've developed a unique skill
befitting of their name.
The cold-blooded sidewinder
bides its time.
It can go weeks without eating
just waiting to strike.
- [hissing]
- [dramatic music playing]
Split-second reactions
versus incredible patience.
[dramatic music intensifies]
These are the extremes that can evolve
in the eternal game of life
and death.
[music ends]
After 150 million years of dinosaur rule,
the continents had shifted
almost to where they are today.
[rousing music playing]
Along the way, they had created
so many new environments
that the dinosaurs had become
more successful than ever before.
[animals calling]
Beneath their feet
lived all the major animal groups
that we recognize now.
Dynasties from throughout the ages.
Survivors from another era.
Along with those
that had more recently come to the fore.
But all of them forced to the margins
by the dominance of the dinosaurs
and the one iconic animal
that ruled over them all.
[flies buzzing]
[echoing thud]
[majestic music playing]
Thirteen meters long,
weighing nine tons
it's no wonder
that the most famous predator
in the history of life on our planet
is Tyrannosaurus rex.
But he's not alone.
Another T. rex.
The two size each other up.
Tyrannosaurs will often
fight for territory
and are not above cannibalism.
[tense music playing]
But there's something else
on this male's mind
[low growling]
for he has found a female.
[soft growling]
And that means showing off his best moves
to win her over.
But misjudge the approach,
and this date could be over in seconds.
[soft growling]
[serene music playing]
[both growl softly]
His mesmerizing movement
and deep romping calls
seem to be eliciting the right response.
[uplifting music playing]
And she mirrors his courtship dance.
But the ultimate sign of trust
is exposing his neck.
[soft growling]
Rising together, they cement their bond.
[both growl softly]
For 150 million years,
dinosaurs ruled the planet.
Who knows what new heights
they might have reached
if their reign had continued.
But in the story of life
nothing lasts forever.
[explosive blast]
[rousing music playing]
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