Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#SteveReviews: Attenborough’s Life in Colour

In recent years, it seems that Sir David Attenborough has been working around the clock to narrate a number of spectacularly produced wildlife documentaries. These such as A Perfect Planet and Seven Worlds, One Planet in my mind omit the science behind the sequences the audience are observing in favour of the cinematography. However, in his shorter and more limited productions, Attenborough has been able to successfully blend science and filmmaking which echoes those landmark series from earlier on in his career.

Attenborough’s Life in Colour is no exception to this and always, new camera technology was produced especially for the series which is surprising given that there are only two hour long episodes. Despite having a relatively short running time compared to it’s bigger siblings, Attenborough’s Life in Colour manages to pack more for it’s punch in terms of both scientific understanding and explanation. We’re able to see how the world looks through the eyes of fiddler crabs which reveals why they have such ornate colouration, as well as through the eyes of deer to reveal how invisible a tiger is to them. Through these two examples (of many throughout the series) you may have already picked up on what each episode focusses on. The first episode documents the evolution of colour vision in various different species and how they use these signals, the second looks at mimicry and how different species use colour to deceive others.

My favourite sequence in the series is that focussing on the colour of the strawberry poison dart frog (who would have seen that coming!). If you know poison dart frogs then I’m preaching to the choir, but if not then you’re in for a treat. They can be very territorial and often engage in miniature battles to determine who is the most dominant, with the two frogs tumbling around in the leaf-litter. Measuring up to 24 mm as as adult, these are some tiny frogs and combined with their toxic nature, their colouration is both a signal to would-be predators and each other. I think one of the reasons that Attenborough’s Life in Colour departs from the norm is that Attenborough originally wanted to make the series back in the 1960s, which would have been tricky given the lack of widespread colour television. I’m glad that given the advancement of technology since then, that his dream has finally come true.

Personally Attenborough’s Life in Colour is the sort of programming that I would like to see more of as I feel it helps to the audience to connect to the animals more, as well as the science behind how we understand their world. It’s a shame the series couldn’t be any longer, as I’m sure there are still other aspects of colour in the natural worldto be explored.

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