Planet Earth 2 – Jungles
Guest Blog by: Aoibhe McCarron
This Episode of Planet Earth II was about jungles and their inhabitants. We start off with a family of spider monkeys living in the top layer of the canopy. Spider monkeys are primates like us but they are adapted to this extreme niche by having long limbs and a prehensile tail that can grip like a hand. 1/3 of Spider monkeys never make it to adulthood due to the extreme heights they live at, but this is the risk they take to keep themselves safe from danger on the jungle floor and competition lower down in the trees. Our current situation reflects this, we must stay at home to keep ourselves safe and avoid catching the corona virus.
Next we meet the Draco lizard, they are the size of a pencil. Once they find the right tree, it can be a home for life supplying a constant conveyor belt of ants for them to feed on. When the little Draco lizard finds the perfect tree, he unfortunately finds this tree is already occupied by another Draco. What he does to escape a fight is an incredible adaptation to his habitat of ancient tall trees, he leaps from the tree and uses his wing like skin flaps to glide to freedom. The lengths he takes to avoid competition and conflict with others is not unlike our current isolation situation. Like him, we should avoid conflict and taking many resources for ourselves. To share them equally is to increase our chances of survival.
In Ecuador, there are over 100 species of hummingbird, all competing for the same thing; nectar. The swordbill is one of these hummingbird species and is the only bird to have a beak longer than its body. This is a special adaptation which helps him outcompete other hummingbirds; they have their own supply of nectar from long flowers that other hummingbirds can’t reach. However, with this comes sacrifices, the swordbill cant preen his feathers like other hummingbirds and the long beak can be hard to clean and sometimes makes life a little awkward for him. This is the sacrifice they make to ensure their food supply and survival, similar to the sacrifices we are making right now to ensure our survival as a species.
In Brazil, the ecosystem is so jam-packed, that it supports giants. There are Capybara (the world’s biggest rodents), otters the size of men as well as 10 foot long Caiman. Each section of the river/jungle edge is ruled by a different queen Jaguar, who have an abundant supply of Capybara to prey on. No other ecosystem in the world supports this many big cats. The male Jaguar is much heavier and does not bother with the Capybara, they are too wary and there is too much competition from females. He leaps into the water and preys on Cayman. This is an ecosystem where due to extreme competition, giants must eat giants. This is reflective of the competition we are currently facing as a species. We must think outside the box like the male Jaguar to avoid overcrowding and make sure there are enough resources for everyone.
In Costa Rica, The glass frog is adapted to his jungle environment by being almost completely transparent, so that predators cannot see him. He guards several clusters of eggs. Wasps approach, they specialise in hunting frog’s eggs so he must be on high alert. He defends the youngest clusters of eggs. His back is very similarly patterned to an egg cluster, so this acts as a decoy and confuses the wasps and they try to prey on him. He uses his strong hind legs to kick them off. This is a huge risk the little frog takes to protect his young, as a single one of the wasp’s stings could kill him. Fortunately he is successful in fending off the wasps and protecting the majority of his young. This is not dissimilar to the huge risk front line workers are taking to protect their children, by moving out of their homes or staying away from their children as much as possible. As hard as this can be, it will ensure that more children and families survive to see the end of this pandemic.
The episode finishes off with a family of Indri in Madagascar. These are the largest lemur species, and like us, primates. They are so closely adapted to the jungle that they cannot survive anywhere else and the jungle is their sanctuary. In the past 10 years in Madagascar alone, 10000 square kilometres of jungle have disappeared and along with it, half of all Indri families. Each jungle animal must find its own way of surviving the jungle competition, almost all plant and animals have their origins there, and we must remember that we too once depended on the jungle. Just like the COVID 19 pandemic is separating families, we have been doing the same thing to our jungle cousins for many years.