Category Archives: BBC

The Kraken Cometh

Deep-sea giant squid (Architeuthis) remain one of the ocean’s most charismatic zoological mysteries. While there are plenty of specimens in museums around the world, little is known about their behaviour. Only recently have fleeting glimpses been captured of these creatures in their natural habitat; a 2005 paper ( in Proceedings of the Royal Society B described the first ever wild observations of a live giant squid. The author’s photographs showed a huge squid actively hunting at 900m below the surface and they even managed to recover a tentacle that snagged on the bait line (see panels ‘e’ and ‘f’ in the figure).


We also know about the predator-prey interaction between sperm whales and giant squid from the sharp-sucker scars often seen on whale skin and stomach contents (squid beaks are indigestible making them a useful clue to the diet of sperm whales).

whale skin

Earlier this year, footage taken by a manned submersible was broadcast showing a giant squid 1000m deep in the North Pacific. The footage was captured using near-infrared light (using invisible to humans and squid) since giant squid avoid the bright white light used in conventional filming- perhaps something to do with those enormous eyes? (have a look here:

See clips from the video at

giant squid NHK Disc Chan

(picture credit: NHK/NEP/Discovery Channel via Reuters)

As an aside, it’s worth taking a look at this report on the unusual mating behaviour of giant squid – it turns out that male squid giant inject spermatophores directly into wounds that they form on the tentacles of a female:


More recently a somewhat alarming article showed how male squid overcome the challenges of mating at great depths using a ‘super squid sex organ’ – see the long white tubular structure in the picture below.


super squid sex organ


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Filed under BBC, Behaviour, Cephalopods, Oceans, Sex


BBC Radio 4 has a series called “Great Lives”. The latest episode focused on the man who was probably the greatest evolutionary biologist in the second half of the 20th century, Bill Hamilton. His scientific papers are rather difficult to understand, being largely mathematical. But his ideas, in particular those leading to his theory of kin selection as an explanation of altruism, have been amazingly influential. Richard Dawkins, who popularised Hamilton’s ideas (without the maths) in The Selfish Gene, is on excellent form in this programme, together with Hamilton’s sister, Dr Mary Bliss. 30 minutes of excellent listening.

Click here to listen.

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Filed under BBC, Evolution


Red Knot are rather unprepossessing waders, but at certain times of the year they gather in enormous flocks. The BBC’s programme Autumnwatch recently had an item on this amazing spectacle. [Unfortunately, neither video will work outside the UK…] Here’s an extract for UK readers:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Autumnwatch presenter Chris Packham has written a blog in which he reckons that, in an average lifetime, you’d only get about 5 chances to see this amazing spectacle.

This video [UK readers only] shows how they managed to take the film:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Filed under BBC, Birds, Uncategorized, Videos


November 2007

Two items on this week’s excellent The Material World (Radio 4). Both items look at the past, present and future of their subjects. There’s also a brief reminder of last week’s discussion of bombardier beetles. Click on “listen again”.

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Filed under Audio files, BBC, Conservation


November 2007

Giant hyenas, giraffes and sabretooth cats roamed around Southern Spain 1.8 MY ago. A great collection of fossils have been unearthed at Fonelas in Granada.

BBC article. Scroll down the BBC page – what’s wrong with the picture of the sabretooth?

Highlight from here to the bottom of the post to read the answer: The upper canines were behind the lower canines – just like in a modern cat. This doesn’t look anywhere near as scary, so most modern pictures of sabretooths – and indeed, prehistoric images – have the big upper teeth at the front.

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Filed under BBC, Fossils, Mammals, Quiz


October 2007

This story appeared on the BBC website and the national press today. What’s wrong with it? My 9-year old daughter spotted it straight away (which is obviously more than the journalists did!). Clue: you’d only have to change one letter to get a more likely explanation.

“Visitors to a Somerset stately home have been warned to keep away from a peacock – after he seriously damaged a luxury car he mistook for a mate. The amorous bird caused £4,000 worth of damage to an employee’s Lexus in the grounds of Sir Benjamin Slade’s country manor, Maunsel House, near Bridgwater. “It started when he fell in love with a Lexus, which was in a very distinct peacock blue,” said Sir Benjamin.”

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Filed under BBC, Behaviour, Birds


September 2007

A lot of you would like to get a job working with the BBC Natural History Unit. Here is a link to a set of blogs their journalists are writing during some of their projects. And there’s a weekly BBC podcast of natural history programmes you can subscribe to.

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Filed under Audio files, BBC, Conservation