Nature red in tooth, claw, and mandible: amazing behavior of predatory wasps, monkeys, lobsters, fish, and orcas

Here’s an 18-minute video from an old (1990) BBC “Trials of Life” series, featuring of course the inimitable Attenborough. I recommend viewing, as the behaviors on display are simply amazing. Granted, parts of this are more than a little bit grim for its theme is predation and parasitism.

I had of course heard of potter wasps, but had no idea about what they did. The behavior of this wasp is stunning, with everything, from the construction of the clay pots to the procurement of a living caterpillar as food for its single larva, is coded for in a brain about the size of the period you make with a pencil.

Likewise with the bodysnatcher wasp, which digs hole, uses tools, and have an amazing sense of place.

And so with the other predatory and parasitic wasps. Then onto colubus monkey-hunting chimps, which you might want to skip if you don’t want to see primate carnage.

Don’t miss The March of the Lobsters at about 11 minutes in, though.

The carnage continues with killer whales vs. sea lions, and that, I admit, I found that a bit hard to take, especially when the orca plays with live prey.

But who ever said that life was easy for wild animals, or natural selection kind? It is, in fact, the gruesomeness of these behaviors that helped dispel Darwin’s belief in a benevolent deity. This is from a letter sent by Darwin to Asa Gray in 1860:

With respect to the theological view of the question; this is always painful to me.— I am bewildered.— I had no intention to write atheistically. But I own that I cannot see, as plainly as others do, & as I shd wish to do, evidence of design & beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent & omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. . .

Or that an orca should play with a sea lion. . .

11 Comments

  1. Keith
    Posted February 18, 2020 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    This David Attenborough production is stunning. The colobus monkey and sea lion hunts are rather difficult to watch.

  2. sted24
    Posted February 18, 2020 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    That quote got me thinking, which isn’t always a good idea. Anyway, in short order it led me to Bullzig who, according to the search function, has never appeared here.

    It is about as heretical as it’s possible to be! Rather than risk banishment, I seek the wisdom of crowds. Anyone else know anything about it?

  3. eric
    Posted February 18, 2020 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Those are at least all forms of predation (I’m guessing the killer whale play is an offshoot of the instinct to like hunting…like most mammals, instincts to play and practice hone important survival skills).

    The ones that really get me are the waterfowl that are adapted to lay more eggs than they can support. If the chick from the first egg turns out (weeks or months later) weak or defective, the mother kills it and raises the “backup.” OTOH if it’s fine, the mother kills the backup. I.e., her own infant chick that she’s been raising for the past several weeks.

    • eric
      Posted February 18, 2020 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

      I should amend, given our hosts’ love of ducks. I think this most often happens with birds in the same general family as storks. I did not mean to spread a baseless canard about the wonderful canard. 🙂

  4. rickflick
    Posted February 18, 2020 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of the Hitch. He told the story of how god watched as humans (and, of course, other creatures) lived tooth and claw for 100 million years, with arms folded. Indifferent. People dying of disease and being hunted by lions, and living in abject misery for generation after generation, often dying of their teeth, until, just 3,000 years ago, He said, wait a minute. Let’s introduce a moral code and provide a root to salvation. Some God!

  5. Posted February 19, 2020 at 12:05 am | Permalink

    That’s great work.

  6. Rhonda
    Posted February 19, 2020 at 2:10 am | Permalink

    Well, that’s the stuff of nightmares. Definitely going to check out the rest of that documentary.

  7. Posted February 19, 2020 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    A whirlwind of beauty and terror. I’m glad I saw it just after I woke up and not right before I went to bed!

  8. Posted February 19, 2020 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I remember that documentary from when it was first broadcast. At the time, an Attenborough documentary was a major event and it seemed like everybody watched it. In particular, I remember a lot of people got very upset at the orca/seals footage.

    Bizarrely the only one I found difficult to watch was the fish dismantling the lobster for some reason.

  9. Posted February 19, 2020 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    What a harrowing world!

  10. Ben
    Posted February 20, 2020 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    When I was in grad school, my advisor used to play that orca-sea lion clip during his intro bio and animal behavior courses. Got lots of gasps!


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