Life In The Undergrowth, BBC1

by | Nov 23, 2005 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

Of course we did, it was mostly fantastic. It’s the latest chapter in David Attenborough’s admirable quest to compile the definitive TV natural history encyclopaedia. In this series, he embraces the world of the invertebrates.

What was good about it?

• The opening shot in which a snails eye unfurled in slow motion towards the camera like a punching fist.

• The horseshoe crabs waddling on to the beaches to lay their eggs. When stationary they resembled soldiers’ discarded helmets littering the sands.

• The way in which the pin’s head-sized springtails give themselves a good scrub to keep moist.

• The snail feeding on algae by scraping its tongue, located on its underside, along rocks.

• The ancient velvet worm snaring a hapless cricket in its entangling glue which immobilises the prey so it can’t escape.

• The rabid enthusiasm of David Attenborough so utterly immerses you in this microscopic world. When he announces with awe that a 13-inch centipede is a “giant” or an earthworm’s egg cocoon is “enormous”, as he twiddles it between his thumb and forefinger, you appreciate just how gargantuan they are in relation to other invertebrates rather than from a human’s perspective.

• How a Venezuelan centipede scales the walls of a cave before hanging half its body from the ceiling and snatching a passing bat as a meal.

• The tortuous mating of a slug in which the unified sperm of the hermaphrodite creatures seems to resemble a cyan mushroom cloud as both are fertilised.

• The lengths to which males must sometimes go to impress a mate. Forest millipedes must uncoil females as a show of masculine virility; female springtails are impressed by the ability of males to headbutt her; while harvestmen take part in an insectoid version of Masterchef in which the female inspects their nests, and only the most well made get the prize of a quick shag.

What was bad about it?

• David’s rather exclamatory: “If we, and the rest of the vertebrates, were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if they (the invertebrates) were to disappear the world’s ecosystems would collapse.” This was a fairly axiomatic statement that anyone with an even rudimentary knowledge of ecology would already be aware of as the ecosystem is set up like a house of cards – you can remove upper parts of the construction with little effect, but meddle with the foundations it will collapse.

• During the whip spider duel, sampled sword clashes from a fencing match seem to have been unnecessarily added.

• One problem which has grown for David, and which he is partially responsible for through the consummate excellence of his previous series, is that not everything filmed is as entirely novel and wondrous as it may have been during the era of Life On Earth. Then there were only three channels, and a fraction of broadcast time was allocated to wildlife; now entire channels are dedicated to the subject. The section in the show about scorpions dancing to impress a mate has been well documented on other programmes, and thus much of its impact, in comparison with the slugs and millipedes, was blunted.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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