This section's name is a play on the title of the first part of
The Life of Mammals: "A Winning Design". As the title indicates, this
series sets out to show what winners mammals are, culminating, rather
transparently, in the triumph of the infamous hairless ape. For those
who enjoy reading other people's rants, I put up a
text acridly expressing what I think of this
Other than that, The Life of Mammals is the successor of series like
The Life of Birds and Andes to Amazon, grand projects that, unlike the
material of the previous two pages which was probably recycled from an
old British series and turned up in bits and pieces on Discovery, can
be ordered from the BBC shop. It is worth
seeing for its rather unique scenes of species that have rarely if ever
been filmed from such close quarters; many of which scenes rely heavily
on probes and infrared cameras.
Having so rarely been filmed from so close, some of these species may
come across as a bit... weird. What, in this case, does "weird" mean?
It does not refer to elephant trunks, kangaroo hindlegs, bat ears or
other examples of extreme, but by now familiar designs. It means things
that (as shown in the thumbnails below - click on the graphic to see
the pictures) may make a person briefly stop and stare.
The weirdness may not even be in the animal's appearance; it may be in
an untypical posture, like that of the gerenuks standing straight on
their hind legs (and not just rearing up, their hips swivel 90 degrees)
to get at the high branches.
Or, the location may be untypical: kangaroo on the rocks, possum in the
Things that hang upside-down always look weird. This sloth is a common
though unobtrusive example, but the honey possum and its relative the
striped possum seem to have no problem feeding with their heads hanging
Weird are also animals that, through adaptation to a habitat associated
with a whole different class of animals, seem to be stuck between two
species: the agouti, half deer, half rat; the mara, half hare, half
antelope; and the capibara, half beaver, half buffalo.
They may even appear to have switched families entirely: South African
bush dogs shaped like sturdy stoats, and brown hyenas (more closely
related to stoats than to dogs) looking deceptively canine; and it
doesn't help that the markings of African wild dogs makes them look
deceptively like hyenas.
Sometimes, an animal seems to have a small bit of another animal
transplanted onto it: the tapir, dikdik and sengi or elephant shrew all
seem to have grown a bit of rubbery trunk, the duck-billed platypus
(whose bill is nothing like a duck's) had biologists thinking it was a
fake, and the kangaroo rat shares features with kangaroos and hamsters.
Everyone knows that kangaroos have pouches, and that, in theory, being
marsupials, koalas and wombats have them too; but an actual glimpse of
these pouches may be a strange sight.
Ant-eaters, no matter to what animal family they belong, are always
good for some weird shapes. Numbats are the most "normal", their
termite diet only showing in the shape of their tongues; the
hedgehog-lookalike echidna and the giant anteater have typical snouts;
the armadillo looks like an armoured little pig; and the pangolin could
easily be mistaken for a descendant of the dinosaurs.
But the weirdest - because, to non-burrowers, the most unfamiliar -
sights from this series are the animals that are quite happy to spend
their whole lives underground; the tentacled star-nosed mole, the
eyeless golden mole and strangest of all: the naked mole rat, whose
front teeth grow outside its mouth.