Meet the star species of David Attenborough’s A Perfect Planet

Stage-grabbing cuttlefish and heart-stealing crabs are some of the BBC show’s unlikely A-listers. Here’s how to meet them.

From volcanic eruptions responsible for crafting much of the earth’s surface, to weather patterns increasingly dictating our modern way of life, forces of nature are responsible for constantly reshaping the planet we call home.

In a pioneering break from traditional natural history documentary-making, new five-part BBC series A Perfect Planet studies these powerhouses and looks at how different species have adapted to their demands.

Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, programmes cover the ocean, the sun, weather, volcanoes and perhaps the most powerful force of nature in recent times: humans.

Stark warnings about climate change are woven into each episode, but there are also plenty of high-spirited wildlife sequences, featuring characters so weird and wonderful, they promise to steal our hearts.

Discover some of our favourites and find out how to see them in real life.

Flamboyant cuttlefish

A flamboyant cuttlefish (iStock/PA)

Although measuring less than 5cm long, this tiny muck dweller is big in stature, and rightly earns its reputation for being one of the ocean’s most colourful characters. Choosing to walk across the seabed rather than swim, it can easily camouflage both the texture and colour of its skin to match surroundings. But when a female comes into view, the super-charged suitor gives an electrifying display, dazzling his larger lady (she’s four times the size) with a jukebox of flashing lights.

“When a male met a female, he went into overdrive!” recalls Ed Charles, producer of the Oceans episode, who witnessed several displays. “More often than not, she would reject his advance by squirting water in his face and darting away. But we were incredibly lucky to witness a female laying eggs.”

Where to see them: The BBC crew filmed in Lembeh Strait, Indonesia.

Arctic wolves

Arctic wolves

Stealthy predators adept at living in the harshest conditions, these regal animals reign supreme in Arctic kingdoms. Some populations can survive months without sunlight in icy lunar landscapes where temperatures plummet below -50C, but even during dark nights, their white coats radiate light and beauty. Watching them hunt prehistoric muskoxen in the Weather episode is a brutal, nail-biting experience, while an encounter with hundreds of Arctic hares is like a scene from a Philip Pullman fantasy.

“We captured some of the most beguiling aerial images of the polar landscape I have ever seen,” boasts episode producer Nick Shoolingin-Jordan, describing scenes captured on Canada’s Ellesmere Island, 500 miles from the North Pole.

Where to see them: Still remote, but accessible to tourists, Ennadai Lake in Nunavut, Canada, is used as a denning site by several wolf packs.

Carmine bee-eaters

Carmine Bee Eaters in flight

Fluttering like petals of sunset-red confetti, these elegantly attired birds decorate Zambia’s dry, barren riverbanks when they migrate there to nest. Out of reach from predators, their waterside apartments were once a safe place to rear chicks, but droughts and changes in weather patterns are increasingly rendering them unstable.

“This is not just a little fantasy; we are facing a real crisis,” says Sir David Attenborough, referring to our rapidly changing climate. And it’s not just bee-eaters who are at risk. If we warm the earth to such a degree that the Arctic melts, every big city in the world will be underwater, warns the sage conservationist.

Where to see them: Travel from September to October for the best chance to see bee-eaters nesting in Zambia’s South Luangwa and Lower Zambezi.

Lesser flamingos

Flamingoes above Lake Natron

Described by Sir David Attenborough as one of the most extraordinary sequences filmed for television, scenes of flamingo chicks racing across the caustic soda flats of Tanzania’s Lake Natron will stay with audiences forever. Sitting in the shadow of Ol Doinyo Lengai, Tanzania’s most active volcano, the lake has almost the same PH value as household bleach, keeping most predators at bay. But adults will only nest when water levels are low enough for the centre of the lake to dry out, which could happen just once every five years, making it one of the natural world’s rarest spectacles.

“Up until relatively recently, more people had landed on the surface of the moon than had stood amongst the flamingos in the middle of the Rift Valley,” says cameraman Matt Aeberhard.

Where to see them: Even if they don’t nest, millions of flamingos visit Lake Natron every year. Various bacteria synthesise to create a swirling kaleidoscope of patterns, best viewed from above. Helicopter rides take off across the border in Kenya.

Red crabs

Imagine a crab who’s afraid of water? It’s hardly a recipe for survival, but somehow crustaceans on remote Christmas Island have managed to find a way to procreate without getting their claws too wet. Every November, during the rainy season, millions make their way from forests in the highlands to the coast, to spawn in the warm Indian Ocean surf. Picking the right night – or even beach – is tricky, but the display is like nothing else.

“We’d try to grab a few hours’ sleep before the main event in an SUV near to the spawning ground,” recalls camera woman Sophie Darlington. “But it often descended into hysteria as the odd 4kg robber crab attempted to join us in the sweltering heat.”

Where to see them:  Although an Australian territory, Christmas Island is closer to Indonesia. Travel between October and November for the best chance to witness the migration.

A Perfect Planet is currently screening on BBC One on Sundays and is also available on iPlayer.

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