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How Nature Works Facts

An agouti in the Tambopata Research Centre, Amazonian, Peru.  The agouti eats tough seeds and nuts.  Layers of twisted enamel coat her teeth to make them stronger, and her sharp front teeth act like chisels.  As virtually the only animal with teeth strong enough to open the thick husk, her actions ensure the survival of the Brazil nut tree.  The angouti will store and transport nuts through the forest floor.

An agouti in the Tambopata Research Centre, Amazonian, Peru.  The agouti eats tough seeds and nuts.  Layers of twisted enamel coat her teeth to make them stronger, and her sharp front teeth act like chisels.  As virtually the only animal with teeth strong enough to open the thick husk, her actions ensure the survival of the Brazil nut tree.  The angouti will store and transport nuts through the forest floor. (View larger version)

Photograph by Mark MacEwen



  • The famous wildebeest migration involves over a million wildebeest travelling 1,000 miles across east Africa, in search of the best grass.

  • Cheetahs wait for their prey to run before charging, because the momentum of moving prey makes them easier to knock over.

  • A mother cheetah will have to hunt for her cubs until they're at least a year old.

  • Only 5% of cheetah cubs avoid starvation and predation to make it to adulthood.

  • White rhinos measure about 15 feet from head to rump and weigh the same as a truck.

  • A white rhino spends 12 hours a day, solidly eating.

  • Maned wolves have long legs to help them see over tall grass, and large ears help it find its prey.

  • A maned wolf can walk 20 miles a day to find enough food.

  • Maned wolves effectively farm their own fruit. The wolves disperse seeds, fertilise the area where the seedling end up growing, and the seedling germinate better having passed through the wolf’s gut.

  • A baby eastern grey kangaroo weighs less than a nickel when it’s born.

  • There are 2500 different termite species.

  • A giant anteater will eat 35,000 insects a day.

  • The giant anteater’s tongue is over 50 cm (20 inches) long and covered in sticky saliva.

  • The giant anteater flicks it in and out at around 150 times a minute to collect insects.

  • Acacia trees near a termite mound grow 60% more new shoots and are twice as likely to bear fruit than those that are farther away.

  • The whistling acacia tree uses an army of ants to defend itself from grazing animals.

  • When herbivores try to feed on a tree, the ants attack – biting and then wiping their sting in the wound.

  • Patas monkeys can reach up to 55km/hour (34mph), making them the fastest primate.

  • Jungles

  • Panama is home to 59 different species of hummingbird.

  • Hummingbirds are one of the only types of birds that can fly backwards.

  • Hummingbirds need such good flying skills because their legs are so small and weak, they can't walk.

  • Rainforests receive 8 feet of rain every year, and humidity hovers at 80%.

  • Being on the equator means that rainforests receive more intense sunshine than anywhere else – a steady 12 hours of daylight every day.

  • A leafcutter ant nest contains as many as 7 million individuals.

  • Leafcutter ants have sharp jaws that vibrate at over a thousand times a second to slice off pieces of leaf.

  • The leafcutter queen lays up to 30,000 eggs a day.

  • Leafcutter ants alone destroy 20% of the leaves in the area where they forage.

  • Sloths have ligaments that bind their toes together, turning their claws into large hooks, so they can hang from a branch without spending much energy.

  • A sloth can take weeks to digest its food.

  • Borneo pygmy elephants will reach almost 7 feet in height.

  • An adult Borneo pygmy elephants will eat up to 330lbs a day.

  • Jackfruit are the largest tree-born fruit in the world and can grow to almost a meter long.

  • The male orchid bee collects fragrant oils from orchid flowers. It uses these scents to attract a female bee.

  • Virtually all Brazil nuts come from wild rainforests.

  • Seasonal Forests

  • Seasonal Forests release 9% of all the oxygen that we breathe.

  • Seasonal Forests cover a quarter of all land on the planet.

  • The southern flying squirrel can glide for up to 295 ft.

  • The largest organism on the planet is a giant fungus. The largest of which was A. solidipes, a species of honey mushroom in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon, which was 2,400 acres.

  • The relationship between fungus and plants is over half a billion years old - this symbiosis is what enabled plants to colonise the land.

  • Wood frogs can survive being frozen.

  • Painted turtles can freeze in their nests, allowing them to survive further north than any other North American turtle.

  • Millions of monarch butterflies travel 3,000 miles on a southward migration from the U.S. and southern Canada to Mexico and coastal California. The round trip spans the life of three to four generations of the butterfly.

  • The Great Bear Rainforest is the biggest temperate rainforest on earth, extending over 70,000 square kilometers.

  • The great bear rainforest is drenched by up to 6 meters of rain every year.

  • Tens of million salmon migrate annually into the rivers of British Columbia, to spawn in the rivers where they were born.

  • Salmon swim up to 16,000 kms to reach their spawning rivers, which might be as far as 1,500 kms inland.

  • Bears feeding on salmon leave partially-eaten carcasses on the forest floor. When these rot, they transfer nutrients from the sea to the land, enriching the ecosystem.

  • When feeding on salmon, bears prefer the high fat, high energy parts of the fish like the brain and the ovaries.

  • Grizzly bears with a plentiful supply of salmon can be up to 80 percent bigger than bears that mostly feed on berries and vegetation.

  • When fattening up for winter a bear needs to eat up to 60,000 calories per day – the equivalent of 300 candy bars.

  • During hibernation, a grizzly bear can lose up to 30% of its body weight.

  • So many bears hunt salmon in the Great Bear Rainforest that along the side of some streams, up to 3 tons of salmon can litter an area the size of a football field.

  • Trees along Alaskan streams with healthy salmon runs owe about 80% of their nitrogen to salmon digested by bears.

  • When salmon runs are bigger, trees in the Great Bear Rainforest grow faster and produce thicker growth rings.

  • The Banana slug looks like a banana and is one of the largest slugs in the world - growing up to 25 cms long, as long as a banana.

  • Thriving in damp conditions, banana slugs are crucial decomposers in the Great Bear Rainforest with as many as five slugs per square meter.

  • Moose can weigh half a ton and stand 7.5 feet tall – the largest land mammal in North America.

  • For extra insulation, a moose’s thick fur is made of hollow hairs.

  • In the Native Ojibwe language, moose means ‘twig eater’. The moose can survive by browsing on twigs and bark.

  • The moose’s long legs are perfectly adapted to walk through deep snow up to 39 inches deep.

  • The fur of the Wolverine is oily and resistant to frost.

  • During the winter a wolverine may need to travel up to 30 kilometers a day to find food.

  • The wolverine’s big capacity to feast earns it its scientific name: Gulo, meaning glutton. This is an adaptation allowing it to go long periods without feeding.

  • Up to a thousand Canada lynx live in Maine.

  • The size of a lynx’s home range can range from 4 mi2 to 116 mi2, and is closely related to the density of their main prey - snowshoe hares.

  • Hares can breed so rapidly that in just a few years, their population can rocket from about 23 per square km to up to about 1 in every 2 acres to 42 per acre.

  • The spruce budworm is one of North America’s most damaging forest pests.

  • An outbreak of budworm in the 1970s and 1980s caused serious defoliation of 55 million hectares of forest - an area the size of France.

  • Feeding on fir and spruce needles, a budworm is able to increase in weight by two and a half thousand percent.

  • During spruce budworm outbreaks, birds like the Cape May warbler, Tennessee warbler and Bay-breasted warblers lay more eggs and their population increases.

  • Budworms open the forest canopy, allowing new growth on the forest floor. This growth provides new food and cover for snowshoe hares, resulting in a population increase. As snowshoe hares become more abundant, so too do their main predator, the lynx.

  • Waterworlds

  • The Pantanal Jaguar is the largest cat in the Americas.

  • The Jaguar weighs up to 330lbs – similar in weight to a large defensive tackle in the NFL.

  • The green anaconda is, pound for pound, the heaviest snake in the world.

  • A Capybara is 75 times heavier than a guinea pig.

  • The Pantanal is the world’s largest natural wetland, up to 200,000 square kms.

  • 80% of the Pantanal is flooded during the rainy season, and is transformed into a vast grassland during the dry period.

  • The giant water lily is the world’s biggest aquatic plant.

  • The giant water lily has up to 50 leaves, some measuring 10 feet across, with each one acting like a giant solar panel.

  • The water lily radiates its scent to attract Scarab beetles. Inside they warm up and feed on the sugars, and in return they pollinate the flower.

  • There are some 10 million caimans in the Pantanal – possibly the highest concentration of crocodiles anywhere on earth.

  • Caimans eat apple snails, and use the calcium in the snail’s shell to help thicken their skin.

  • Apple snails possess a specially adapted, telescopic appendage which can extend up to 3 inches - a snorkel.

  • The Giant Otter is up to 6 feet long and has been known to attack humans.

  • A giant otter typically eats a tenth of its bodyweight every day.

  • The giant otter is the noisiest otter species, and has a range of distinct vocalizations to communicate with other otters and to warm them of danger.

  • Giant otters can hunt cooperatively and are capable of killing caimans and anacondas.

  • About one-tenth of the world’s tiger population live in the Sundarbans of Bangladesh and India.

  • Mangrove trees have aerial roots that poke up through the thick mud and act as snorkels, allowing oxygen to reach the roots deep in thick mud.

  • The fiddler crab gets its name from an enlarged front claw, which when feeding gives the impression that they’re playing the fiddle.

  • Fiddler crabs communicate by waves and gesturing with their enlarged claw.

  • The fiddler crab’s claw is used in ritualised combat and courtship.

  • Up to 80% of the leaves that fall in a mangrove forest are collected and eaten by crabs, helping to recycle vital nutrients.

  • Crabs are so important to a mangrove forest that when scientists removed them in an experiment, 7 out of 8 trees died.

  • Coral reefs occupy less than 0.1% of the world's ocean surface, yet they provide a home for up to a quarter of all marine species.

  • Sponges are animals but they don’t have a heart, a nervous or digestive system.

  • Hawksbill turtles are spongivores, and up to 95% of their diet is sponges.

  • Coral is composed mainly of two separate organisms: an animal known as a polyp, and algae.

  • The reef grows as polyps and other organisms deposit calcium carbonate.

  • Sponges are so important to a reef that when researchers removed them from a reef in an experiment, within 6 months 40 percent of the corals had died.

  • Sponges pump water through their bodies to extract nutrients. A sponge just 2 feet in length can pump an Olympic sized swimming pool full of water in less than two days!

  • 97% of all the water on earth is found in the ocean.

  • Manta Rays have a wingspan of up to 22 feet and weigh more than 2500 lbs.

  • Manta rays fly through the water, filtering plankton with their large mouths.

  • Up to 6,000 Manta Rays live in the rich waters around the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.

  • The whale shark is the largest fish in the world.

  • The whale shark has a mouth up to five feet wide, with 300 to 350 rows of tiny teeth - perfect for sucking up plankton.

  • Plankton can make rain. When blooms reach their peak, they raise the temperature of the ocean’s surface and can power storms and hurricanes.

  • Plankton release a chemical compound called DMS. When this evaporates into the air, it can act as a nucleus for the formation of rain and clouds.

Michael Ames
Michael Ames

I'm interested to know who did the music for the Orchid Bee/Orchid part and the connected Orchid Bee/Brazillian Nut Tree part, as well as the Mushroom sequence, too. I realize all parts are probably by different composers but really thought the soundtrack was great.

Nancy Smith
Nancy Smith

Who narrated this episode? it sounded like the psychiatrist on Law & Order -- blind grandad on Grwing Up Fisher -- the "host" on the Farmers Insurance commercials -- Kyra Sedgewick's boss on The Closer -- I could go on, but it's a busy day --  J.K. Simmons.  Am I right?