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Science, Maths & Technology

The Hunt: Meet the cast

Updated Monday 26th October 2015

The Hunt features a cast of incredible characters, each and every one of them adapted to survive in their unique environment. Here are some of the best facts about the animals and insects that star in the series.

Darwin’s Bark Spider

Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Huw Cordey / Silverback Films Darwin's Bark Spider • A 3 cm long Darwin bark spider can spray a line of silk a distance of 25 metres.
• Its silk is the toughest natural fibre on the planet.

Leopard

• As ambush hunters, leopards attack by getting close then pouncing on their prey. A Leopard must get to within 4 metres of its prey to have any chance of success.
• Specially adapted shoulder muscles enable leopards to climb with ease. To avoid scavengers and other predators leopards frequently cache their prey in trees.
• A leopard can reach speeds of 60kmph in shor t bursts – and can jump several metres horizontally or vertically.

Wild Dogs

• Wild dogs are small slight canids, weighing up to 30kg, by working as a pack they can take down prey more than 10 x their size.
• Stamina is one of their key strengths, wild dogs can run at speeds of up to 60km per hour for up to 5 km.

Amur Falcons

• Make the longest oceanic migration of any bird of prey – they fly non-stop for 3 days across the Indian ocean.

Humpback Whales and Orca

• Every year, nearly thirty thousand humpback whales migrate up the west coast of Australia. Most are females on their way to give birth. It is one of the largest migrations of humpbacks on the planet.
• Killer whales intercept the migration and target the calves – but they must get past the mother first, who is well armed with long barnacle covered flippers and 5 metre wide tail. Some females are also assisted by male escorts who help defend mother and calf from the orca. Scientists don’t yet know why males try and protect the females and calves – particularly as the calves are unlikely to be related to the males. It might simply be an inherent dislike of the orca.
• Nearly 50% of recorded attacks on humpback whale females and calves by orca are successful. The success rate goes down when the female is protected by male escorts.

Polar bears

Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Silverback Films Polar bear hunting a baby seal • In the spring, on the sea ice, it takes a polar bear 3 days of hunting to catch one seal; in the summer, when the ice is broken up, and the bears must hunt in the water, it takes 5.
• A polar bear can smell the breathing hole of a seal from 1km away.

Arctic Wolves

• Arctic wolves can take down 400kg musk oxen, 8 times their weight.
• Arctic hares and arctic wolves never lose their white fur even when the snow melts – the summer is too short to invest energy making a new brown coat.
• Arctic wolf and arctic hare hunts take place at 40mph. The only advantage the wolf has over the hare is its immense stamina.

Arctic foxes

• While the summer is a time of plenty for arctic foxes, the winter is desperate. They must survive on scraps left by polar bears. They are known to eat even polar bear faeces to survive. Even so, three quarters of arctic fox pups will die in their first winter. 
•To mitigate that, arctic foxes can have more young than any other carnivore – the record is 25!
• To house such families, arctic fox dens can be up to 1000m2 in area, and be handed down the generations over decades.

Abdopus Octopus

• This is the only octopus known to regularly leave the water – at low tide it leaves its rock pool and ‘walks’ along the exposed reef hunting crabs and fish in the isolated rock pools.

Macaques

• These coastal monkeys use a variety of tools to hunt at the coast, from large rocks to crack hard conch shells to smaller axe shaped ones to get into rock oysters.
• Long-tailed macaques are the only primates that are known to use stone tools to ‘hunt’ animals.
• Stone tool use by long-tailed macaques was first reported in Myanmar (Burma) over 120 years ago, making it the first ever scientific record of tool use by non-human primates. However no one believed these reports until tool use was discovered in chimpanzees much later.

Marine otters

The South American marine otter Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Marcelo Flores/ Silverback Films A marine otter • This is the smallest marine mammal in the world, weighing 3.2-5.8kg and measuring 87-110cm total length (the size of a domestic cat).
• They need to eat at lest 25% of their body weight a day to survive.
• Because they’re small they’re limited by how long they can remain in cold water of the South American coast – they can only spend around 20% of their day in the water so they have to hunt rapidly.

Bottle Nose Dolphins strand feeding in South Carolina

• Of the 100 bottle nose dolphins that live in this area only about a third can hunt in this way.
• The dolphins always strand on one side – always their right – to prevent their prey escaping between the hunters. But this has devastating long-term consequences. Each time a dolphin grabs a fish it also takes in a mouthful of fine grit, so over the years they wear down their teeth on their right side to such an extent that they eventually have to ‘retire’ from this method of hunting.

Army ants

• Army ants (Eciton burchellii) can live in colonies of up to half a million adult individuals.
• A large colony is capable of taking an estimated 30,000 prey items in a single day.
• The swarm raids of Eciton burchellii can contain 200,000 individual ants.
• Over 300 species from mites to monkeys depend on Eciton burchellii for their survival, some stealing food from the raids & others scraping a living from the colony’s dung heap.

Harpy eagle

• The harpy eagle has the largest talons of any living eagle – its killing claw is the same size of an adult male grizzly bear.

Blue whale

Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Hugh Pearson/ Silverback Films A Blue Whale • The blue whale is the largest predator (and animal) ever to have lived on planet earth
• Its tongue alone can weigh as much as an elephant.
• A single mouthful during lunge feeding can hold up to 100 tonnes of plankton and water.
• Blue whales feed exclusively on krill and can consume 3600kg of krill in a single day.
• It’s thought that they don’t actually like fish as they seem to actively avoid eating krill that has fish around it.

Lionfish

• Lionfish can expand their stomachs 30-fold after a large meal and some repor ts suggest they can survive without food for up to 12 weeks.

Tigers

• Tiger cubs begin to learn to hunt from around 6 months but don’t become proficient hunters until they are at least 18 months old, and in some cases are dependent on their mothers for up to three years.
• A mother must increase her killing rate by about 50% when she is caring for cubs. A mother with two 8-month old cubs must make roughly one large kill every 5-6 days.
• Bengal tigers have the longest canine teeth of any living large cat (up to 10cm in length).
• Tigers are able to leap 8-10m.
• Roughly only 1 in 10, to 1 in 20 hunts end with a successful kill.

Frigatebirds

• Frigatebirds are the only marine predator that never actually touches the ocean’s surface – they cannot take off from water and will drown if they get wet.

 

Caracal

Caracal leaping vertically into the air to catch birds - BBC programme use only Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Silverback Films Caracal leaping vertically in to the air to catch birds • Caracals ears are each controlled by about 20 muscles to help these hunters better determine where prey is hiding.
• The caracal is capable of leaping into the air and knocking down 10-12 birds at one time.

Cheetah

• The cheetah is the fastest land animal on the planet - during a hunt it can reach speeds of up to 58mph/93km/h. 
• But the success of a hunt depends more on their ability to decelerate rapidly to match the twists and turns of their prey, so that they can get close enough to trip it.
• Cheetahs have the longest and most flexible spines of all the big cats – they are able to cover 7m in a single stride.
• They lose more than one in ten of every kill.
• Because they lose so many of their kills to other predators, they eat fast – polishing a carcass off in 1-2 hours.
 

 

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