Natural Born Hustlers

Episode 1 | Staying Alive

When it comes to the most important goals in the animal kingdom, learning how to survive and raising the next generation are right at the top of the list. This may seem clear cut, but the lengths to which some animals go to achieve these objectives can often be downright devious. To illustrate the point, we see a shady squirrel, double-crossing cuttlefish, a conniving orchid mantis and a deceitful bird called a drongo use mimicry, disguise, and trickery to get what they want. Throughout the episodes, scientists studying animal con artists pull back the curtain on their deceptions, using their latest research to demonstrate how each of them hustles their mark. This three-part series reveals the modus operandi of some of nature’s greatest animal con artists as they outwit predators, line up their next meal, and get the girl.

The first episode, Staying Alive, offers stories about unusual survival techniques. Cuttlefish, for example, elude their many predators with a kind of invisibility cloak. They completely transform themselves to match the colors and patterns of their surroundings. But what is truly remarkable is that they do this despite being color-blind. The secret to how they do it is hidden in their skin, which can sense and possibly even “see” color using a protein usually found only in eyes. And these great illusionists have another trick that no other animal can do. Their skin can also morph from a flat surface to a three dimensional one in order to complete the camouflage. Other ruses revealed include: why burrowing owls, who live underground, mimic the sounds of rattlesnakes; how imitation may not just be the sincerest form of flattery, it can also save your life; and what deception the regal horned lizard employs as a last resort to keep a menacing coachwhip snake at bay.