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Full EpisodeNatural Born Rebels | Episode 1| Hunger Wars

Meet the animals who will steal, cheat and fight to get food, including kleptomaniac crabs, thieving macaques, con artist spiders, tricky tigers and cannibalistic lizards.

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♪♪ NARRATOR: All animals face the same challenge.

They must find food... if they're to survive.

So to get what they want, some animals will break all the rules.

When food is hard to come by, being able to take what you need can be essential for survival.

Meet the planet's greatest rebels.

They'll steal... [ Cat yowling ] ...deceive... [ Growling ] ...and even resort to brute force.

[ Screeching ] But could behaving like this actually be the secret to their success?

♪♪ We'll reveal new discoveries and astonishing science... as our rebels strive to find their next meal... and get ahead in the Hunger Wars.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Every day, animals face the same problem.

Finding food.

And getting your share is never easy.

♪♪ Here on one of Australia's most remote outposts, one animal's search for sustenance is causing serious trouble for the locals.

ISLANDER #1: Well, when I first arrived to the island, in the middle of the night, you'd hear knocks and scratches.

And some people think the place is haunted.

ISLANDER #2: I just left my bag on the ground like you normally would anywhere else.

Go for a walk that way. You come back. Where's my bag?

He's gotten it open, there's a camera that's now over there, and he's got my drink bottle.

He's, like, clawing at the lid, just trying to get in.

NARRATOR: The creature behind this crime wave... is the coconut crab.

♪♪ Equipped with formidable armor... claws powerful enough to tear open a coconut... and weighing in at up to 9 pounds, they may be the world's largest land crab.

But they have a problem.

Here on Christmas Island, there are over a million of them.

That's 500 crabs for every person.

And they all need to eat.

So to keep themselves fed, these crabs have turned to a life of crime.

In fact, to the locals here, they're known as robber crabs.

MAN: We'd find the crabs were stealing our lunch every time we left it alone.

They can get into cool boxes, they can cut through plastic, they can cut through metal.

NARRATOR: But it's not just food they're making off with.

These daring thieves are taking everything that isn't tied down.

They pinch shoes off porches... shiny things like cutlery.

There's even a story of a coconut crab taking a gun off a military guard.

♪♪ But why would crabs steal things they can't eat?

Coconut-crab expert Max Orchard has been exploring this outlandish behavior.

By setting a trap with some everyday objects... and motion sensor cameras... he can document exactly what these crabs get up to... The next morning, he returns to assess the evidence.



Well they've been here... NARRATOR: And the footage reveals they've lived up to their criminal reputation.

In total, 10 different crabs came to check out the items.

♪♪ And under the cover of darkness, one even stole a camera.

But what is this all about?

Max thinks he knows the answer.

ORCHARD: Normally, when they do obtain food in the wild, they go off to an area where they're privately able to devour things rather than having to fight off other crabs that might like to take possession of the food that they've picked up.

NARRATOR: So the numbers of crabs on the island creates an intense competition... ...which means they'll check out anything new to see if they can eat it.

And when they take these items somewhere safe to investigate them, we see it as theft.

But there's one thing this doesn't explain.

Coconut crabs appear to show up as if from nowhere as soon as a new item appears.

Surely that's a pretty surprising skill for a crustacean.

So, how does a crab hone in so well on the items it's interested in?

Max has been helping scientists find the answer.

The key is one of their incredible senses.

He's positioned one of their favorite foods, a coconut, off the ground, alongside some empty control poles.

With the raised bait harder to see, do the crabs need to rely on something other than sight?

It's only a matter of minutes before they appear.

But how did they find it so quickly?

ORCHARD: The robber crabs have four antennas on the front of their head.

The ones on the outside they use to orientate themselves spatially.

The two in the middle are actually their equivalent of our nose.

They wave these around in the air, and that's their sense of smell.

NARRATOR: As they evolved to live on land, these crabs developed an incredibly effective way of detecting aromas in the air as opposed to underwater.

The tips of their inner antennae are covered with thin hairs which detect chemicals given off by any item with a scent.

ORCHARD: The fact that they've been able to pick up these items' aroma through the jungle just proves how strong a sense of smell that these animals do have.

NARRATOR: They can even detect residual scent left on items.

So anything that's previously come in contact with food, or even other smells like sweat, can catch their attention... which is why they seem to appear out of nowhere for any old object.

They're the crab equivalent of a bloodhound.

♪♪ ♪♪ So a highly developed sense of smell, combined with great strength and impressive dexterity, has led to their reputation as the island's resident kleptomaniacs.

♪♪ And it's not just these crabs who have turned to crime to find food.

Around the world, animal thieves are wreaking havoc... ...breaking and entering... [ Cat yowls ] ...shoplifting... and even mugging.

[ Screeching ] For some animals, stealing has become a way of life.

-Watch out. -Ooh!

NARRATOR: Frigate birds can get up to 40% of their food by carrying out midair shakedowns on their neighbors.

And in Zimbabwe, this gang of baboons thrives on the spoils from the steady stream of people at a border crossing.

In fact, when food is hard to come by, being able to take what you need can be essential for survival.

♪♪ The dizzying heights of the Rocky Mountains.

Home to this little guy.

The pika.

A relative of the rabbit.

♪♪ It's August, and summer is in full bloom.

♪♪ [ Pika squeaks ] But the days of plenty won't be here for long.

These slopes are only free from snow for 10 weeks a year.

When winter comes, this pika will be trapped in its burrow.

To survive, it needs to stock up the larder.

But while home is up here, the food is all the way down there.

Every summer, pikas must collect enough plants to see them through the tough times to come.

When planning ahead, it pays to be picky.

The freshest flowers... ...lush, new grasses... ...and a few toxic plants in the mix to act as a preservative.

Multiple trips are inevitable.

♪♪ And anyone living high up on the slopes, like this female, has their work cut out.

She may make over 10,000 trips in just one season.

And the grand result of this frenetic activity?

A haystack.

These stockpiles of food can weigh up to 60 pounds.

That's more than 180 times a pika's own bodyweight.

It's exhausting work.

Perhaps there's another way.

An easier way.

Just down the slope, another pika is getting started on his haystack.

But he's being watched.

♪♪ It's daylight robbery.

But it's not just wanton theft.

By taking food that's so much closer to home, our pika is saving precious time and energy.

♪♪ But... [ Pika squeaking ] ...she's caught red-handed.

♪♪ ♪♪ Every rebel needs a good getaway plan.

♪♪ But unfortunately, she's not the only thief on the mountain.

[ Pika squeaking ] For animals like the pika, having the skills to steal food can mean the difference between life and death.

[ Horns honking ] And one creature in particular has become renowned for its light-fingered ways -- the rhesus macaque.

After humans, these are the most widespread primates on our planet.

Across mainland Asia, they've had to adapt to life in urban environments... and get their hands on the mouthwatering food in the open-air market.

The macaques time their robberies perfectly... ...using the element of surprise... and making a swift exit.

But what's the secret to being such expert thieves?

New science is unraveling the answer, and it's happening in the most unlikely of places... ...the Caribbean.

♪♪ On an island just off the coast of Puerto Rico, Laurie Santos has been studying this troop of rhesus macaques for over a decade.

These are the descendants of a colony brought here from Calcutta in 1938.

And Laurie has had plenty of first-hand experience of these pilfering primates.

SANTOS: We ourselves on the island have been duped by the monkeys.

You know, many of our researchers have had this moment of you, know, placing their lunch down on the side and looking back.

You're like, 'Wait. Where'd it go?'

and realizing that a monkey has stolen something from you when you weren't paying attention.

They must be cuing in to what we can see and what we can't.

Otherwise, they wouldn't be such great thieves.

NARRATOR: To find out what makes these macaques so good at stealing, Laurie's devised a test.

SANTOS: What we do is basically give the monkeys a chance to rip us off.

I would go out with my research assistant, we'd show the monkeys a little grape and put it on a little foam platform and place it on the ground, and one of us is gonna turn around... so that the monkeys have a chance to steal it.

NARRATOR: The aim is to see if the monkey understands that the best person to take from is the one who can't see.

For the test to work, Laurie needs to get one macaque's undivided attention.

SANTOS: [ Whistles ] NARRATOR: The lure of the grape seems to work on this male.

SANTOS: Okay. Ready? Show.



NARRATOR: First, the macaque checks who else is around... ...then makes a beeline straight for the unguarded grape.

[ Tape rewinding ] It's the outcome Laurie anticipated.

And it's the same result time and time again.

What does this tell us?

SANTOS: What we saw out there is basically what we've seen about 9 out of 10 times.

The fact that monkeys steal the grape from the person who can't see them shows that the monkeys are taking another person's perspective.

They realize that that person who's turned around can't see the same thing as they do.

NARRATOR: The test shows that these rhesus macaques are clever enough to imagine what the person they're stealing from is thinking.

That's known as a 'theory of mind.'

When you live in a large group of intelligent animals, being able to watch and interpret another's behavior can be crucial.

And if you can learn how to target the right individual to steal from, it pays off.

SANTOS: Think about the monkey we just tested.

He's this low-ranking guy who doesn't have access to food.

But because he's good at analyzing when he has that one moment to take something he's not supposed to take, that gives him access to some critical food that might help him down the line.

♪♪ NARRATOR: Laurie believes the theory of mind in primates may have evolved in order for them to cheat, deceive, and steal from each other.

♪♪ And this ability can give them the upper hand with us, too.

♪♪ ♪♪ Animals across the world have discovered that stealing can be the easiest way to get a meal.

But others must catch their food.

And that's much harder.

♪♪ From evasive maneuvers... chemical weapons... ...and frightening facades... ...the hunted have come up with clever ways to avoid being eaten.

And that's driven predators to evolve some seriously underhanded tactics to make their task a little bit easier.

Even one of the world's most notorious hunters has to use every tool at its disposal to succeed.

The tiger.

And one of its main prey? A chital deer.

These deer have finely tuned hearing... an excellent sense of smell... and are incredibly fleet of foot.

The tiger needs to get close enough to launch a strike -- not easy for a 500-pound cat.

♪♪ Large paws allow the tiger to move almost silently.

Approaching downwind helps it evade detection.

And its unmistakable stripes hide its outline in the shadows of the forest.

But it turns out... tigers have another trick up their sleeve.

♪♪ ♪♪ Scientists John Fennell and László Tálas from Bristol University's Camouflage Lab are exploring how the tiger's orange coat could actually be giving it an unfair advantage.

To put it to the test, John needs to see the world through the eyes of a deer.

And this pair of glasses makes that possible.

Humans have trichromatic vision, meaning we have three different color receptors in our retina, enabling us to see the world in full color.

But deer, the main prey of the tiger, are dichromats.

Their color vision comes from just two color receptors, so they can only see greens and blues.

A filter in the glasses blocks any red light from reaching the eye, allowing John to see the world like a deer does.

FENNELL: Ready when you are, László. Tálas: Okay.

NARRATOR: Now all he needs to do is see how quickly he can pick out the tiger in a series of images.

The big screen fills John's field of vision.

What would take him less than a second to spot normally... FENNELL: Can't see that one at all.

NARRATOR: becomes significantly more difficult.

FENNELL: Looking right at me.

NARRATOR: Viewing the world like a deer means it takes John twice as long to pick out the tigers.

And that gives these predators the edge.

♪♪ It's an exciting new discovery.

FENNELL: In the context of our experiment, or the demonstration here, the reaction times to find the tiger would equate to an advantage to the tiger of around about 7 meters in an attack, which is quite a significant advantage.

NARRATOR: And as a tiger can leap nearly 20 feet from a standstill, getting that much closer could make all the difference.

FENNELL: The obvious question to ask is why are tigers bright-orange, 'cause that would seem to be not an intuitively good color to be to be camouflaged.

But once we take into consideration how a deer sees the tiger, it puts it more into perspective.

NARRATOR: So while through our eyes the tiger looks like this... through the eyes of a deer, it looks very different.

The tiger now blends into the background.

Its bright-orange color actually helps the tiger get close to the deer without being spotted.

♪♪ It's what their prey sees that's driven the evolution of a highly effective means of concealment.

[ Animals calling ] But, of course, tigers aren't the only predators that need to stay one step ahead of their prey.

Others have evolved an arsenal of sneaky adaptations to catch their food.

♪♪ The panther chameleon of Madagascar.

It harbors a concealed weapon... that packs one powerful punch.

Its tongue shoots out at up to 16 feet per second.

So fast, its prey rarely sees it coming.

In Australia's Great Barrier Reef, this cone snail is one Machiavellian mollusk.

The fish it hunts are fast... so it waits until they're asleep.

Sneaking up, it releases an invisible chemical weapon.

Once paralyzed, the fish are eaten alive.

♪♪ But perhaps one of the ocean's most unusual predators is the thresher shark.

Whipping its tail forward at speeds of up to 50 miles an hour, it strikes its fish before it eats them.

♪♪ Being armed and dangerous is a surefire way to catch prey.

[ Thunder rumbles, animals calling ] What do you do if your prey can kill ♪♪ The tropical rainforests of Queensland.

Home to a hunter who's small but deadly.

The jumping spider.

Rather than spinning a web, this predator uses stealth.

But the food it most desires seems out of reach... ant's nest, full of delicious larvae.

♪♪ The problem is, they're guarded by a vicious army of adults.

These green tree ants dominate the treetops.

Each colony can contain as many as half a million workers.

They use a chemical code to identify each other.

At the first sign of an intruder who smells strange, they're hardwired to retaliate with violence.

Armed with formidable jaws, the ants could kill the jumping spider with ease.

Getting ahold of the ant larvae might look like a mission impossible, but these spiders have evolved some remarkable tricks to get what they need.

In fact, it's thought that about 300 species of spider can cunningly mimic ants.

Predators all over the world disguise themselves as something else to dupe their dinner.

By pretending to be a harmless branch, this African vine snake tricks its prey into thinking they're safe... when they're about to be eaten.

In Hawaii, a fly out for a stroll is in for a shock... from a carnivorous caterpillar in a leafy costume.

And while it may look just like an alluring flower, this orchid mantis is actually a stealthy assassin.

Compared to these magnificent masquerades, the spider's disguise doesn't look that convincing.

Its color is a good match.

It has a decidedly un-spider-like waist, just like an ant.

But surely, no one would mistake one... for the other.

Nevertheless, it heads for the nest.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Mission impossible turns into mission accomplished... right under the ants' noses.

But was it the spider's appearance that did the trick?

It's actually mastered a far more complex impersonation.

The spider carries the ants' chemical code.

In fact, like all of its kind, it was born in a green ant nest.

Its mother laid her eggs there.

It's fed on the ant larvae from birth, and it smells just like them.

Now that it's hacked into their security, it can rob the nest whenever it likes... like a bank robber with a key to the vault.

It's an incredibly impressive con.

It can take creative thinking to get the food you need.

Some animals will even work with another species to do it.

These arrangements should be mutually beneficial.

One species gets the food... [ Insect buzzing ] ...and the other gets a service in return.

It works for the agama lizard and the lion.

But the hunger game can be ruthless.

And not every animal upholds its side of the bargain.

♪♪ This pygmy falcon is about to become a dad.

Like all parents, he and his mate need to provide for their new arrivals.

While he's just 8 inches tall, the size of a parakeet, this bird of prey is a skillful hunter.

What he's not good at... is art of building a nest.

Construction is not the falcon's forte.

Fortunately, here in the southern Kalahari, our pygmy falcons have some master builders on their doorstep.

A colony of insect-eating social weavers.

Welcome to Weaverville... a luxury condominium of a hundred individual apartments.

The biggest avian constructions in the world.

♪♪ It's the perfect pad... for the falcons.

And they've moved in... kicking out the current occupants in the process.

For the weavers, it's surely a disaster.

Not only have one pair lost their home, now they have a predator living on their doorstep.

But the falcons aren't just idle neighbors.

They make the weavers an offer they simply cannot refuse.

♪♪ Protection.

♪♪ The apartment complex is regularly plagued by unwelcome visitors... like mongoose... ...and cobras.

Cue security.

♪♪ ♪♪ The weavers' luxury residence now has its own live-in bouncer.

It seems like a good deal.

But don't forget, the pygmy falcon is a predator.

♪♪ ♪♪ It's not long before both the weavers and falcons have new mouths to feed.

♪♪ The new falcon chicks need to eat nearly half their bodyweight in food... daily.

And as the summer dry season reaches its peak, the adults have to work harder to find enough to feed them.

♪♪ What they need is something easy... ...something close to home.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ A weaver chick.

It appears to be a shocking betrayal.

For the weavers, the falcons have become... the neighbors from hell.

But the falcons must tread a fine line.

If they take too many chicks, the weavers might desert the colony, leaving behind a huge house... no caretakers... and an empty larder.

But this pair of falcons have played it just right.

♪♪ They have fledged two chicks.

♪♪ ♪♪ And despite their losses, the weavers are thriving, too.

♪♪ By developing a clever protection racket, these birds have found the perfect shortcut to feeding their family.

♪♪ At least the pygmy falcon gives something back in return.

On the opposite side of the world, another brazen bird has found a way to violate one of the most long-standing arrangements on the planet.

The cloud forests of Ecuador, home to over 130 different species of hummingbird... ...including the wedge-bill.

But behind those innocent looks lies one of the biggest crooks in the rainforest.

To get its food, this little bird does something truly outrageous.

What could drive it to such bad behavior?

Hummingbirds are capable of spectacular feats of aerobatics.

Their wings can beat at up to 80 times a second, allowing them to break, turn, and hover in mid-air.

But this impressive ability comes at a price.

The wedge-bill, and all other hummingbirds, have to eat more than twice their bodyweight in food each day.

They burn through calories so quickly that if they were the size of an average human, they'd need 3 cans of energy drink every minute to survive.

Through years of evolution, they've struck up a bargain with the surrounding plants to get what they need.

The plants produce flowers rich with nectar.

In exchange, the hummingbirds act as pollinators.

Moving pollen between flowers, they enable the plants to reproduce.

But each flower has only a limited supply of nectar a day, which means the hummingbirds must compete for it.

♪♪ Each species has a unique ploy to get their prize.

The green violetear is one pugnacious little bird.

Engaging in aerial combat, they prevent all others from getting close to their flowers.

The booted racket-tail uses agility and speed to outmaneuver the opposition.

♪♪ And the tiny purple-throated woodstar makes up for what it lacks in size with a clever trick.

Most hummingbirds are terrified of bees.

Just one sting could be fatal.

So the woodstar mimics the sound of a bee with its wings, scaring other hummingbirds off just long enough to get the goods.

While these birds are full of tricks, at least they hold up their end of the bargain with the plants.

The wedge-bill, however, has a far more rebellious plan.

While the other hummingbirds fight it out, it makes its move.

The wedge-bill doesn't reach inside the flower.

It goes straight to the base... ...and pierces a hole where the nectar is created, tapping into the very source.

It's gotten the food it needed, but it hasn't pollinated the plant.

This blatant shirking of the rules is what scientists call 'floral larceny.'

By reneging on its deal with the plants, the resourceful little wedge-bill has dodged the competition... and found an easy way to access any nectar it chooses.

[ Thunder rumbles ] And it's not the only nectar thief out there.

Here in Madagascar, baobab trees are plagued by another bandit.

The trees' magnificent blooms open only at night.

Just what this tiny mouse lemur has been waiting for.

It scampers out to steal the flowers' precious nectar.

♪♪ Then, the lemur catches and eats the tree's true pollinator, a giant hawk moth.

But now the tables are turned to the baobab's advantage.

The lemur becomes dusted in pollen and becomes a pollinator itself.

When it moves to take from yet another flower, this little rebel inadvertently ends up helping the plant.

We've seen how animals steal, trick, and cheat their way to a meal.

But sometimes, to get the food they need, brute force is the only answer.

With over 150 individuals, this is one of the largest communities of chimps ever recorded.

That's a lot of mouths to feed, so they must secure as many resources as possible if they're to survive.

♪♪ The target in this case is a fig tree full of fruit.

But there's another group in it.

A patrol sets out into the forest.

The chimps move with purpose... ...and in silence.

Signs of the rival group confirm they're nearby.

Now they're in dangerous territory.

[ Chimps screeching ] The patrol edges forward.

The way the chimps approach is so deliberate, so coordinated, that some scientists consider this to be an act of warfare.

[ Chimps screeching ] Loud calls announce the start of battle.

The aim is to terrorize, to intimidate.

This is a numbers game, and they need to show they're a formidable group.

[ Chimps screeching ] ♪♪ In such a frenzied situation, it's all too easy for the innocent to become the victims.

[ Chimps screeching ] ♪♪ One female is brutally attacked.

She escapes.

But chimps can easily be killed in fights like this.

[ Chimps screeching ] Resorting to violence has worked.

Now they can feast on the best fig tree in the area.

To get the resources they need for the group, chimps must expand their territory... by any means possible.

If it means all the family get to eat, it's a risk worth taking.

When it comes to fighting for food, these chimps show that being one of a group can have its advantages.

But if the group gets too big, it can collapse.

Then it's every animal for itself.

♪♪ The picture-perfect Greek island of Naxos.

♪♪ A popular destination for tourists... ...and for the Aegean wall lizard.

At just 3 inches long, these little reptiles have made the island's stone walls their playground.

Between basking in the sun... and plenty of insects to eat... life here is pretty sweet.

♪♪ But less than a mile off the coast of Naxos... lies a much smaller island, where things are very different.

This is Parthenos.

There are no people living here.

Just an ever-increasing population of wall lizards.

♪♪ No predators ever made it to the island.

And while you might think that would make it a lizard heaven, this is the place of nightmares.

The island is overrun by lizards.

Their numbers here are 5 times denser than on Naxos.

♪♪ In the parched summer months, food is increasingly hard to find.

So how can a hungry lizard beat its rivals and find itself a meal?

These islanders have had to adapt.

They've had to take any opportunity that's at hand.


♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Scientists studying these island lizards have made a grisly discovery.

BROCK: When we've flushed the stomachs of these lizards, we've actually found tail tissue... ...and bits of fingers from the same species of lizard, so we know they're eating each other.

NARRATOR: These lizards are cannibals.

Some even catch and swallow their victims whole.

BROCK: Well, we would expect cannibalism to evolve only in extreme ecological conditions.

This island is exactly that.

NARRATOR: But this scandalous hunting strategy isn't an easy option.

It's hard work to hold a struggling lizard nearly your own size.

And they're evolving in response to this somewhat gruesome lifestyle.

BROCK: Lizards from small islands have evolved larger body size, larger head size relative to their body size, and, really interestingly, they can bite much harder than lizards from the mainland, sometimes twice as hard.

On a tiny island where there aren't a lot of resources and lizards are eating each other, it'd be advantageous to evolve to be bigger, stronger so you can compete and survive.

♪♪ NARRATOR: These wall lizards have rewritten the rulebook when it comes to dining etiquette.

But in the dog-eat-dog world of Parthenos, cannibalism is a surefire way to get much-needed food... and eliminate your rivals at the same time.

All animals need food to survive.

So it's no wonder that need drives them to some seriously underhanded tactics... [ Pika squeaks ] ♪♪ ...from theft... predatory tricks... ...broken promises and even brute force.

[ Chimps screeching ] When you consider the immense challenges animals face, it's no wonder these rebels have evolved some extraordinary strategies to get themselves a meal.

♪♪ Next time, we meet nature's survivors.

The delinquents... [ Squawking ] ...the deceivers... and the downright thugs... doing whatever it takes to stay alive.

[ David Bowie's 'Rebel Rebel' plays ] BOWIE: ♪ Rebel, rebel, you've torn your dress ♪ ♪ Rebel, rebel, your face is a mess ♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪