Thursday, May 1, 2014

Snow Day: Experiencing Nature

By Kyle Van Dyke

While it’s best to experience nature actually outside (in nature), sometimes it is beneficial to experience nature through other means.

The PBS television show Nature, which airs new episodes on Wednesdays at 8 pm ET, is a program that “brings the beauty and wonder of the natural world into your home.” Each episode focuses on a particular species, food web, ecosystem, or topic related to plant or animal life. They also explore how human traits and behaviors appear in other species, such as in the new episode "Love in the Animal Kingdom."

One episode of Nature was particularly fascinating, entitled "What Plants Talk About."

This episode is about “the social lives of plants,” and discusses many complexities and behaviors of plants. For example, the wild tobacco plant, Nicotiana attenuata, which can be found in Utah, has incredible self-defense abilities. When attacked by a herbivore, it senses the danger and increases its production of nicotine, which “will poison any organism that has a muscle,” and kills many of its insect-enemies this way.

However, the wild tobacco plant has many enemies, and not all of them are killed by this chemical. The hornworm caterpillar can “mow down” a wild tobacco plant “in a matter of days.” But despite this, the plant has a counter-measure: it releases chemical messages into the air, effectively a plant SOS, where it is picked up by the caterpillar’s enemies. The “big-eyed bug” appears to the plant’s rescue, which eats caterpillar eggs and larvae, and can attack adult-sized caterpillars as well.

It seems that plants are much more capable of interaction than previously thought.

Another episode I recommend is titled "Snow Monkeys." This episode follows a troop of snow monkeys that live in the forested Hell Valley of the Japanese Alps throughout the seasons, tracking their behaviors and complex social lives. For example, the leader of the macaque group, Kuro-san, develops a long-term relationship with the young Hiro, who gets to learn the perspective of the troop’s leader.

Most amazing, though, is the degree to which they reflect humans: juvenile macaques roughhousing in the snow, a mother adopting an abandoned baby macaque, and the youthful jumping into a cold pool in the summer heat.

Full episodes of Nature can be viewed at For more information, visit their website at

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