Mammals have been around for 225 million years. On Sunday, March 28, they are the focus of Life: "Mammals" on Discovery Channel, which shows us a variety of mammals, most of which we already know. Familiarity with these animals, however, is no excuse to skip "Mammals," a beautifully rendered natural history documentary that takes us from Africa to Antarctica with stops in the Kalahari, the Congo, the Serengeti, Madagascar, and the Arctic tundra.
What separates mammals from the rest of the animal kingdom? Mammals are warm-blooded, have large brains and, as a class, exhibit "the most complex social behavior in the animal kingdom." "Mammals" concentrates on these relationships, particularly those of mother and child. There is a lot the casual viewer can learn from this episode of Life, it's both inspirational and affective.
Did you know that the first mammals only came out at night? They developed powerful smell and hearing to aid them in their nocturnal activities. They got smarter, then finally emerged into the light.
Mammals also produce milk to feed their young (seal milk is the most nutritious). They stay with their young a long time and teach them survival skills. In this hour-long episode elephants, polar bears, reindeer, and others are shown caring for their offspring, protecting, and providing for them. Some of these scenes are heartwarming; some are heart-rending. Either way, they give us a look at how much we have in common with our mammalian sisters and brothers.
Polar bears terrify me (most bears do; I don’t even like teddy bears), as well they should. Polar bears are the largest land predators and can pick up the scent of food from twenty miles away. Viewers will enjoy watching a mother bear searching for food for her cubs, and observing the choice she has to make between food and safety since the bears are in Antarctica and we…well, we’re not.
For those made nervous by huge carnivores, not to worry, the episode doesn't only focus on them. There is an introduction to the elephant shrew as well, it’s smaller than a field mouse yet eats ten times as much as a reptile its size because it is warm-blooded and extremely active. "Mammals" gives us a fascinating look at the workings of this little shrew’s fantastic memory.