CHRISTMAS LECTURES 1973: Sir David Attenborough - Beware!

7 footnotes:

Sir David Attenborough explains how animals that threaten in strength and numbers are more effective than those that turn to physical violence.

Animals must defend themselves not only against other creatures that want to eat them, but sometimes against creatures of their own kind.

The first line of defence that animals use is warning. To warn off danger, many creatures will adopt alarm signals to scare the other away.

Physical fighting with claws is dangerous and destructive, and it is far better for the animal to avoid bloodshed. So animals have developed other ways of threatening each other. Often, they will exaggerate their own strength or fierceness. Some animals will even pretend to be a different creature altogether.

In many cases, joint action is more effective and animals will join forces to make a united threat.

In addition to protecting themselves from predation, males also have an additional problem within their specieis in maintaining their territory. Using a variety of methods, males will often 'mark' out their territory on a plot of land to signal to other males that it is theirs to keep. Once this has been secured, males may use this territory all year round all perhaps just for breeding.

Themes

Natural World, Being Human

Details

Type:
Talk
People:
Sir David Attenborough
Location:
London, UK
Filmed in:
The Theatre
Published:
2011
Filmed:
1973
Credits:

Royal Institution, BBC

Collections with this video:
CHRISTMAS LECTURES 1973: The Language of Animals

Licence: Courtesy of BBC

Comments

Transcript

[CRICKETS CHIRPING] [LAUGHTER] [BEEPING] [DRUMS] [GEESE HONKING] [AMBULANCE ALARM] [CLAPPING]

That noise that you've just made, clapping your hands, is a way of communicating with me. Those noises that you heard just before I came in, some of them were made by geese, some of them made by crickets, some of them were made by ambulances, some were made by traffic, all of them were noises which were communicating. They were languages. And we're to use to languages being made composed of noises, because that's how we spread our language. Our language, primary language, the language you use most, is a language of sound.

But of course there are lots of other languages that you can use, as well as sound. You can use vision by gestures, or you can change your pattern, into a sort of language. Or indeed you could use smell as a language. And what we're going to do over the next six talks is to look at different kinds of languages, sometimes of smell, sometimes of gesture, sometimes of sound, and try and see what is being said by the animals, and what we should understand from what they're saying to one another.

And so I'd like to start with one animal which is sending a message by sound, which you will certainly, I think, even though you may never have encountered the animal before, you'll know immediately what it's saying. I hope.

Now then, because he's going to do react with a sound, I've got a microphone inside his cage. So we'll see whether he actually does anything. Nothing. [RATTLING] Hear? Now you see the importance.

This is a rattlesnake, a Diamond-backed rattlesnake from North America, the deserts of the West. And he normally lies concealed on the sand, and so he's come in the sandy color way. But if something comes along, then the rattlesnake wants to give warning that he is dangerous. And so he uses his rattle.

I wonder if he'll do it again. I wonder if I open the back, he'll do it again. [RATTLING] He does it without me opening the back. I just - [RATTLING]

I don't know whether you can see that his tail actually is the rattle. He has scales over his body and those scales have been modified to become hollow little rattles. And so every time I do that, [RATTLING] he rattles. And that's a language. Let's take him away before he gets too bad-tempered. Thank you, Mr. Coates . And that is a language of sound.

Now why should he do that? What is he actually saying? He can afford to do that, he can afford to rattle that loudly, because of course he's very poisonous. He can afford to attract attention to him saying with that rattle, because those fangs that he's got in his mouth contain a poison which could kill you want me if we were bitten in the right place.

But let's look at something else that could afford to say beware, because that's what the rattle is doing. Thank you, Mr. Coates. I think I heard someone say it's a skunk. Did you say it was a skunk? Yes, I thought you did. And as a matter of fact I would probably say it was a skunk, if it wasn't for the fact that I know it comes from Africa. And in fact, it's a creature called a zorrilla, which is exactly like a skunk.

Very, very like a skunk because both are black and white, and both actually have a language which is a warning language saying beware. And he says it with pattern. He is back and white. And these black and white patterns saying beware is not because he has a poisonous bite, but because beneath his tail he has got a gland, like a squirter, which he squirts the most disgusting smelling fluid that you've ever heard.

Now you may say, well who would care about a smell? The fact of the matter is, if you get zorrilla fluid over any part of you or any part of your clothes, it is really disgusting. What more can I say? You want to jump in the river. You can't get away from this smell. It's awful.

And indeed, this chap knows this so well that when you see him walking across the plains of Africa, he walks very boldly, very upright with his hair and his black and white pattern well displayed, because he knows he's boss. And there are even stories of lions killing a zebra and about to start to eat the flesh, when along comes a zorrilla and the lions actually stand back while the zorrilla in a lordly way goes up to the kill and takes what he wants and then goes away.

And indeed, of course he's a nice, amiable zorrilla from London Zoo and he's not a bit upset. If I were to upset him, which I hasten to say I don't propose to do, partly because who would want to upset a zorrilla, and partly because even though he is in this box you wouldn't like the smell.

If you upset him he actually occasionally stands on his front legs and puts his rear up in the air and displaces black and white hair just to make quite sure that you know that he's got this weapon. So he's got another way of saying beware, which he does partly by the pattern and partly by the action.

So let's take him back. And now let's look at one more creature which also says beware in a very simple and straightforward way. Here we go.

Now this one, he's a cobra. And he's not the Egyptian Cobra which has a spectacle on his hood, but he is a black and white cobra from West Africa. But just like the spectacled cobra, if he gets really agitated he is inclined to rear up and extended the flesh at the back of his neck, so that it forms a great hood as it were, outlining his fangs and calling attention, saying watch it, careful, I have poison.

So now we've got three ways. We've seen three ways in which animal say beware. Let's take him away for the moment.

Now there's one other. I don't want you to suppose that all creatures that say beware are immediately large, aggressive, angry, frightening looking creatures. Here's a small one. This is a mantis. And although he's only small, if you were an ant or a grasshopper, or a fly, he would be just as frightening to us as an elephant is.

And he says beware by putting up his forelegs. His forelegs have got barbs on them. You see? See? Beware, he says. Because there are great prongs on these front legs here. And some mantids, just to make sure that you know that they are saying beware, when they open their forelegs like that they expose bright patterns in the middle of their forearms just there. Pink spots, sometimes. So he too is ferocious. Now - [LAUGHTER] There we are. Now, I regret to have to tell you - Ow! [LAUGHTER]

I regret to have to tell you that animals don't necessarily always tell the truth in the way that you and I are supposed to do. Sometimes animals actually bluff. Sometimes, what shall we say, they tell untruths. Sometimes they say, beware, I am ferocious, when in fact they're not ferocious at all. At least, they're not dangerous.

Here we are. Now in here, I've got a delicious animal. Thank you. This one is a chameleon. Now of course, if you are a small grasshopper or locust, chameleons can look pretty ferocious, I dare say. But OK, say you stay on the branch.

But actually chameleon threaten human beings, they threaten any animals. This yellow and green pattern is partly camouflage. But when they're very angry - and I'm happy to say that this one isn't angry - when they're very angry they go black with fury. And they hiss. And even though they can't do any harm to you or me, if you see a chameleon that suddenly rears up and hisses, and goes black, it can be very frightening. And he is undoubtedly saying in his language, beware, watch out, I'm dangerous. Even though in fact, he isn't.

Now this particular chameleon is a very big one from East Africa, but in Madagascar they're even bigger. In Madagascar there's one that is two feet long. And the people in Madagascar - Come on then. The people in Madagascar are quite convinced, no matter what you say, the village people are quite convinced that this big chameleon is absolute death. One bite from it they say, and you will certainly die.

Well, we were once in Madagascar filming and we had a truckload of expensive cameras and recorders in one thing or another. And one night thieves broke the glass, broke the locks, and went into the car and took a lot of stuff. Fortunately, they didn't take any of the camera gear. But what they did do was to break all the locks. And I wondered how on earth we were going to be able to secure our car and keep the rest of us things safe.

And that very day, we caught one of these very big chameleons. And I suddenly had an idea. I took this big chameleon and I put him on the handle of our camera case in the back of the car, and when anyone went to the car, he sat there, goggling the eyes, going black when fury, and hissing, and nobody, but nobody, went into our car except us. So you see, you can even get chameleons to send messages in their own language to say keep off and turn it to your own advantage.

So there he is, a nice chameleon. And I'm happy to say, sufficiently happy sitting on my arm, not to wish to demonstrate the point that I bought him along, which is to show how angry he gets, and how black he goes when he does. I'll put him back.

But he's a bluffer, as I said. And there are other bluffers. Watch while I show you. I'll show you this bluffer. Now, you may think these are frogs. Oh! And of course, they are. They're actually toads, and they come from central Europe. And they called fire-bellied toads. Now, he's not so much a bluffer, as a matter of fact, because he's got a warty skin and out of those warts come a very nasty fluid which makes him unpalatable.

There are lots of things which eat frogs, as you probably know. But very, very few things eat a Fire-bellied toad, because he tastes, because of these warts, he tastes so nasty. Now see, it's not much good if you are Fire-bellied toad to be eaten by say a polecat. And as the polecat swallows you, you give them a nasty taste in your skin you say, ha ha, I taste nasty. That's too late. You have been eaten.

So you wish to tell the polecat fairly early on in the game that there is no point in him biting you in two, because you're not worth it as a meal. So what you do is in fact, these things turn up. They throw their little forelegs, heave them up, and expose this yellow stomach, which is a sort of warning, again, to anything which might interfere with them that they ought to be left alone.

And what's more, it appears to work. Because in fact, they're aren't many halt-eaten Fire-bellied toads around. Most of them are left severely alone again, because the Fire-bellied toad has got a method of conveying, of saying, a language if you like, of saying beware.

But there are real bluffers. This extraordinary thing, is what Mr. Coates of the Royal Institution, who makes all these demonstrations every year - This is Mr. Coates' idea of a moth. And Mr. Coates also has made this moth rather ingeniously, so that if I hold him like that, and give him a pull on his feelers, he does that.

And I think you'll agree that that's actually quite frightening. I mean, if you suddenly came across that - I won't say in the dark, because you wouldn't see it - but if you suddenly came across it hanging from a tree and it went - You'd be frightened, wouldn't you?

Now you may think that Mr. Coates is sort of laying it on a bit thick, that really you wouldn't actually get a moth to do that sort of thing, but actually you do. And to prove it, let me show you some film on this screen. Moths hanging from a three, looks perfectly normal. It's sort of camouflaged. Touch him, and what happens? Just as Mr. Coates showed.

And here, these remarkable eye spots you see, which really look like eyes. It is a most extraordinary imitation, as those they've been painted in perspective. And what is more, not only do they actually have an eye spot like that, but if you touch them on the ground, they do press-ups. which makes it even more frightening. And there you see is an example of an animal which is really not dangerous at all, because those moths don't do any harm to anybody, which is telling stories, which is bluffing.

Now it's all very well, bluffing, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes your bluff can be so convincing that you get a very bad reputation. And then if you have an enemy who is stronger than you are, he can do you a lot of damage.

One of the most ferocious beasts of West Africa, of the jungles of West Africa, of the forests of West Africa, used to be thought to be the gorilla. The gorilla was only discovered the middle of the last century, and immediately there were stories of how strong he was, and of how he would attack human beings, and how when he went into the attack, he beat his chest. This is what he did. Watch him, there's the big male at the back, the boss. This is him. You see beating his chest, a great tattoo. There he goes again.

And when stories came back from explorers of them getting through the thick jungle of the African forest in the Congo, and they suddenly saw these things which broke off twigs and hurled them at them, and squealed and roared like that and then beat its chest, everybody said it must be a most ferocious animal. And so for years and years, that poor beast was hunted.

And it was only the man who actually took these remarkable shots, an American naturalist, a zoologist called George Schaller, who really proved for the very first time that the gorilla is not actually a ferocious animal, in spite of all of those beware gestures and noises that he does. That in fact he's a very gentle, harmless creature, which allowed George Schaller to go and almost live among a troop of gorillas, and to take his camera so close that he could get shots like that.

Well now, we've looked at animals that say beware, watch out, I'm dangerous, both by smell and by color, and by action. And we've seen some animals that say beware, I'm dangerous, and they aren't telling the truth. Now let's have a look at one animal to summarize that sort of message. Not Mr. Coates . Goodness me.

He's actually a very friendly animal, I think. He won't come out, you see. Here we are. Have some banana. Can I help? He has his rear end towards us, so he has to reverse to come out. He doesn't seem to be very keen to do so. Now we've got is front end here. What about a banana? There he is.

Now he's got alarmed, you see? You see he's erected his quills. And what he is doing - it is a porcupine, as you can see. And he's got black and white quills, which are just like the colors of the skunk and the zorrilla, warning. And when he gets really angry, he lifts them up, as though he was raising his hairs, so he looks even bigger and even more formidable.

And when he's really angry, he's got a special little device in the back of his tail with rather loosely fixed quills on it. So he spins it round like this, and the quills make a great rattling noise. So he can actually threaten people. Doesn't want to threaten anybody. He's just having lunch on banana. Here you are. Oh. See? He puts his quills up as I go nearer. Try a bit more.

He threatens people both with his color, with his outline, and with his noise. And of course, the reason he threatens people is because actually, he's a very dangerous animal. I mean, it's so happens this one, which is from the London Zoo is very nice and tame. But if he got very angry, he actually would be able to back into you. He sort of suddenly does a reverse, and thrusts his quills into your fresh, which is very painful.

Right. I don't whether we can get him out. Can we get him back, do you think? There. Right. He's gone back.

Now, there is one character, there is one thing about all the creatures I've shown you so far. They've all been saying beware, but they've all been saying it to creatures other than themselves. They've been porcupines that have been saying it perhaps to bears. Chameleons have been saying it to human beings. Snakes have been saying it to any other creature which interferes with them. Snakes don't say it to snakes, by erecting their rattle, by erecting their hoods.

But there are occasions when animals want to talk to their own kind and say, not only beware, but look out, there's danger. Geese for example, when danger threatens them, as is about to threaten these geese, the first thing they do when danger comes is to their stick their heads up. Up they go. They know that there's danger. And that communicates through the flock, so that suddenly the flock is aware that there's something happening. And what it is, is a dog, which might have been a fox, perhaps.

And when they do that, the message of alarm, spreads among the flock. And they don't run away. They got out onto the attack. And the dog was on the other side of the lake. The geese take to the water and in a sort of battle squadron. They're not flying away. They're flying into the water. They form line abreast, they set off to do battle with the fox. When I say do battle, to threaten the fox.

So there, the geese language is able to do two things. First of all, by putting their heads up in that way it's able to say, watch out. And secondly, by sailing in that sort of way towards the dog, they are able to threaten the dog and say, keep off, watch it.

But birds often are able to spread messages of warning to one another. The most common way of doing that is what's called mobbing. Sometimes small birds will appear to be as it were, trying to commit suicide. Because they will go to a much bigger bird, which normally preys upon them, and attack it.

An eagle, in Africa for example, is often the cause of the attention of little birds. This is a big African eagle sitting on its nest, as it happens. And right by the tree, there's a drongo, a sort of Starling-like bird, which is squealing angrily at the eagle. And what's more, the eagle's mate who was sitting on another tree here, is being attacked by these drongos, which are dive-bombing it, you see. And as they dive-bomb, they make a particular caw.

Now they can't hope really, to injure the eagle. What they are almost certainly doing primarily is not even trying to drive it away, but to tell other small birds around that there is danger. So they are saying as they pounce upon it, as they dive-bomb it, they are saying both by their noise and their action, watch out. There's danger.

Now the calls that birds make when they mob are very interesting. Let me try and do an experiment and seek your help. Now I've got on this tape recorder to start with some sounds which are not bird sounds. They are electronic sounds that we've put together. And up at the back, I've got one, two, three speakers.

And what I want to do, I can by fiddling these switches put the sound through whichever speaker I like. And the first sound I'm going to play you, I'm going to put through one particular speaker and I want you to tell me which one it's coming from.

[SOFT BEEPING]

Point. That one? Is it? You sure? Middle one? Or that one? Or that one? Well, as a matter of fact, it came from the middle one. You were pointing to that one, and it actually came from there.

Now let me play you another sound. And once again I'll change the switches. Tell me which speaker this comes from.

[LOUD BEEPING] Everybody's certain. Let me just check that. Yes. Quite right.

So that first sound, which you heard, which was very high pitched, and which sort of started soft, became loud, and then faded away again, you had great difficulty in saying where it came from. Some of you said it came from there, some of you said it come from there. In fact, it all came from there. But the other kind of sound, which is low and stabbing, with a very precise start and end, you all knew immediately where it came from.

Now, imagine yourself to be a bird. If you see an enemy and you want to say watch out, here in this particular place there is danger, then what sort of sound would you make? The first or the second?

The second.

The second, indeed you would. And if you were in fact small bird sitting in the bushes somewhere, and you suddenly saw, let us say a weasel coming round, and you were frightened for your life, but you wanted to tell everybody else to keep out of the way, while at the same time not giving away where your position was, so that that weasel could come after you, then you would use the first sound, would you not? Well, now actually it will come as no surprise to you now to know that actually that's just what birds do.

Let me play you one sound. Now, this is a sound that is made by a robin. [BEEPING] No it isn't. It's the last part of what I was playing before, but the next sound will be a robin. Did you hear it? Yes.

[TWEETING]

Now that is the sound that a robin makes when it knows that there is enemies around, and it sings, take cover. Now if I go on and play more, we'll come to a sound which is the one that it makes when he wants to say, look out, there is danger in this particular place. That's still, take cover.

[TWEETING]

Now, you see? Much more precise. Much more easy to identify just where it's coming from. Hear it? That's all coming from that middle speaker. And so the sounds that birds make, the language that they use, is very precisely suited to the particular message. It's either, take cover, and not to let the predator know where you are. Or else it's to say, beware, look here in this particular place, there's danger.

Now those recordings, and bird song in general, has been studied to a great extent by Professor Thorpe and Mrs. Hall-Craggs, who are world experts on the matter, in Cambridge. And they actually don't just do crude experiments in the way that I've have done. They make analyses of bird sound on little plots like this.

This is made by a penny which goes up and down on a revolving drum, so that the call starts there and goes along there, just like musical notation. And it's in the high frequency. If it was a low frequency, it's down there. And that is the call of a Great Tit, like the first call you heard, which means take cover.

That's a Blackbird. I'm sorry. It was a Blackbird, not a Great Tit. That's a Blackbird.

And there is the call of a Blackbird when he wants to say, there is danger in this particular place. So what I've been describing to you can actually be analyzed in considerable detail by scientists to see just exactly the shape and pattern of bird calls.

Right. Now sometimes of course, animals disagree amongst themselves. Sometimes they quarrel. Sometimes there are rows as it were. And then animals have methods of sending messages, of as it were, shaking their fists at one another, of arguing also buy gesture. Let me show you some film shot on a group of islands, the Galapagos, which is full of interesting animals, of a very strange animal called the Marine Iguana, a sort of lizard.

Now he is nodding, which means in his language, I'm boss here. Over the rock comes another one who says, no you're not, I am. And they both was nod and then clash heads. Now they could bite one another, but they don't. They just engage in a trial of strength, like that, until suddenly one of them will say that he's had enough. And he does that backing away, the one on the right does, and then slowly lowering his body onto the ground and retreats.

And that too is a message. That message says, I've had enough. I don't wish to argue anymore. Please leave me alone now. I'd like to just look at that again in slow motion, so that we can see exactly what those gestures were. You'll have to look up at your monitors to see it on a slow motion replay. Up comes the - They're fighting there, you see, slowly pushing one another. They don't bite, they don't harm one another in any way.

Now watch the one on the right. He's losing. He's pushed back. And when he decides he's had enough, as he's going to do in any moment, he lowers his body onto the ground. There, he's doing it now. The other one lift himself up like the victor. His spines on his back are erect. They nod at one another a bit more. The one on the right is painting a bit, and now he's going to retreat. Back he goes.

And notice that the winner, the one on the left, doesn't follow him. He doesn't bite him. He doesn't, as we might say in a fight, he doesn't take kick a man when he's down. He knows he's lost. And that is one of the most important messages that you can learn from animals when they are fighting, when they are gesturing of alarm and attack, because animals very, very rarely kill others of their own kind. Because they have worked out this method of arguing whereby one says, I am boss. They argue in a ritualized way and then one of them is able to say, all right, I've had enough. And then they don't harm one another after that.

Now you may say, I don't really believe that, because the fact is I have hamsters, and I know that hamsters kill one another, and that's exactly the opposite of what you're saying. Well the reason that hamsters kill one another, or may kill one another when we have them as pets, is because the hamster arrangement, the hamster in the wild, lives on the wide plains, and he's got plenty of room. And he has a language of gesture. He has a language of signals so that when two may quarrel, there is a retreat process whereby the hamster can go away and will not be followed and not be killed.

If you and I keep them in cages which are too small at the time when they are likely to quarrel, then that particular language of signals can't work. One of them can't get away, and then one is killed. But otherwise, in the wild, it is very, very rare indeed for one animal to kill another over its own kind.

Now let me show you one more delicious way in which animals can - Yes, which animals can fight Tammy. This is Tammy from Bristol, from Bristol Zoo. And he is a ring-tailed lemur. Aren't you? And I'm just going to put you down there, Tammy, if I don't lose you. Because I want people to see - Don't go to the microphone. Come on, come on then. Would you like a bit of a grape? Yes.

Now inside of Tammy arms, on his wrists, he has little glands, haven't you? Yes. And on these glands there are - What is it? All right, all right, all right. On these glans, they give off a particularly strong smell.

And if Tammy wants to fight, what he will do is to wipe his lovely black and white striped tail through those glands which are just on the inside of his wrist, so that his tail is covered in scent. And then he will actually engage in what's called a stink fight. He doesn't throw a stink bomb, but what he does do is to lift up his tail - I beg your pardon? -is to life up his tail and wave it over his back so that he creates a current of air which blows this nasty smell at his enemies. You're too nice to do that. I think I'd been to give you back, unhappily. Thank you very much.

And we'll have a look at some film of lemurs which only live in Madagascar. That's the ring-tailed lemur, and see them actually doing this. They live mostly in low trees and sometimes on the ground. And they live in troops, and they're very playful, as you see that Tammy was. And they often squabble amongst themselves. And they do it with calls, and they do it by waving their tails. They have little scraps like that.

And there, you see the one on the right wiping his tail with his wrists? Pulling his tail through his wrists so it gets that scent all over it. And now he's rubbing his wrist glands again. You hear that meowing noise they make, that's one of the reasons they're called cat lemurs sometimes, because they do actually meow like cats.

Now they're going to go down on the ground, and on the ground you watch how they hold their tails. Of course, they are black and white stripes which is a warning pattern, but also they vibrate those tails so that currents of air, as I said, go over their back and spread their smell towards the other one they're looking at. And sometimes rival male lemurs will stand opposite one another and wave their tails at one another throwing this smell, so that they actually fight by smell.

Now as I said, animals have developed ways of making sure that their language of threat is understood, and as far as possible prevent fighting. It seems to be the rule that animals prefer, if I can use that word, prefer to advertise threat, to say beware, rather than actually get down to blows.

Let me look at that in deer, for example. This is the skull of a very small deer, the musk deer. And the male musk deer has this tiny little - I beg your pardon the muntjac - has is this long canine tooth here. And when it's in life, the lip of the deer comes over like that. And so he exposes this savage little tooth which hangs down at the bottom of his jaw, and he displays that. When they argue, the musk deer display that one to another.

Now, the muntjac on the other hand, has not got such a big canine tooth, and instead has as it were, put that long tooth on the top of its head, so that it's easier to see. So that this deer has not so much so big a tooth, and the beginnings of an antler, as it were a tooth on the top of his head. So he's not actually concern so much with biting people, as with brandishing it and saying, beware, look how powerful I am.

And of course, big deer have enormous, great antlers like this, which are no more nor less than advertisements, placards which say, I am big, I am powerful, don't interfere with me. Yet in fact, although I dare say, it could give you quite a nasty knock with his antlers, these are really - obviously they don't bite anymore - they aren't really powerful, aggressive weapons. They are much more placards, which are saying, keep away because I'm powerful.

Well, now I want to ask you to help me with another experiment. Is there anybody here who can waggle his ears? You can? You can? Anybody else? Who can waggle - There. She can. Anybody else? You can. All right. One, two, three, who else was there? Four.

Let's have the four of you down there. And really see if you can waggle your ears. Just there. Who was the fourth? There we are. Move along. Now then, you, what is your name?

Robert.

Robert. Robert, waggle your ears. He can! He can! Can you see? Turn around. Waggle. Very good.

You, what's your name?

Philip.

Philip. I think you're cheating a bit. Your eyebrows are going up and down. Oh, nope. Very good. Can you make your hair go up and down? Good heavens! Do it again.

Now what about you? Pretty good. What is your name?

Stephen.

Stephen. I think, Stephen, you were using your jaw more than waggling your ears. Do it again and I'll be convinced. Quite good.

And what's your name?

David.

David. All right, David. Yes, well, I think the Royal Institution champion ear-waggler for 1973 is -

[YELLING] Good lord. Come in Guardsman. Thank you very much. Heavens above! Now I want to explain to you why I wanted to have an ear-waggling competition. Ear waggling is done with muscles in the top of your head and in your scalp.

Now, it's very unlikely that we should have muscles in our scalp if we didn't want to use them for anything at all, or didn't ever use them for anything at all. So it could be that once we all would have ear waggling mechanisms. We all had scalp moving muscles as Philip had to a sensational degree, if you ask me.

And it could be that we used them to do erect the hair on the top of our head. Now, if that was so, if that was so, and it's not proved, it could be that that in itself millions of years ago was part of man's mechanism, or primitive primate mechanism, of threat. And one of the reasons that leads you to suspect that could possibly be the case is the fact that the guards, the guards have been wearing bearskins on top of their head for a long time.

Now this is Guardsman Lloyd, from the Coldstream Guards, that is correct?

That's correct.

And you'll see that he not only has a bearskin, and I mustn't call it a busby, must I?

No, it's a bearskin.

It's a bearskin. That's right. And he has a scarlet uniform with gold buttons on it. And you may think that that is only worn for changing of the guard, or Trooping of the Colour. But actually, the uniform that Guardsman Lloyd is wearing is very similar to the uniform that the guards wore when they actually went into battle.

The last time it was worn, I think was in the Crimea War. You may have heard all of the Thin Red Line which was the guards. It was the guards, was it not?

That is right, yes.

Good. The Thin Red Line was called the Thin Red Line not because they wore khaki, but because they actually did wear red coats. And red coats and a big crest on the top of their head, may well be precisely the sort of language of color and of signs and of shape, which I've been describing in the other parts of the animal kingdom. That we too have a language of sign and color, a language of threat, which for many hundreds of years was shown by the uniform of our soldiers. Thank you very much indeed, Guardsman. Good heavens.

Now to show you that it's not just the British who dressed up their soldiers to look threatening, I've got here some other sorts of headdress which I'd like to show you. And I think actually, I think we have to say that you were the championship, Philip. So I think I'm going to have to ask you to wear that. Can you put that on? And I'd like you to wear that. And what else have I got in here? I've got that. Oops. Are you in there?

Yes. I am.

And I want you to wear that. Right. Now the reason I've asked them to wear these helmets is not just so that they can look different sorts of fancy dress, but I want to start with Philip's. You stay there.

Now dangling from this is a most extraordinary piece of lines, called cap line, actually. These movable toggles in it, and it ends with a sort of decorative acorn-shaped bit like that. And I'm no expert in military uniform, but I'm told that this was worn at the back of the neck. It came down at the back there, and was tied round the waist, and was worn by the cavalry, actually by the Hungarian cavalry. And this pattern was used about 1700.

Now what is interesting is this that which started as a purely functional thing, it had a purpose, it was to keep the hat on. And what's more, I am also told that occasionally it was thought not too good to have the chin strap. Because if you got a lance or a spear going under the helmet, it could jerk your head back during a charge. So it was quite a good idea to have it without a chin strap, and tied around your waist.

Now a few years later, there was another kind of uniform invented. And this one as it were, a descendant of that one. And what has happened is that these cap lines have actually been wrapped around the cap now. They've been made in gold. They've still got the tassels on the end, and they have become purely decorative. Or to put a different way, they've become threatening.

And that one, you see, has had the chin band, which was there, put up on the top, so that you again become threatening. Now you remember those antlers from the moose and the muntjac. And for some curious reason, which perhaps a fashion expert would be able to explain better than me, it seems as though we have had in our mentioned fashions, just the same sort of development as animals have had with their antlers.

And I think your a life Guardsman, you've got exactly the same sort of thing, that you have got rid of the hand on your head, if that was really threatening, hoiked up, right onto the top so that everybody could see that you had a crest. Thank you very much indeed for demonstrating. Now we'll put those back. Thank you very much.

Now, I can hear you say while I've been talking, look at that soldier there. Another Guardsman. Guardsman Lloyd, can you come in? Now Guardsman Lloyd's method of entry is quite different. Guardsman Lloyd didn't come in - I beg your pardon. Guardsman Jordan didn't come in like Guardsman Lloyd. He didn't come in with a bang. He just crept in silently.

Because as you will be saying to yourselves, if what I've been saying is true, why don't we wear red uniforms anymore? Why is it that the modern soldier doesn't wear big plumes on his head, but whereas instead a tunic, which is camouflaged. And if he was going into battle, he might well have his face darkened.

Well, the reason of course is, that whereas in the Crimean War, 120 years ago, the weapons that we had, they were guns it is true, but nonetheless they did not prevent hand to hand fighting. And the armies marched shoulder to shoulder across the battlefields of Europe until they actually met one another and engaged in hideous hand to hand fighting.

Now under those circumstances, the old animal [UNINTELLIGIBLE] the old animal languages that we've been describing really worked. That if you saw the Thin Red Line marching towards you, ablaze and the chinking of armor, and the plumes, and the bearskins, then it was worthwhile looking terrifying. What has happened now, is that mankind has been so clever that he has invented weapons, like the rifle and others with telescopic sights, could actually kill a man at a distance of what would you say?

Approximately two miles, sir.

Approximately two miles. Now at two miles, there is no point in making any gestures of threat, because you won't even know that your enemy is there. And so the modern soldier doesn't wear threat display. He wears a uniform like this, which is meant to conceal.

We have actually become too clever to take any advantage of our animal signals. And that is perhaps something of a tragedy, because just like the marine iguanas, we also have signals which say spare me, I've had enough and don't wound me. Now you can't say that with your animal signals on the battlefields of today. Thank you very much.

But now let me just to show you one more animal, partly to remind you that what we're talking about is actually animal signals, as well as human signals, but primarily animal signals. Hello boys. Let's give you a banana. These are monkeys, very special and charming monkeys called celebes macaques. How about that? No no no no no. Hey.

And the reason I show you them is that they you see, they're only young ones. Did you see the one on the right? He's got a crest on top of his head, which he can slightly erect. So that what, I mean no disrespect to Philip, and all the rest of you champion ear-wagglers, but you see, he can do what Philip was doing only a bit better. He actually can erect a crest on the top of his head. And when he grows bigger, he will actually have quite a big helmet of hair on the top of his head, which doesn't look unlike some of the bearskins that Guardsmen wear.

Well, I've been talking about animals, the way that animals beware, keep away. But that isn't the only things animals say. Animals say, of course, sometimes, be mine, come over here. And that's what we'll talk about next time. Thank you very much.

[CLAPPING]

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