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Rare animals featured in Planet Earth, Our Planet, and other nature documentaries

  • Trogolobites

    - Documentary featuring this animal: "Planet Earth I: Caves"

    Troglobites are all animals that have adapted to life in caves. They spend their entire lives in these dark subterranean environments and, over thousands of years, have lost their eyes and skin pigmentation as a result. Some troglobites are hyperspecialized, like cave angelfish, whose entire population lives only in the waterfalls inside two caves in Thailand. Texas cave salamanders and Belizean white crabs are two more examples of troglobites who live only in one cave system.

  • Pygmy sloths

    - Documentary featuring this animal: "Planet Earth II: Islands"

    Pygmy three-toed sloths are a critically endangered species of sloth found only on a remote island called Isla Escudo de Veraguas off the coast of Panama. Their entire natural habitat is roughly the size of New York City’s Central Park. This has resulted in a process called insular dwarfism, or island dwarfism—when a species shrinks over generations in response to the limited resources of an island environment. At the time of filming, only a few hundred sloths remained in the wild; conservation efforts have received little attention.

  • Chinstrap penguins of Zavodovski Island

    - Documentary featuring this animal: "Planet Earth II: Islands," "Blue Planet: Frozen Seas"

    Zavodovski Island in the Southern Ocean is home to one of the largest penguin colonies on Earth: over 1 million pairs of mating chinstrap penguins. But it’s not exactly paradise by our standards—Zavodoski Island is an active volcano in the middle of some of the roughest, stormiest seas on the planet. This presents unique advantages and challenges for its residents.

    The heat emanating from the volcano means the ground is warm, with little snow or ice buildup, optimal for rearing young. But hunting for food in the waters surrounding the island means treacherous descents down cliffs, as well as powerful breaking waves that beat against the rockface which serves as an entry point for the penguins. Not to mention the constant, potentially devastating risk of a volcanic eruption.

  • Stalk-eyed fly

    - Documentary featuring this animal: "Life: Challenges of Life"

    Body modification isn’t unique to our species. Male stalk-eyed flies use a sort of body modification to attract mates. They take in air bubbles and push them up into their heads and into their eyestalks. Each bubble of air elongates the eyestalks horizontally. The wider apart their eyes are positioned, the more dominant the male is perceived to be. The most dominant male wins the right to mate with all the female stalk-eyed flies in his territory.

  • Giant Pacific octopus

    - Documentary featuring this animal: "Life: Challenges of Life"

    Giant Pacific octopuses exhibit one of the greatest displays of parental devotion in nature. After a female has laid her eggs in a carefully chosen den, she will spend the rest of her life tending to them. Keeping them free of algae build-up and safe from predators, she will not leave them, even temporarily, in order to feed. After six months of protecting and tending to her clutch, she usually dies of starvation. 

  • Rock pythons

    - Documentary featuring this animal: "Africa: Congo"

    Like the giant Pacific octopus, the female rock python exhibits enormously selfless acts of devotion in the service of its young. A mother python will heat her body in a shaft of sunlight until her temperature reaches a dangerously high 105 degrees Fahrenheit. She’ll then retreat back to her burrow and wrap her body around her clutch of eggs, transferring that heat and ensuring their temperature remains above 86 degrees Fahrenheit. This threshold is critical to their development. She will do this every day for three months until they hatch. If the stress on her body doesn’t kill her, it could take the mother up to three years to fully recover.

  • Chemical-firing insects

    - Documentary featuring this animal: "Life: Insects"

    Insects like European wood ants and devil rider stick insects have developed relatively painful defense mechanisms to deter predators. These are just a few examples of insects that produce chemical sprays. But none is as extreme as the bombardier beetle, which houses two reservoirs in its abdomen: one filled with hydrogen peroxide and hydroquinones, and another filled with peroxidase and catalase. When separated, the mixtures are innocuous. But when mixed together, the result is a violent reaction. When threatened, the bombardier beetle will open the valve separating the two, resulting in an explosive chemical process. The beetle can aim and fire (out of its backside) over 500 times per second and the liquid can get as hot as 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Sword-billed hummingbirds

    - Documentary featuring this animal: "Planet Earth II: Jungles"

    Sword-billed hummingbirds have evolved to fill a niche in their environments—one that exempts them from competition over limited resources with other species. The sword-billed hummingbird is the only bird with a beak longer than its body. This elongated beak enables the unusual hummingbird to reach nectar deep inside flower shafts that other birds cannot access.

  • Pompeii worms

    - Documentary featuring this animal: "Blue Planet II: The Deep"

    Pompeii worms are among the rarest and most resilient creatures on the planet. They belong to a group of organisms classified as extremophiles—lifeforms that thrive in the most extreme conditions. That’s because they are found in hydrothermal vents steeped in hydrogen sulfide along the mid-ocean ridge. Pompeii worms can survive in temperatures up to 176 degrees Fahrenheit, higher than any other animal on Earth has been known to withstand. These worms, along with other newly discovered life forms found in the complete darkness of the mid-ocean ridge, overturned the belief that all life on Earth was dependent upon the sun.