I watched the PBS special "Strange Days on Planet Earth - Invaders" last Wednesday. Hosted by actor Edward Norton, this was a very, well, strange look at the issues surrounding introduced species. A few highlights:
- The scientist segments were very interesting. It is always good to hear James Carlton speak. But he is just as good without cheesy "danger" music playing behind him. This show would have been better if it spent more time with the scientists and less time with the "raising unanswered questions and showing pretty pictures for people with short attention spans" segments.
- I think they confused the invasives issue by showing cool shots of things that were not invasive. A montage of termites...leaf cutter ants...army ants...wait? Leaf cutter ants? A little voice over would have gone a long way here.
- This is not your parents' PBS. Sure, the neat time-lapse photography is still there. There was also an excellent underwater sequence of the weevils emerging as adults and attacking water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). But there were also computer-enhanced scenes to demonstrate things like seed rain and the path of a munching termite. Those looked fake to me, but there was no narration to indicate it wasn't real. Dancing rats celebrating the death of a cane-toad-eating cat were especially cheesy. I think there was a simulated landslide too. I can only hope the scene of the Nile crocodile attack was also faked.
- I watched this show in HD, and one thing I now know is that if I am ever so lucky as to be asked to be on tv, I am absolutely going to insist on getting a makeover first. Realistic Shmealistic.
- Speaking of makeovers, Dow scientist Claudia Riegel is lucky enough to do all of her digging for termites and checking of bait traps in a crisp new shirt and without gloves. Maybe this is a testament to the safety of Dow's insecticides.
- The invasive South American plant Miconia (Miconia calvescens) is being spread around Hawaii in part by an introduced bird, the Japanese white eye (Zosterops japonicus), which was introduced to control insects. Very interesting. I do not envy David Duffy though, hiding out in a tent during an island downpour.
- The show should have ended with James Carlton, noting how our ability to predict invasion is still poor. But instead it ended with another weird monologue from Ed Norton, and scene showing a businessman in some anonymous financial district, pulling a red wagon holding a bowl with a Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens) in it. Definitely not the aquarium fish that comes to mind when you think of invasive species.