Metamorphosis - How Insects Transformed Our World

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01Jumping Fleas20210301Over 80% of animals on our planet are insects, and yet these six-legged rulers of the world can appear as alien or as strange as many a mythic beast. Yet those who’ve been studying these wondrous species, both now and in the past, have discovered a treasure trove of remarkable insights that have fuelled knowledge across many branches of science – from evolution to robotics, and from genetics to forensics.

Dr Erica McAlister of London's Natural History Museum takes a look at some of these entomological pioneers, and how their groundbreaking observations and experiments have led to some truly innovative developments.

She first sets out to examine the jump of the humble flea. Most flea legs average just 3mm and so, without much length, they really don’t have much time to generate energy to push off the ground. So how do these tiny insects achieve jumps of over 20cm? Dame Miriam Rothschild had a life-long fascination with these acrobatic insects. Through intricate dissections of the flea anatomy and innovative high speed filming, she claimed a flea’s jump was not just down to their muscles. Her insights, along with fellow entomologists, have led to discoveries of the most elastic substance in the natural world and a means of acceleration that is fuelling the development of innovative jumping micro robots.

Producer Adrian Washbourne

Erica McAlister uncovers a treasure trove of remarkable insights from the insect world.

02Mighty Mouthparts20210302Erica McAlister uncovers a treasure trove of remarkable insights from the insect world.
03Drosophila Melanogastronaut20210303Erica McAlister examines the innocuous flies that are Drosophila melanogaster. They’d be content to spend life doing nothing much more than hovering around a pile of rotting apples and getting drunk. But we now know more about these flies than any other animal on the planet, as a model for human biology and genetics.

Erica McAlister uncovers a treasure trove of remarkable insights from the insect world.

04Cycles Of Change20210304From hoverflies to butterflies, many insects undergo the biggest transformation of any animal on the planet during their life cycle. Dr Erica McAlister unmasks the ongoing mystery of metamorphosis and hears how now it's being used as a barometer to track future climate change.

With contributions from historian and zoologist Prof Matthew Cobb, University of Manchester; Grace Touzel, curator Natural History Museum; conservation biologist, Dr Christopher Hassall, University of Leeds.

Producer: Adrian Washbourne

Erica McAlister uncovers a treasure trove of remarkable insights from the insect world.

05Blowfly Detectives20210305Blowflies with their ability to smell rotting meat from long distances may be some of the most reviled insects on the planet, but as Erica McAlister discovers, they’ve become central to the surprisingly long tradition of forensic entomology.

With contributions from forensic entomologists Martin Hall (Natural History Museum) and Gail Anderson (Simon Fraser University,British Columbia); Daniel Martin Vega, (University of Alcala, Madrid).

Producer Adrian Washbourne

Erica McAlister uncovers how flies can thwart a crime through forensic entomology.

Erica McAlister uncovers a treasure trove of remarkable insights from the insect world.