Jim Lange Published

The Unseen Hand of God


"If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if they (invertebrates-insects) were to disappear, the land's ecosystems would collapse.  These small creatures are within a few inches of our feet, wherever we go on land – but often, they're disregarded. We would do very well to remember them." ~Sir David Attenborough

I am watching the BBC’s Life in the Undergrowth for the first time and it is astonishing. This 2006 release came to my attention when I asked a friend, himself an amateur entomologist, what might be a good documentary on insects.

This series delivers the goods for anyone who has a remote interest in the micro world of hidden creatures largely ignored and dismissed as unimportant. It turns out, they are more important than we, as Attenborough states in the above quote.


Credit Life in the Undergrowth BBC
We believe that we are the rightful owners and heirs of Earth, but an argument could be made that not only were invertebrates here long before us, but they sustain our very existence. So, who’s more necessary in that equation?

Sir David Attenborough has a marvelous, almost giddy, passion for these diminutive marvels; often mucking about in the undergrowth while joyously teaching us about the behavior of butterflies, slugs, centipedes and other amazing invertebrates.

The filming is simply stunning, shocking, revelatory and mind-bending. Attenborough tells us that miniature cameras, a breakthrough at the time, made these incredible shots possible. The flight sequences are a miracle: watching a carpenter bee prepare and then take flight is to experience wonder. Thus it is with all winged beings in the film.

Then, there’s the macro or extreme close-ups. Steady thyself for the shock.

For those who find a macro view of a slug unbearable, I feel your pain. There were several times when I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. It’s sort of like a late night stumbling onto the surgery channel- we’re not prepared for the ground’s eye view of these alien beings. The details are (a slug’s mouth, for instance) pretty gruesome, but this is truth. A strange truth, to be sure.

When the slug unravels a long tube and its eye appears, you cannot help but think of John Carpenter’s The Thing. This is truly the inspiration of horror and science fiction.

One thing rings true: their design is genius. Call it God, nature, Darwinian, happenstance, alien design- whatever your preference, these bugs have defense systems and body designs that ensure survivability.

When it comes right down to bare bones, there’s only two reasons to exist in their micro world: survive and propagate. That’s it and no more, people. The breathtakingly beautiful wings of a damselfly or a dragonfly are designed to attract a mate. Ergo, the beauty of nature is not of artistic intent or purpose, but serves a biological imperative.  It would seem that most of life follows that model.

The natural world is ruthless and merciless; balanced only by the meticulous and focused care of its progeny. The arachnid known as the harvestman, or “daddy longlegs”, is featured in a segment. This little guy, horrifically scary at bug’s-eye view, has to defend his nest from predators, all the while making sure to engage in mating rituals.

However, his main preoccupation is the tender care of his nest which is constantly checked and rechecked by the digging of a tiny egg out of the earth, rolling it about, cleaning it if needed, then burying it again. Comical and mechanized, this daddy longlegs does this in an OCD-like fashion.  There is almost a worried look to his “face.”

The old saying is, “The devil’s in the details.” Methinks God is the master of details and what incredible details were endowed on these miraculous creations!

So, the next time an ant catches your eye or you see a spider, realize that what you witnessing is perfection in design. These tiny workers might well be the true inheritors of the earth.

Buy the film on DVD or BluRay.