24.12.10

Happy Christmas Everyone


This was the face of Ammonite this morning, some of us went on to do a bit of all night dancing - a full album of the evening's activities are available on our Facebook page.


Have a great Christmas everyone - some sort of service will resume early in 2011

Love from Ammonite xxxxx

20.12.10

Getting In Training For Costa Rica


Ammonite will shortly be embarking on a search for the elusive jaguar. The first trip sets off next month, they are heading into inaccessible territory and one of the many challenges will be how to thread a cable high up through a large section of forest.

Part of the preparations involved a weekend recently with MTF, where Ian Shacklock taught the crew how to use an All Terrain Vehicle safely. That's Howard Bourne with the proof that he passed the course with flying colours

8.12.10

The Edit Marathon Begins



The indomitable Jimmy Taggart is back at Ammonite - currently turning reams of hyena footage into pure spun gold.... next up leopards!

25.11.10

Ammonite Loose In The Country


An Ammonite crew drove out east to meet Paul and Ryan Edwards yesterday. These two talented young cameramen have been filming the barn owls that live near their Suffolk home. If you are in the UK, catch Autumnwatch tonight on BBC2 at 8.30 to see what they've been up to.

18.11.10

Ants In Their Pants

Ants can be a pain - apparently

11.11.10

Hitting The Headlines

Martin Dohrn's stunning starlight images can be seen in online versions of Metro and The Daily Telegraph, they're also in today's Daily Mail,

7.11.10

Regal Monarchs

Ammonite sent a crew to Mexico and Wisconsin last March to film Monarch butterflies for the National Geographic series Great Migrations - it's finally on telly.

3.11.10

Ammonite Goes To Hollywood



It's finally ready and winging its way over the pond to star in a Hollywood feature film alongside a raft of Oscar winners...

For weeks we've been preparing a custom starlight rig for a super-sensitive, Mega-A-list film, an undercover operation so ultra-secret that if we reveal any names, large black-suited men will take us away and feed us to their pet piranhas.

28.10.10

Does My Bum Look Big In This?



The filming crew went back to Kenya three weeks ago and we haven't heard from them since - not so much as a tweet.

We hope the silence means that they are so busy filming exciting things (warthogs eating lions, crocodiles dancing on ice...) that they haven't the time to talk to us. They're supposed to be getting back at the weekend so we'll be posting news of the latest trip when we see the rushes.


Meanwhile the crew that stayed in the office got down to some needle craft - this is Elliot and Laura turning a baby-carrying backback into a computer-carrying backpack for the next field trip.

11.10.10

Settling Down


Still working out where to put everything but we're getting used to our new home...


The filming crew are all back home and the whole team are together for a brief week before the next leg of filming starts. While the boys were away, the home of Ammonite was moved from it's rather cramped quarters in Cotham to a fantastic building designed by one of the world's most astonishing men Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

The building has been neglected over recent decades this summer our offices looked a bit like this





and there was quite a lot of work to do to achieve first this



and then this



It's been an amazing project: in an attempt to be as green as possible our furniture and fittings have all come from salvaged/recycled/reclaimed sources with a minimal use of new timber. Planted right next to the railway station we will be arriving for work by bike, train, bus and Shank's pony and hoping that our visitors will do likewise. But most of all this is the most beautiful place to be, we're hoping that the spirit of one of the world's greatest inventors will inspire Ammonite to design equipment that will lead us to uncover even more of the wonders of the natural world ...

8.10.10

It's A Wrap In Yala



The Sri Lankan team finished filming in Sri Lanka. They have packed up and just arrived home with several drives stuffed full of the most extraordinary footage of leopards, sloth bears, crocodiles, elephants and a whole lot more from this beautiful country. We'll be spending the next few months editing the material and meanwhile the shooting in Africa continues, expect more news from the Masai Mara soon...

2.10.10

Monsoon So Soon

As we approach our final days of filming here in Sri Lanka we've entered the start of the monsoon rains. We came to film at the peak of the drought when we had the best chance of filming leopards and we've not been disappointed. After two and a half weeks of blistering sunshine the clouds have been building over the park. Finally they gave way with an enormous thunderstorm and several inches of rain. Good news for the wildlife but not so great for a car full of computers and and car batteries.

We spent last night parked by a waterhole filming crocodiles in a torrential downpour that lasted hours. Our car is protected by some rudimentary plastic sheeting that when combined with almost 100% humidity becomes more like a mobile steam room. We did the best we could to film through the rain but nothing prepared Howard or I for the mind blowing curry the chefs had prepared for our dinner. Already sweltering in the car the kitchen staff have been ever increasing the heat of our evening meals. The result was an inevitable near paralytic meltdown of embarrassing proportions. Further fuel was thrown on the curry fire by our smiling driver encouraging us to drink hot chai to relieve the burn. Much to the amusement of our local trackers and driver it only added to the curry carnage and halted filming until our senses were in some way restored.

With only a few nights remaining we're hoping the rain holds off just a few more days but with black clouds overhead it seems unlikely. The monsoon has come and soon it will be time to pack up and leave this amazing place to replenish for next year. video

29.9.10

Rhino Ridge


Rhino on Rhino Ridge

Rhino Ridge is hardly a ridge, more a huge gentle hill sitting between the northern boundary of the Mara reserve and the valley carved by the Mara river as it flows south then east towards Tanzania. The 'ridge' got its name for the fact that once it was a good place to see (and previously to hunt) rhino. Twenty years ago, I saw one there, shortly before a Mara ranger was arrested for colluding in the killing of one of the eight remaining rhinos in the Mara - and thereafter Rhinos were presumed more or less extinct in the Mara as a result of poaching for their horn.

Two days ago, there was a rhino strolling nonchanantly across the top of Rhino Ridge after an absence of twenty years Incredulous topi and zebra, who may have never seen a rhino before, watched. Nobody seems to know how many rhino there are in the Mara today (-or they’re not saying), but last night we saw yet another wandering around among Maasai villages in the dead of night, a hopeful sign that rhinos really are returning.

23.9.10

Grass


Tasting the grass

It’s all about grass. The reason the wildebeest are here (the Maasai Mara)
is because of the grass. The combination of soil, grazing patterns and rainfrall
have now carpeted huge areas with short neatly clipped, emerald green
grass, a lawn that any Englishman would be proud of. This is
exactly the kind of nutritious sward that the wildebeest like - and they
are now here in greater numbers than ever.

Do wildebeest like the taste of grass and savour the differences in
flavour between the different species? Do they live for the taste of
fresh, green shoots? Perhaps, but a taste test revealed that our tiny
(compared to a wildebeest) taste and smell receptors can't tell one kind
of grass from another - and that humans aren't really that keen on the taste of
grass.

Tank, Brick and Bison


Billie and Ben playing

Giving the animals names could be seen as frivolous and unnecessarily anthropomorphising them. But without giving them names, we have difficulty understanding who's who, and in a complex society like that of hyenas, we need to be able to describe individuals with a quick shorthand - names.

There's one who likes to rip the cables off the front of the car (he's called Cable Biter), and youngster who whines a lot at feeding time (you guessed it, Whiner) - probably because his mother is cutting off his milk supply.

But there are unforgettable hyenas who's stature and demeanour inspire names like Tank, Brick, and in the clan we are following now, Bison. These are the matriarchs of the clan, mothers and grandmothers to quite a few of the females in the clan. As they rarely need to hunt they have been able to dispense with the usual lithe and fast hyena bodies for sheer bulk and muscle. They are the huge testosterone filled monsters, who have created in observers the mistaken impression that the (smaller) male hyenas have only low status in the clan (as they have lower testosterone counts and do sometimes get beaten up).

Today, we witnessed Billie and Ben romping about playing, chasing and generally jumping on each other despite the fact that they are adults - in Ben's case, and probably almost so in Billie's case. Billie was trying to excavate a burrow, presumably in readiness for the time she will give birth (clearly not yet). Meanwhile, Ben was acting as sentinel, while also trying to mate as she was digging. He didn't seem serious, and she seemed to be enjoying the attention. We watched and filmed for an hour as they romped across the plains. What energy - but no sign of dominating behaviour from Billie. Perhaps in another 10 years or so, Billie will become like her grandmother - and need another name should we ever meet her again. 'Hulk' perhaps.

22.9.10

Raining Leopards

We were just getting set to leave this evening when the sky’s opened and it started to pour with rain. Apparently it’s the dry season here but after a scorching day the thunderclouds built up and the storm started. Our car is now protected with a combination of plastic sheeting and bin liners against the torrential elements.


We’re working double night shifts at the moment in an attempt to outfox the leopards and possibly film one hunting. Very few people have ever seen a leopard make a kill here but no one has really driven in the park at night, let alone observe the leopards. After 5 weeks of filming we think that they may be making their kills in the early hours of the morning.

So for the past 3 days we’ve set our alarm clocks for 3am and headed off into the park. After 6 hours or so we return to refuel with a largely waffle-filled breakfast and plenty of coffee. Then after downloading our footage 3pm rolls around and we head out again for another 6 hours. It’s a rather strange (and painful) time scale to work in but you can’t argue with the results, we’ve found leopards every day but sadly we’re still waiting to catch an elusive hunt. Who knows, if it ever stops raining we might just film one!

19.9.10

Leopard Family Life


Last night was an absolute highlight of our filming in Sri Lanka so far. We are now on our second leg of night filming leopards and last night we found an adult male, 2 cubs and their mother all taking it in turns to feed on a kill. It was amazing to see this giant male playfully ignore the relentless gnawing of his tail by a very persistent cub.

The males here are some of the largest leopards in the world and absolutely dwarf the adult females let alone foolhardy cubs. But last night we filmed this incredible family share some very rare quality time. It has been observed in the past that males do occasionally socialise with their own cubs but has it ever been filmed? We're not sure, so rather than declare a world first we're just thrilled to have documented such an amazing interaction. We're off filming crocodiles now so best filming trousers, cake safely stowed (and bug spray) and getting loading that night car.




report via: Tom (Cake Boy) Stephens

18.9.10

Too Many Gnus Are Spoiling the Broth

The only gnus coming through from Africa is in truncated phone calls as their email links aren't working. From Ammonite HQ we can report that there are unprecedented numbers of wildebeest on the Mara plains this year.

We are currently filming for two projects in the Mara; one is about hyenas and they have been performing marvelously, however the crocodiles that the crew are trying to film for the other project have scoffed so many wildebeest that they are bloated and sleepy and are lying around in a state of torpor.

However Tom (cake boy) Stephens has a great internet connection and has taken some stunning images of leopards which will be posted very soon.

5.9.10

Hyena PR


When the public relations skills were handed out to the animals, the hyenas must have been somewhere else - and the lions got the hyena share of human popularity.

Male lions, despite usually being greedy thieving thugs, have lovely long manes and charismatic looks. They inspire awe and respect among humans. Male hyenas on the other hand, are often seen wallowing in mud, or the excrement of other animals, perhaps hanging round lions as they feed, apparently hoping for scraps left by the king of beasts. The male hyena has a reputation for cowardice and submission in front of the more powerful females.

But if you look closely at the hyenas surrounding lions on a kill (for real or on TV), you will quite likely see one with blood on his neck - certainly the animal that made the kill - a hyena and not a lion.

Many people now realise that the truth about hyenas differs from the way they have been portrayed in the media. Night filming is helping us uncover more of what hyenas, and male hyenas in particular, really do.

The male hyenas do the bulk of the hunting - the feeding of the clan. They are faster and lighter than the bulky females, and can as a group out-run and bring down almost any animal they choose, healthy or not. At night it seems that hyenas are almost completely predatory, hardly bothering with carrion, while lions will steal a significant proportion of hyena kills.

The male hyenas do seem to get a raw deal. But in reality, they are valued members of the clan, acting as baby sitters at the den, giving support and reassurance to youngsters, making kills for suckling females, and generally acting as a mobile security network keeping the boundaries of the clan territory intact. And when lions threaten it's the males who dart around the lions, harrying them, getting them to run and tire, while the powerful testosterone filled females have the serious muscle ready
just in case.

26.8.10

Good Gnus From The Masai Mara

After an extremely busy time between here and the leopard shoot in Sri Lanka, there's finally time to write.

Arriving here a week ago, we were told that the wildebeest (gnu) migration had already returned to Tanzania a few weeks early. Although this wasn't crucial to the two films we are making here (crocodiles and hyenas) it is always disappointing to arrive at a party when everyone's gone home. There were a few herds about, but generally things were looking a bit empty.

Then, we had two days of rain and the herds piled back across the Mara River to cover the plains. It is an astounding sight, wildebeest as far as the eye can see in all directions. This scale of this spectacle never ceases to amaze me, but also saddens me to remember that until quite recently, Europe, North America, Asia, India, other parts of Africa all had similar concentrations of wildlife which have all but disappeared.

24.8.10

Stop Press: Transmission News


We have transmission news for the lion film that we made last year.

The film will be known as Night of the Hunt in the US and Night Of The Lion elsewhere (don't ask...)

The first transmission will be at 9pm on the 13th September on Nat Geo Wild in the UK and the rest of Europe*, for photos and a lovely trailer see the Night of The Lion website.

Night of the Lion is the first of a series of films featuring nocturnal activity. Currently in production are films discovering the nocturnal behaviour of leopards, hyenas and crocodiles.

22.8.10

Rescheduling

The wonderful thing about filming in a new place is that there is so much to learn...

The problem with filming in a new place is that there is so much to learn...

No matter how much research we do before we start filming, it's only when we actually get there, start filming and meet people who know the place well, then we start to get a real idea of the relationships between the animals and the landscape and how the seasons affect the whole ecosystem.

Our original plan had been to film the start of the dry season, then go back next year for the rains. Then we realised that the end of the dry season would be a time of much more interesting behaviour (in terms of the film we want to make), so we have changed all our plans around.

This is by way of an explanation for the lack of notes from the field - we've been in a frenzy of rescheduling. We all flew back to the UK to get kit cleaned, repaired and repacked. One crew is now filming hyenas in Africa - they have no internet, no phones and no electricity - no news from there yet. The other crew are scrambling together the necessary equipment to go back out to Sri lanka in three weeks time.

16.8.10

Flashy Geezer


Although this is supposed to be a leopard shoot, we couldn't resist taking photographs of some very interesting ants. Their shiny bodies are quite difficult to photograph, a modified flash is needed - here is Martin's ingenious diffuser involving twigs and an old plastic shopping bag.

11.8.10

Project leopard Commences


Chitral Jayatillake and Wari Illangasinghe from the John Keells Hotels Group with the first recipient of a leopard-proof cage.

The large animals that inhabit national parks might be great for a country's tourist industry (and marauding filmmakers), but for many of the people who live in the vicinity of the parks these animals can pose a considerable threat to their livelihoods. Around Yala National Park there have been several leopard attacks on local cattle herds and last year alone four or five leopards are known to have been killed by either the villagers or poachers in the area around Yala.

John Keells Hotel Group, which owns hotels near Sri Lanka's National Parks and organises wildlife safaris has recently embarked on Project Leopard, a scheme that will be giving local farmers several portable leopard-proof cages to protect the calves at night.

The first of these cages was handed over to a local farmer last week and we went along to film the event.

2.8.10

So Much To Tell ...

... we've filmed leopard liaisons, jocular jackals, beautiful birds, creepy crocodiles and food fighting, we've witnessed the donation of cattle-protecting cages and we've made some great sound recordings, none of which we can share yet because the internet connection doesn't work much - and we have to go even further into the jungle; notes from the field will continue in a week or so when communication permits.

30.7.10

Climb Every Mountain



Yesterday evening we hauled the kit up to a high spot to get some wide shots of the stunning Yala National Park.



Some of the Sri Lankan team; Lucksman Bandara (park warden), Ajit Kumara (driver), Kalu Murugiesh (driver), Thilanka Ranatunga (naturalist)




Ammonite cameramen; Tom Stephens, Howard Bourne, Martin Dohrn



Leopard spotting

20.7.10

Buffalo Bath Water



Last night we were filming a young female leopard as she approached a small waterhole. Water is starting to become sparse as the drought takes hold and waterholes are become more dispersed here in the south east of Sri Lanka. Due to their strong territoriality leopards regularly drink from their local waterhole, so you can imagine the surprise of our young female when she discovered a huge water buffalo blissfully lying in the muddy remains of her drinking pool.


Far from being deterred she silently approached the buffalo and hid behind a tree until darkness fell. Then as the light failed she crept around behind him and started drinking. All we could see was the buffalo and the leopards tail raised in the air like a flag as she precariously balanced herself to drink from the waterhole. After a few moments the buffalo's eyes shot open as he realised that there was an intrusion into his bath water. Stomping out of the bath and dripping with ooze he chased the leopard around the waterhole and into a tree. Almost blind in the dark the buffalo then paraded around the waterhole, seemingly looking for the leopard before squelching off into the forest. The leopard meanwhile, coolly jumped out of the tree and resumed her drink in peace.

We are returning to the waterhole tonight to see if the leopard returns!

TS

Thermal image of Buffalo and leopard: copyright ammonite

19.7.10

Leopard Spotting

Leopards are famous for their mysterious elusive nature. Obvious when sighted but extremely hard to pick out of the forest due to their dappled camouflage that blends so seamlessly into their surroundings. By day they could be concealed on the forest floor or high up in a tree enjoying a catnap, it’s hard to know where to look. Our challenge is even greater, finding these secretive cats at night and discovering exactly what they are getting up to.

So, with two starlight cameras, one thermal, two spotting vehicles, four night scopes and a small stadiums worth of infrared lights we set out every night to search for them. It may sound excessive but so far we’ve been successful in filming a leopard every night. This would be almost unheard of in Africa where leopards are far less common or dense in their distribution. But this isn’t Africa, we are in one of Asia’s most abundant wildlife areas and filming nocturnal behaviour new to television.

It’s whistling peacocks and chital deer alarm calls that we are listening out for in the forest night. The team are adapting to a whole new ecosystem and discovering leopards are far from predictable. But so far we’ve fortunate in finding them and with another night beckoning let’s hope that our luck continues!

TS

12.7.10

Jungle Driving


It’s 35 degrees with sweltering humidity and we’re deep in the Sri Lankan jungle. Our car is completely blacked out with hardly any visible lights other than the glow of our camera monitors. Infra red lights illuminate the road for our driver as we bounce down the forest track, scanning bushes and clearings for the most elusive of cats. It’s all very covert sounding but I fear our extremely loud car engine may give our presence away. We’re riding in a Ta Ta, one of India’s largest car manufacturers but sadly for us, it’s also the loudest.



Our standard covert approach is something like – Brum Brum Brum, “What’s that!?”, Brum Brum Brum, “STOP THE CAR!!”, screeeetch! “Turn Right”, Brum Brum Brum, “STOP THERE!”, BRUM! “Shhhhhhhhhhh!”



Not exactly a subtle entrance.



Despite the engine noise we’re nearly a week into our trip and every night is providing new insights into this amazing place. We’re looking for leopards as part of a new night series recently commissioned by National Geographic. With the new series comes a new member of the night team, our very own Howard Bourne, cameraman, engineer, kit guru and photographer. This is Howard’s first night assignment but it’s going to be a busy year filming so expect to see more of him and the night car over the next few months.


I’m afraid you may have to wait till next year to see if we’re successful in filming these stunning big cats but check back here for updates.

Tom Stephens

8.7.10

First Day



The component arrived - just in time - but the drama didn't abate. Testing the camera when we were supposed to be ready and packed, we breathed a collective sigh of relief when we got the last bag loaded into the car with just one missing wallet between us.

We were barely late getting on the road and as Roger sped us airportward it was looking good right up until the junction before Heathrow where we joined a massive tailback and spent hours at a standstill, there was a panickey trolley dash for Check-in and Customs and the spiral of solder in my bag really did look quite a lot like a bomb fuse in the x-ray machine.




We have now arrived at Yala and today is the day we set up the vehicles; special filming cages and rails have been fitted to a Tata and a Jeep and we are getting busy with cardboard, foam and gaffer tape constructing super-lo-tech housings for our super-hi-tech equipment

5.7.10

All Packed And Ready To Go




Visas? - check

Vaccinations? - check

Filming Permits? - check

Flights booked and paid for? - check

Equipment? - 20 cases already waiting in Columbo

Starlight Camera? - ????????

It's been a buttock-clenching month, the final component needed to mend our Starlight Camera was sent out to us a couple of weeks ago - and got lost in transit, every day since, we've eagerly awaited it's arrival.

With the filming dates fixed to coincide with favorable moons and the best chance of good weather we need to go tomorrow.

As I write this, a Camera Boy is running back from Europe clutching a new part - will he get it back here and in the camera by tomorrow morning?

7.6.10

Ammonite’s Man In Colombo

Just a week ago I was in huddled under canvas enjoying the bank holiday on the bright but chilly Devon coastline. A few days and a couple of quick decisions later, I found myself on malaria tablets and in the middle of the IIFA Bollywood film awards in Colombo.

It has been a hectic and sleepless couple of days but after a frankly terrifying six-hour drive through Sri Lanka’s stunning interior (overtaking buses and elephants on low-loaders), I finally made it to the wild south coast. Crashing surf and thick jungle greeted me along with monitor lizards and cobras spilling out of the forest and onto my hotel room terrace.

I’m in the depths of the Sri Lankan jungle on a week-long recce for a forth-coming Ammonite project (watch this space for details!). However I would be giving little away to say that I’ve visited one of Sri Lanka’s most pristine wildlife areas where I encountered a totally different ecosystem than I’ve become familiar with in Africa. Water buffalo appear like submarines from waterholes whilst smiling crocodiles line the banks. Lazy leopards hang in the trees contemptibly looking at the clambering vehicles surrounding them. It’s a great place.

Whilst I’m here I’ve been working with a fantastic local team who’ve been trialling a rather unique remote camera. Always keen on new technology at Ammonite I couldn’t help myself in lending a hand with the trial run this morning. Attaching a tiny HD camera in an underwater housing (that can apparently survive being run over) we fixed the camera to a kids remote control car and parked it in front of a herd of elephants. I’m not sure if being squashed by an elephant is in the manufactures warranty but fortunately we’ve not had to find out yet as the elephants took a curious interest before moving on without crushing our new toy. I’ve attached what can only be described as a mongoose’s eye view of an elephant with this post.

So it’s back to the office on Wednesday and leaving the warmth of Sri Lanka behind, look out for our posts over the summer as the Ammonite crew return to the jungle on our latest assignment.

Tom Stephens

video

28.5.10

Bourne Goes Badgering



Howard Bourne has been out filming badger activity at night. Here's a clip, just in case you ever doubted the cuteness of either Howard or the Badgers.

... Erm click on the movie to watch in Youtube if you'd like to see the whole frame

18.5.10

Dirt Box Ants


Two days on, the dirt box ants have put most of the soil where they want it and have created a wonderful array of tunnels, chambers, trash heaps and new fungus gardens. They are adapting their deep urge to dig within the confines of a few plastic boxes and a couple of plastic tubes - and seem very happy. When offered fresh rose leaves, they immediately set about cutting them into little semi-circles before carting them off to the fungus gardens (see image). There, the leaves are cut into yet smaller semi circles, dosed with a bit of anal secrection, chewed a bit and applied to the ever growing mass of fungal hyphae.

The details of this process are only now being worked out. Michael Poulson, Cameron Currie and the team at the Currie lab are discovering that the ants are manipulating various kinds of bacteria to aid the fungus and increase its nutritional value in a complex 4 (or more) way symbiosis.

15.5.10

Leaf Cutter Lab Ants

After an arduous journey consisting of at least 20 different queues, three different airports, and a bomb ‘scare’ (nobody seemed very scared) we finally arrived in Madison Wisconsin. We’re here at the Cameron Currie lab to film the internals of leaf cutter nests that would be impossible to see in the wild without digging up the whole enormous colony and destroying it. Luckily for us, leafcutters are easily kept in captivity and are the focus of much research on how exactly they manage their crops of cultivated fungus.

The ants here live mostly in plastic boxes of various sizes, and their beautiful sponge-like fungus gardens are easy to see. (Alex Wild was here a couple of weeks ago and took these pictures


As we need to film these ants in a more natural situation, we’ve given them some real dirt to play with. They haven’t seen soil since they were collected from Costa Rica a couple of years ago, and they are loving it. Yesterday morning, they started excavating some new chambers for fungus gardens, and we’ve managed to film some close up digging, and spectacular tracking shots of them carrying the soil down tunnels to the soil dump.

12.5.10

...And They're Off!



Howard Bourne, William Dohrn and Martin Dohrn are on their way to Wisconsin, USA to film leafcutter ants.

Dispatches arriving shortly

7.5.10

Ant Intelligence







Not content with simply going around the world to film diverse colonies of ants for The Incredible Film About Ants (title tbc). We have now travelled right across Bristol to visit Professor Nigel Franks, a world expert on social insect behaviour.


The ant's sophisticated communication and decision-making systems are key to their global success, Professor Franks has a colony of rock ants each with a tiny chip on their back, participants in an experiment demonstrating how ants make choices between prospective nesting sites more details of this work here. We had a busy day filming the ants as they moved around the set activating laser-controlled doors on their way to different sites, we also interviewed Professor Franks for the film.

We have two more filming trips to make before we can hand the material to the editor, stay tuned...




Photos
Howard Bourne filming in the lab with Professor Franks (Nad├ęge Laici)
Chipped rock ants - Temnothorax albipennis (Ammonite photography team)

1.5.10

Hangers on


The mystery skin disease turned out to be 'cutaneous larva migrans', a kind of worm that burrows into the skin and intends to enter the lungs where it lays eggs, which get coughed up and swallowed - to pass out in the animals faeces. Thankfully in humans this hanger on lacks the necessary enzymes to penetrate the body, and can only meander aimlessly just under the skin until it runs out of motivation. It can be treated with a drug called Albendazole.

The army ants have their own hangers on. In the photo, what appears to be an ant is in fact a small beetle, dressed up to look like an army ant, which lives its entire life in the mobile ant colony, feeding on the plentiful prey that the army ants bring back to camp.

26.4.10

The Cost of Good Images


Frankencam has been designed to make filming small things on the forest floor easy. Taking still images is a whole other problem. If you want to get striking photos of ants, you may well need to lie down on the ground with them. In the tropics, this behaviour carries a risk - in this case, some kind of burrowing animal (see photo) - possibly a fly larva, possibly a very large kind of mite (photo dimensions about 40mmx35mm). If anyone has an idea what it could be, we’d love to know.

Argentine Ants


Our last shoot in Spain focussed on the Argentine ant invasion of the world. Scientists are only just unravelling the causes of their incredible success at colonising Europe, North America, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and many more. It turns out that the bulk of these ants form one enormous super colony of ants that will always welcome each other if introduced. There are other supercolonies, one from Catalonia in Spain, which will immediately attack ants from different super colonies, and fight to the death. This photo shows one ant from the main supercolony snipping the leg of an ant from the Catalan supercolony, while its own limbs are severed in the same way.

Army Ant Myth


People love to write and believe sensationalist drivel about army ants. The internet is full of made-up ‘facts’ that suggest they can eat chickens, pigs, even people, that everything living flees from their advance etc etc. In fact, the best known species of army ant, Eciton burchellii doesn’t eat meat, never touches carrion, and a swarm will turn and run from a stamped foot or human breath. Its behaviour is still utterly extraordinary, and is an ant filmmakers dream - because it lives most of its life in the open where it can be seen. In this photo, a coordinated team of four ants cooperate to carry a centipede carcass.

There are other species of army ant that are much less pleasant to work with. Labidus and Dorylus are two genera of more aggressive ants that will attack livestock if it is caged or tied. But even for them, stripping a mouse to the bone would take a day. Disposing of a chicken is entirely out of their league.

Bullet Ant Myth


This is one of the largest species of ant in the world, about 25mm long, here carrying a drop of liquid back to its nest. Apparently it’s called the bullet ant because it is said that when it stings you, you feel as if you’ve been shot. Personally, I’d say it’s more like a bee sting, only a bit sharper, and nowhere near as painful as the sting of the harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex), one species of which has been identified as possessing the most potent venom of any animal so far tested.

18.4.10

Airport Drama


The message to Iceland had been
'Please send CASH'

meanwhile our ant-filming crew are stuck in Madrid airport waiting for the rest of the cases to turn up - we have a lot of baggage

11.4.10

Santa Rosa Dry Forest trees


Costa Rica wet and dry

The dry season is the best time of year to visit Santa Rosa. Because of the extreme conditions (rain for 6 months, no rain at all for 6 months) the trees here have developed some spectacular adaptations to the climate. By January, most of the trees have lost all of their leaves, and the place looks almost like a northerm deciduous forest in the winter. But it’s 40 degrees in the shade. Extreme thorns are a regular features (see photo) while other trees have bark that can continue to photosynthesise through the dryest weather, long after the tree has become leafless (see photo).

100 miles away, on the other side of the mountains which divide Costa Rica, is La Selva research station, the place that caused the fungal foot episode. Here, the habitat is rain forest in the truest sense. At the moment, it rains for an hour, then we get no rain at all for an hour. Filming is going slowly. Today the crew are waiting out the weather beneath a canopy created by huge 60 metre trees, notably ceiba, surrounded by ferns of every description, and the wild relatives of typical office pot plants, ficus, palms, cheese plants etc. (pics to follow)

The Director

Deer chases vampire in Costa Rica

9.4.10

It's Getting Competitive


The Director has sent us this photo of an arm that has reacted badly to the bites of tick larvae. He feels that this spectacle deserves more sympathy than Stephen's fungal foot - should we turn this into a proper competition, awarding a medal to the most appalling fate suffered by wildlife film-makers?

8.4.10

Vampires In The Forest

While the ant crew are filming at La Selva, I’m spending a few days in another part of Costa Rica - the extraordinary Pacific dry forest of Guanacaste conservation area* - investigating the possibility of another film (that would be our fourth in this area).

This forest type was once found along the entire Central American Pacific coast, and now exists only as a few fragments, this being probably the largest.

At this time of year, it’s bone dry, few of the trees have leaves, and yet there are still typical rainforest animals living here, parrots, tapirs, jaguars, three species of monkey - and vampire bats.

Last night, testing the thermal camera allowed us to watch as vampires landed near white tailed deer, and hop towards them. The deer knew exactly what was going on, and chased the vampires away.

The Director

* more here

4.4.10

Welly Rot






















I have cycled more miles in the last week than over the course of the entire year. This isn’t part of some new fitness program; it’s all because of ants.

My recent bout of pedalling is taking place in jungle – Costa Rican jungle. We are at La Selva, a small reserve run by the Organization for Tropical Studies. They had the foresight to make this beautiful patch of rainforest accessible to everyone, and that means broad cement trails that link together a good chunk of its 1600 hectares of protected land. For a film crew it’s a great help, particularly when you have 21 cases of heavy film equipment to lug through the forest. We can rent tricycles with large front-loaded luggage carriers to move our equipment to the best areas for ant action. In the last week we have witnessed two army ant raids, filmed leaf-cutter ants chomping their way through hundreds of cocoa leaves and assembled a 20-foot crane in the forest to shoot a high-angle view of a large leaf-cutter ants’ nest.

But I am beginning to feel rotten – quite literally. My left foot has developed a fungal infection from days spent in sweaty rubber boots. Why rubber boots? There are plenty of snakes in the forest that could kill with a single bite not to mention the awesome stinging power of hundreds of thousand of marching army ants; boots are a line of defence against the dangerous creatures of the jungles but unfortunately the pay-off seems to be foot rot! I think, all things considered, I’ll stick with wearing the boots and take my chances with my rotting left foot.

Stephen Dunleavy

31.3.10

And They're Off

Howard Bourne, Alastair McEwan and Stephen Donleavy packed their several dozen bags and set off to Costa Rica for the next stage of ant filming.


We are already getting reports of gruesome fungal attacks


news from the front will be arriving soon!

24.3.10

John Lynch Voices Our Amazing Lion Film


The very handsome John Lynch came to Wounded Buffalo studios in Bristol today so that Ben Peace* could record him doing the voiceover for The Amazing Lion Film.

His gorgeous Irish voice works wonderfully and suddenly this film is looking really real.

*Ben is planning to name his next son Warren

11.3.10

What Happens Next?

Sorry about the long silence, we've had our heads buried in post-production for the last umpty squillion weeks, finally ... finally the picture is locked and the Man Upstairs says he likes it. We're now doing script tweaks, sound stuff and grading. The Astonishing Lion Movie (title to be confirmed) will be on your screens in the UK and Stateside in September. We'll tell you more and put trailers up when the Man Upstairs says we can.

We are also preparing the next filming expedition for the Ant Film which sets off just before Easter to Costa Rica so expect this screen to flicker back into life soon.

Thank you for your patience

4.1.10

What We See In The Cutting Room



A bit grisly - but that's life!

Happy 2010 everyone