The top 50 Natural History moments

By Dale Shaw

This Earth Day, stay in and explore the beauty, drama and spectacle of our natural world with 50 incredible natural history moments from BBC Earth.

Boogieing birds, crafty cats and motoring mudskippers! Get ready to witness 50 of the most popular videos from the BBC Earth archives featuring some of the most extraordinary sights that nature has to offer. Our countdown is based on the videos you've been liking and sharing.

50. The birds that have lived for 44 million years

Dance moves, construction skills and no problems at all with commitment issues. The picathartes bird mates for life and has been consistently doing so for the past 44 million years. What’s their secret?

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49. Crocodile surprise attacks wildebeest

Not for the faint of heart. A group of wildebeest learn an important lesson about the dangers of casual drinking. Especially taking a tipple from a river that is teeming with hungry crocodiles. And yet they still go back for more.

48. Ants rip queen's legs off

If you thought Game of Thrones was brutal, wait until you see the final moments of this long-established ant colony invaded by a rival group. It climaxes in the queen getting legless. But not in a good way.

47. Snow leopard hunting

Rutting on a sheer cliff face would seem to be treacherous enough. But that’s what the large Himalayan goat called the markhor engages in every year. A nimble, hungry snow leopard only adds a further layer of danger to the whole enterprise.

46. Drongo bird tricks meerkats

You’ll find one in every workplace. That joker who gains your confidence, sneakily distracts you and then swipes your lunch out of the communal fridge. In the Kalahari, it’s the drongo bird who ingeniously gets a free meal from some unsuspecting meerkats.

45. Wolves unable to separate after sex!

Ever wondered why wolves howl? Well, this could be one of the reasons right here. It’s the age-old story, a young female and a mysterious stranger. But when their furtive tryst is discovered unexpectedly, the young pair finds that, quite literally, love will keep them together. Painfully.

44. Grunion fish beach themselves to mate

Here are some more sexy shenanigans as a huge group of humble grunion fish perform their extraordinary mating regime involving surfing, jumping, drilling and beaching. Who ever said that love was easy?

43. Spy hippo discovers a fish spa!

The Spy in the Wild robo-cameras have unearthed a number of unbelievable sights over the years. But who would have ever suspected that an adorable robotic hippo would witness a full spa treatment featuring massage, dermabrasion and general pampering on its companions?

42. Dinosaur cannibalism

Dinosaurs aren’t known for their subtlety, consideration and overall good manners. So try to act surprised when you see a male Majungasaurus not only fend off a feeding rival in a fairly brutal way, but then decide to enjoy this slain rival for dessert.

41. Spinosaurus vs Carcharodontosaurus

It’s might versus bite as a burly Spinosaurus does battle with the awesome jaws of a Carcharodontosaurus over the chance to gorge on a nearby carcass. Will power or technique prevail?

40. Penguin chicks struggle to survive

If you were going to pick an animal parent to be adopted by, you could do far worse than the mighty penguin. As well as studiously looking after their own chicks, they will often do battle over the chance to raise any orphans in the flock. Oh, except that their overexuberant parenting can actually damage their potential offspring.

39. Don't mess with a HUGE elephant seal

At 6m long and four tons in weight, the enormous elephant seals are not a mammal to be trifled with. Especially if you park your car slightly too close to where they’re sleeping.

38. Bird of paradise: appearances count

Many of us are prone to exaggeration when it comes to our online dating profiles. Well, the six-plumed bird of paradise goes the extra mile, by not only painstakingly cleaning his display area, but also really throwing some amazing shapes on the dance floor when it’s time to attract a mate.

37. Spinosaurus fishes for prey

If you were going to select something delicious for your tea, why would you pick a giant swordfish with lethal barbs lining its snout? Well, that’s a question you need to ask the Spinosaurus, except you can’t as they’re now extinct. Possibly due to its choice of fine dining.

36. Bird of paradise courtship spectacle

As we’ve recently witnessed, the bird of paradise is an impressive mover and shaker when it comes to meeting a lady friend. Sample even more of their extraordinary balletic skills in one of nature’s most eye-catching events.

35. Oviraptorid fights to protect nest

More outstanding motherhood on display as the female Oviraptorid valiantly guards her nest from a variety of pests, predators and annoying passers-by. But there are some hazards that even the most vigilant parent can’t overcome.

34. Orangutan saws branches for fun

Shamefully, the DIY skills of this orangutan, who finds a discarded saw in the jungle, are far superior to ours. And if, like us, you’ve dreamed of seeing a robot ape doing a bit of woodworking, now is your chance.

33. Spider with three super powers

You can keep your Avengers! We’ve discovered a spider with almost as many superpowers as legs. They can leap, they have incredible vision and they can plot 3D plans of attack. It’s like they’re some kind of spider-based superhero. Wait, that´s given me an idea!

32. Flying fish picked off from above and below

Have you ever had one of those days? Pity the poor flying fish who, in order to escape predators in the water, have evolved to leap from the sea and glide through the air using their fins. Unfortunately, they’ve not yet evolved to deal with predators that are lurking in their flightpath.

31. Chick jumps off cliff

You might think you’re tough, but are you barnacle gosling tough? This fluffy, plucky seabird has to take a leap of faith from a cliff top to reach its parents 400 feet below, bouncing off jagged rocks as it goes. It’s like the Steve Backshall of the goose world.

30. Spider dances for his life

We’ve all tried to impress a potential mate with some amazing displays of dancing technique. But for this spider, the odds are even more important as if his smooth moves aren’t appreciated, there’s a really good chance he’ll be the main course for the watching female spider.

29. Antlion cone death trap

Who’d be an ant? Despite having one of the coolest names in nature, the hot rod ant does not have a happy life. If they stand still, they’ll be fried in the Namib desert heat. And then there’s the sneaky antlion and his ‘cone of death’ which is not as fun as it sounds.

28. Extraordinary octopus takes to land

You can run, but you can’t hide. Especially if you’re a crab who might, quite understandably, think a rock pool at low tide is the perfect place to avoid any trouble. But they didn’t plan on this thoroughly aquatic octopus suddenly deciding to stroll from pool to pool.

27. The bowerbird's grand performance!

There’s display, there’s courtship rituals and then there’s just showing off. Surely the bowerbird is the art student of the avian world - trying to impress all and sundry with their weird movements, colourful attire and generous use of props. And, as all art students know, that effort doesn’t always guarantee a decent grade.

26. How do cats use their whiskers?

If you’ve ever entertained a cat with a bit of fluff on a string, you’ll know that they are fascinated by sudden movement. But their eyesight, close-up, is not all that great, so how do they trap their prey? It’s all down to some pretty nifty whisker manipulation.

25. Polar bear vs walrus

When you’re the world’s largest land carnivore, you’d think that pretty much any other animal is fair game. But when that animal is a wall of thick blubber, impenetrable hide and enormous tusks, you might find you’re not as tough as you think. This polar bear soon learns an important lesson: never mess with a walrus.

24. Hungry polar bear ambushes seal

But when polar bears select prey that’s a slightly more manageable size, the results can be surprisingly effective. This desperately hungry bear pulls off some pretty amazing manoeuvres and formidable hunting techniques to trap the plump, delicious seal in its sights.

23. Pack of wolves hunt a bison

Like some ultraviolent version of the shepherding show One Man and His Dog, a pack of wolves work in tandem to pick off a bison. But when you’re dealing with North America’s largest land animal, you can expect a few challenges.

22. Spider shoots 25m web

It’s no bigger than a thumbnail, but it’s able to produce and shoot silk over a 25m stretch and NO ONE KNOWS HOW! It’s the incredible Darwin Bark spider that dangles a delicate web over a river using a bridging line of its own construction.

21. Why do cats miaow?

Cat communication is far more complex than you might imagine. They appear to have two differing strands of language - one for each other and one for us, their owners. Which seems a bit rude - but then, they are cats after all.

20. Elephant needs life-saving surgery after being caught in a snare

Humans can be responsible for hideous damage to elephants but can also be the ones to repair that damage. This poor creature has been injured by a poacher’s snare, but trying to provide medical relief to alleviate its suffering is a dangerous proposition.

19. Caterpillars feeding on exploding touch-me-not seed pods

If you’re dealing with a bison or a walrus, you might assume a bit of resistance when you’re trying to eat them. But for a caterpillar, trying to chomp some balsam plants, they might not expect this kind of self-defence. There’s a reason the plants are known as ‘touch-me-not’.

18. Three cheetahs vs ostrich

Cheetahs are built for speed and as a result they are a little fragile and can’t tackle larger, heavier prey on their own. That’s why they have learnt that hunting in a pack is more efficient, as this ostrich learns to its cost.

17. Leopards learn how to catch catfish

You would think a creature called a catfish would have a certain amount of kinship with a big cat like a leopard. But, as we witness, the peace treaty between them completely breaks down as one smart, juvenile leopard figures out how to wrangle this rather slippery foe.

16. Sardine feeding frenzy: whale, shark, dolphin and sea lions

Do you ever get the feeling you aren’t popular? This astonishing shoal of sardines can’t seem to catch a break as a growing group of deadly sea predators line up to pick them off.

15. Mudskippers: the fish that walk on land

I’ve never seen a crab look slightly embarrassed. But you can’t help but notice the ‘eye-on-stalk’ rolling as they watch the plucky mudskipper, a fish that breathes air and spends a lot of its time out of the water, seek a mate by leaping, in a fairly ungainly fashion, high in the air like some filth-splattered stage diver.

14. Puppy opens its eyes for the first time

Ever wondered how your faithful hound is able to grab a frisbee or ball out of mid-air so effectively? Well, luckily for you, you can find out the answer by watching this video of an adorable puppy. If only we could discover the solution to all of life’s secrets in this way.

13. Attenborough: saying boo to a sloth!

If you ever wanted to witness a national treasure startle a rare jungle creature, then do we have a treat for you! Sir David Attenborough even jokingly calls his new pal a ‘giant compost heap’ but the sloth appears to be unmoved by the entire encounter.

12. Wolf pack hunts a hare

This is just exhausting. These wolves need to work as a dedicated hunting unit to catch prey such as a hare. But hares are fast, agile and annoyingly spry. All the wolves can do is try to keep up as it runs, leaps and evades them like some long-eared parkour participant.

11. Kangaroo boxing fight

The equivalent of a nightclub car park on a Saturday night after closing time – here are two massive male kangaroos engaging in some random acts of pouch-punching, crotch-kicking, eye-gouging and neck-knocking.

10. Penguin chicks stand-off against predator

Emperor penguin chicks form an adorable, fluffy barrier to this potential predator as they make their way to the sea. Watch out for a cameo from a particularly feisty Adelie!

9. Tiny penguin makes a deadly dash from giant leopard seal

Have you ever been made to partake in an escape room? Shoved in an enclosed space and forced to engage in a number of puzzles to get out of there? This tiny penguin has escape room issues of their own as they dodge and flit from a huge leopard seal that would really like to eat them.

8. Wild hamster has a graveyard feast

A wild European hamster bites off a bit more than it can chew after plunging its head inside a jar containing delicious candle wax, while forgetting that it has a vast cheek surface area. Hilarious… if a little embarrassing (for the hamster).

7. Attenborough: the amazing lyre bird sings like a chainsaw

Is the lyre bird the Mariah Carey of the avian world? Or perhaps Milli Vanilli is a better comparison as, even though it releases an incredible complex song to attract a mate, these songs are actually direct copies of the song stylings of all the other birds around him! And he’s also a dab hand at impressions.

6. Amazing crabs shell exchange

Moving house is one of the most stressful activities you can undertake: the paperwork, the packing, the other vendors. So marvel at these amazing hermit crabs who line up in order of size to exchange shells as they outgrow their own. What a good idea!

5. Kung fu mantis vs jumping spider

You need to watch this one until the end. Or possibly not, if you don’t like things that make you jump. A newly hatched orchid mantis manages to evade the capture of a jumping spider by employing some remarkable kung fu skills. But then danger suddenly appears from an unexpected source.

4. Eagle Plucks Prey in Flight

An African fishing eagle doesn't just eat fish. It has an impressive technique to hunt more agile prey.

3. Spy Monkey mistaken for dead baby and aourned by troop

It’s hard to hold back the tears as you witness these langur monkeys appearing to mourn a damaged robotic camera monkey they believe to be a dead infant. Truly extraordinary.

2. Iguana vs snakes

This jaw-dropping sequence where a young iguana attempts to traverse a terrain absolutely heaving with snakes, all desperate to eat it. It has to be one of the most thrilling moments ever filmed.

1. Lion attacked by clan of hyenas

Talk about taking a wrong turn. This young lion has accidentally blundered into a pack of hyenas. And hyenas are not known for their patient nature or warm welcomes. He’s soon outnumbered and outflanked. But will someone come to his rescue before the worst happens? In four minutes, the natural world proves itself able to exhibit all the thrills and emotion of a full-length Hollywood movie.