Watch Walking with Prehistoric Beasts

Walking with Prehistoric Beast is a 90 minute digital production by the BBC and Discovery Channel. There are 8 episodes in 2001 that chronicles the creatures and dinosaurs during the Cenozoic era. This was when mammals dominated the earth after a large extinction caused by the cold weather killed over 65 percent of the dinosaurs and other mammals. In this series mammals encounter freezing temperatures, predators, and dangerous conditions like snow covered bogs.

BBC One
1 Season, 6 Episodes
November 15, 2001
Documentary & Biography, Science & Technology, History
8.3/10
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Stockard Channing
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Walking with Prehistoric Beasts Full Episode Guide

  • By 280 million years ago (the early Permian period), an Ice Age had wiped out the dense coal-forests and with them most of the giant insects and amphibians. A new group of animals and plants took over. Foremost among these were the reptiles, whose bodies could cope with the new dry, cold conditions. They became the giants of the early Permian. Heat was at a premium and the mornings saw a race between predator and prey to see who could warm up faster. Giant sail-finned reptiles, such as Dimetrodon, wandered this desolate landscape, snapping at anything that came within range, including each other. As we watch, Dimetrodon twists and shrinks, becoming more sleek and wolf-like until it eventually turns into gorgonopsid, a predatory mammal-like reptile.

  • By 300 million years ago (the Carboniferous period), the plants had finally got a grip on the Earth's soil. This was the age of the coal-forests, a bizarre world of dense, impenetrable swamps filled with club-mosses and tree-ferns. Although amphibians were making inroads along the rivers, the main forests were ruled by the insects and they grew enormous with their success. Three-foot-long dragonflies battled with two-foot-wide spiders, but the most deadly of all was Arthropleura, an animal that looked like a ten-foot-long woodlouse but which hunted like a deadly anaconda. In this terrifying world, the first reptiles, such as Petrolacosaurus, fought to save their eggs. At the end of our visit to the coal forests, we watch as Petrolacosaurus transforms into the gigantic and terrifying carnivorous reptile Dimetrodon.

  • By 360 million years ago (the Devonian period), the scorpions had had their day. Next it was turn of the fish to grow large and take over the role of top predator. Some armoured fish, such as Dunkleosteus, grew to ten meters or more and even hunted the recently evolved sharks. Meanwhile, other types of fish were tempted onto land, lumbering aquatic beasts slipping and sliding after the creepy-crawly colonialists that had tried to escape the water. One or two found this new environment, with its dense moss forests, so attractive that their fins became firmer and five digits grew at the end. This was Acanthostega, the ancestor of all mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs. But land was no sanctuary. Lying in wait for Acanthostegsa was the deadly 'sliding fish' that could grow to 30 feet long and two tons in weight.

  • Around 410 million years ago (the Silurian period), the first sea creatures were beginning make forays onto the land. The first group to successfully do so were the scorpions. For some time, they had been successful predators in the sea, with only the squid's ancestors threatening them. But then, some swarmed onto land, while others grew so large (3 meters or more in length) in the sea that they had no natural enemies. This was Scorpion World, where huge shoals of trilobites were food and fish had to be heavily armoured to escape giant claws. We follow the perilous journey of a shoal of Alaspis, our distant fishy ancestors, as they attempt to migrate from the sea to a lake to spawn. At the end, we see an Alaspis morph and transform, growing in size and stature until it becomes Acanthostega, a Devonian amphibian.

  • Around 550 million years ago (the Cambrian period), a revolution happened. Our distant, soft-bodied ancestors evolved teeth, claws, graspers, hooks, spines and all manner of other weapons. This was evolution of the predators. As a consequence, life went through an explosion of variety. In the Cambrian sea, every creature stalked, shuffled and swam through the sunlit waters. No sooner did thick armour evolve for defence, but creatures like the mighty Anomalocaris evolved a round, crushing mouth to destroy it. In this sea, the segmented Tuzoia gave rise to all crabs and insects, the round Arkarua became ancestor of starfish and sea urchins, and the small harmless Pikaia became ancestor to everything with a backbone, from the Great White shark to the dinosaurs.

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Walking with Prehistoric Beasts is currently available to watch and stream on BBC One. You can also buy, rent Walking with Prehistoric Beasts on demand at Amazon online.