Videos for teaching ecology (Updated periodically)

In my experience, students love watching videos in class, and using them can draw students into material in a way that regular lecturing does not. So, this is an attempt to compile a list of videos that people have found helpful for teaching about concepts typically covered in ecology courses (or the ecology section of courses like Intro Bio). I will try to update this post periodically, especially to fix any links that break or to add new resources. So, feel free to suggest additions in the comments!

1. Since so many of these are from the BBC and feature David Attenborough, I’ve noted those by indicating “(David Attenborough)” after the link. There are many, many more possible David Attenborough clips, of course! This piece by Ed Yong summarizes the entire Life series, and might give ideas for videos to use.
2. Some videos are listed in multiple sections, if they fit into multiple categories. In other cases, though, I’ve just noted which sections are likely to contain videos that will also make sense.

General sites with lots of different videos:
1. HHMI BioInteractive: lots of videos on biodiversity, environmental science, and evolution. (ht: @GOrizaola)
2. A list of marine biology videos, maintained by Jarrett Byrnes
3. BBC Planet Earth, Blue Planet, Frozen Planet, etc.
4. Encyclopedia of Life podcasts (ht: Gaurav Kandlikar) (Added 28 OCT 2013)
5. Crash Course ecology (a series of videos on the history of life on earth, predation, nutrient cycling, etc.) (ht: Jon Borrelli) (added 7 August 2014)
6. Wildscreen ARKive (lots of photos and videos, organized by species, place, topic, and age) (ht: Catherine Badgley) (added 7 August 2014)

What is ecology?/General overviews
1. From @GrunerDaniel: Drives home, through bad example, that Ecology is NOT Environmental Science, despite the title “What is Ecology” (note added 28 OCT 2013: See this comment from Scott Rollins about how the contrast of ecology vs. environmental science vs. environmentalism)
2. The story of our planet (ht: Jung Choi) (added 4 August 2014)
3. What is ecology? (ht: Achaz von Hardenberg) (added 30 August 2016)

Evolutionary ecology
1. The Junco Project, covers adaptation and rapid evolution (ht: Rich Lenski)
2. Adaptation: cheetah vs. greyhound, which covers some of the adaptations for speed in these animals, and the similarities in those adaptations (ht: Kalan Ickes)
3. Fishing for a living: Kalan Ickes reports using about 20 minutes of video from this episode of “The Life of Birds” when covering adaptation. There are certainly lots of impressive examples in here!
4. Rapid evolution of coat color in mice
(Also see videos in parasitism, competition, and predation sections)
5. Crossbill feeding technique (ht: Jeff Dudycha, who uses this clip when teaching about how complex structures can evolve through gradualism, featuring Benkman and Lindstrom’s work)

Physiological ecology
1. Cryobiology: How frogs freeze (ht: @GrunerDaniel, who points out that the video also includes dorky scientist jokes about sex)
2. Fog basking beetle, which condense water on their bodies to get water while living in fog deserts. (ht: @GrunerDaniel)
3. Running to keep cool in the desert, the darkling beetle (ht: @GrunerDaniel)
4. Bactrian camels (David Attenborough)
5. Kangaroo adaptations to the desert (David Attenborough)
6. Deep diving in sperm whales (David Attenborough)
7. Chemotropism in the parasitic plant dodder. The text on this page explains more about what is going on. (ht: Andrea Case) (added 8 July 2014)

Behavioral ecology (In my opinion, if you don’t have lots of videos in the behavioral ecology section, you’re doing it wrong!)
1. Waggle dance of honey bees, featuring Tom Seeley; one of his grad students and the video host (David Pogue) do an excellent waggle dance at the end.
2. Another waggle dance video
3. Mating dances of birds of paradise (ht: Kalan Ickes; I’ve used this one in class, too)
4. More mating dances of birds of paradise
5. Still more mating dances of birds of paradise – this time, plumed birds of paradise (not as high quality a video) (David Attenborough)
6. And still more mating dances from birds of paradise (this one is high def, students really like this one) (David Attenborough)
7. Male birds being flashy to attract females (not high def) (David Attenborough)
8. Australian bowerbird (also not high def) (David Attenborough)
9. Mate competition in moose antler flies
10. Use of social signals and displays to avoid conflict and reinforce territorial boundaries in gulls.
11. Recreation of Tinbergen’s experiment with three-spined sticklebacks (on fixed actional patterns and releasers)
12. Complex learning: the amazing song of the superb lyrebird (includes amazing footage of a bird imitating a chain saw and different types of cameras; students always love this one)
13. Sandhill crane communication
14. Deceptive communication: orchids that deceive pollinators by mimicking female wasps (David Attenborough)
15. Sex role reversal in jacanas
16. Prairie dog alarm calls
17. Courtship in Australian squid (David Attenborough)
18. Mating calls of humpback whales (David Attenborough)
19. An unusual learned hunting behavior in bottlenose dolphins that is culturally transmitted (David Attenborough)
20. Do lemmings commit suicide? (Hint: No!) (ht: Daniel Gruner) (As Jeremy pointed out, this could be used to introduce a unit on altruism or also just a simple caveat to always think critically when presented with information.) (added 28 OCT 2013)
21. Sexual cannibalism by red back spiders; this podcast explains why males have evolved to commit sexual suicide. (This video is a profile of Maydianne Andrade, the scientist who has led this research, which includes a video of this behavior starting around 31:00 and going to 31:40, including her description of first seeing this behavior. My students loved this video.) (ht: Andrea Case) (added 8 July 2014)
22. Bird using bread as bait to catch fish (added 17 July 2014) (ht: Cindee Giffen)
23. Hermit crabs forming a queue to exchange shells. Pretty neat! (added 16 April 2015)

Chemical ecology
1. Chemical ecology music videos from Jeremy Long (ht: Jarrett Byrnes)

1. Rock-paper-scissors dynamics (simulation, but it’s mesmerizing)
2. Intraspecific competition between lobsters for traps (a few videos on this one page)
3. Competition between lions and hyenas
4. Fight for nest box between kestrel and jackdaw (it’s a pretty epic fight! Students love this video)
5. Competition for light in plants (giant waterlilies in the Amazon) (David Attenborough)
6. More competition for light in plants (jungle regeneration in Borneo) (David Attenborough)
7. Resource competition and diversification: a comparison of forests and breweries (ht: Kathryn Turner) (Grad students will LOVE this one!) (ADDED 28 OCT 2013)

Competition and Predation
1. The famous Battle at Kruger video: buffalo, lions, and crocodiles interacting with lots of twists and turns. It’s an amateur video, and the comments in the background are entertaining, too. (“Can they help him out, Frank?”) I show different portions of this, depending on what I am covering. But the whole video is worth watching at least once. It’s amazing. (It even has its own Wikipedia page!)

Predation (Tons of possible videos for this section; check out the BBC links above to look for more options)
1. Octopus in hiding (possible use: section detailing strategies organisms use to avoid predation) (ht: Jeremy)
2. Handling time illustrated via I Love Lucy’s chocolate factory scene (I love the idea to use this as an example!; many thanks to Laura Timms for the suggestion)
3. Hagfish slime as a predation defense (ht: Megsie)
4. Cheetah-ungulate
5. Preying mantis vs. mouse: this is one of my favorites, because students never see it coming.
6. Gaboon adder vs. rat
7. Octopus vs. shark (another one where the invert wins!)
8. A case of the predator becoming prey (red-tailed hawk vs. rattler)
9. Snapping/pistol shrimp
10. Predator-prey arms race coevolution in newts and snakes: from the PBS Evolution series. Video features the Brodies, including a clip of the younger Butch Brodie doing a layout into brush to grab a snake. They then extrude a newt from the snake, which students find wonderfully disgusting. I usually show roughly the first half. Also, I don’t believe that Butch really catches snakes like that most of the time – surely there’s a way to catch them that is nicer to one’s body, right?
11. Wild dogs hunt impala (David Attenborough)
12. Lions hunt elephants (David Attenborough)
13. Crocodile strike (David Attenborogh)
14. Polar bear walrus hunt (David Attenborough)  (links with climate change – argues that polar bears are getting more desperate due to polar conditions, leading to riskier hunting strategies; this one is a little hard to watch)
15. Bat-catching snakes (David Attenborough) (includes neat thermal imaging)
16. Arms races in deep sea predators and prey (hatchet fish) (David Attenborough)
17. Bat-catching centipedes (David Attenborough) (another case of the invert winning!) (ADDED OCT 28 2013)
18. From the comments, Jeremy prefers this illustration of handling time from Charlie Chaplin (ADDED OCT 28 2013)
19. Lions vs. hyenas (ht: Tor Bertin who said, correctly, that “The slow motion charge and dramatic music makes for fantastic viewing“) (added 28 OCT 2013)
20. Great blue heron eats gopher (here’s a different video where a heron kills four gophers, eating two of them) (ht: Jessica Light) (added 16 July 2014)
21. The video of a bird fishing using bread as bait (from the behavioral ecology) section would work here, too.
22. Spider-tailed horned viper (which is also a great example of mimicry) (ht: Jeremy) (added 2 February 2015)
23. Eagle vs. hare. Great video from the BBC, showing how hares are not helpless when eagles try to prey upon them. (added 29 March 2015)
24. Threadwing antlion eating a silverfish: a threadwing antlion is an insect with a loooooong neck that buries itself in the ground. When the silverfish (a wingless insect) wanders by, the antlion emerges from its hiding spot and captures it. A cool example of crypsis and predation! (Added 19 April 2015) (ht: Malcolm Campbell)
25. Owl hunt at night. Whoa. This is a short gif that I could watch over and over. (Added 17 May 2016)
26. Kingfisher catching a fish. (Added 4 September 2016)

1. Tongue-eating louse (where the louse then becomes a prosthetic tongue!)
2. Gangster birds: cowbirds parasitizing nests in the forest; includes a section showing how scientists figured out that cowbirds were destroying nests of warblers in retaliation for the tossing of cowbird eggs.
3. Behavioral manipulation of hosts by their parasites: crickets and hairworms
4. Bacteria-phage interactions (hopefully this link still works! I can’t double-check it thanks to the government shutdown)
5. Another example of manipulation of hosts by their parasites: zombie snails!
6. Not a video, but a great comic from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal on complex life cycle parasites.
7. Cordyceps: attack of the killer fungi (David Attenborough)
8. A RadioLab podcast, rather than video: Parasites! (ht: @GrunerDaniel; I use this one in teaching, too, and agree with Daniel that the story on hookworms is particularly captivating)
9. Another RadioLab (podcast) episode: Patient Zero (covers spillover of infectious diseases, origins of HIV, superspreading & Typhoid Mary)
10. The dodder video from the “physiological ecology” section would also work for a parasitism unit.
11. Goldilocks and the Three Germs: an animation that explains the evolution of virulence (ht: Rachel Penczykowski)
12. Ebola (a video by Matthew Ferrari) (added 30 December 2014) (ht: Karen Lips)
13. Biodiversity and Lyme disease (added 30 December 2014) (ht: Karen Lips)
14. Other videos from the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics and their Epidemics MOOC can be found here (added 30 December 2014) (ht: Karen Lips)

1. Blind pistol shrimp and goby guide
2. Mutualism, also plant-animal interactions: Devil’s gardens bedeviled by ants which features work from this Nature paper by Frederickson, Greene, and Gordon. (ht: Tim Curran, who says he then uses this to segue in to discussion on how to design an experiment to test the hypotheses laid out in the paper, based on suggestions from this resource).
3. Pompeii worms at hydrothermal vents (David Attenborough)
4. Coral-algae interactions (David Attenborough)
5. Cheating by orchids, many of whom attract pollinators without giving a reward (David Attenborough) (added 11 July 2014)
6. Pitcher plant-tree shrew mutualism (an amazing system where the pitcher serves as a lavatory for the shrew) (David Attenborough) (added 11 November 2014)
7. This is a neat video on the hawkmoth that Darwin predicted must exist (after seeing a flower with an extremely long corolla tube. (added 8 May 2015)

Community ecology
1. Top down control, TMIIs in kelp forests (ht: @GrunerDaniel and Jarrett Byrnes; I’ve also used this one when teaching) (David Attenborough)
2. Mutualism, also plant-animal interactions: Devil’s gardens bedeviled by ants which features work from this Nature paper by Frederickson, Greene, and Gordon. (ht: Tim Curran, who says he then uses this to segue in to discussion on how to design an experiment to test the hypotheses laid out in the paper, based on suggestions from this resource).
3. When I first introduce Bob Paine’s Pisaster work, I sometimes show this time-lapse video of a sea star eating a mussel, since many students haven’t seen a sea star (plus, it’s cool – it includes video inside the sea star’s stomach!)
4. Succession in a forest in Borneo (David Attenborough)
5. Indirect interactions between species: the botfly (which uses a housefly to get eggs to cattle) (David Attenborough) (ht: Jennifer Fox)
6. Impacts of wolf reintroduction on Yellowstone; includes trophic cascades, indirect effects, and ecosystem engineering. Overall, it’s a great intro to community ecology, though there’s less consensus about their effects than the video indicates. Note that by “deer” they mean what we call “elk” in the US. (ht: Scott Rollins) (added 23 Feb 2014, link to blog post about lack of consensus added 12 April 2015)
7. This one is audio, but it’s about trophic cascades at O’Hare airport in Chicago, where they have goats and sheep to eat the grass. They do this because, by eating the grass, there’s no longer habitat for mice. And, without mice, there aren’t birds of prey, which means fewer bird-plane strikes. A very cool trophic cascade example! It starts around 5:01. (ht: Emilio Bruna) (added 19 November 2014)
8. Why is the World Green? An animated take on the classic HSS paper. (added 27 August 2015)

Landscape/Spatial ecology
1. Why hummingbird nests are clustered near hawk nests (starts around 37:30 minutes, goes until 41 minutes; ht: Shannon Murphy, via @GrunerDaniel)
            – also an example of the general concept of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”
2. Habitat fragmentation and matrices (ht: James Camac)

1. From a film on EO Wilson, the classic Simberloff & Wilson biogeography studies: go to 33:50, show until 41:20, thank me later for finding a video to spice up the biogeography lecture.🙂 Part of why the video is great is it interviews the man they hired to fumigate the islands in the Florida Keys. Also shows Simberloff giving his tips for how to whack sharks to keep them away. Students love this video. (See this comment for info on how to access this video from the UK)
2. 650 million years of movement of the continents in 1 minute 20 seconds (I use this when talking about vicariance and dispersal)

Applied ecology/Conservation Biology
1. Shifting baselines: how can we know what is pristine? What is natural? (ht: Lars Gamfeldt)
2. Invasive species: Giant pythons (ht: Kalan Ickes)
3. The biogeography video on EO Wilson (linked above, too) is relevant here, too. See notes above.
4. A Radiolab (podcast) episode: Alan Rabinowitz and the first jaguar preserve (ht: @GrunerDaniel)
5. What is nature worth? From the Institute on the Environment at Minnesota; in what I think of as the “Inconvenient Truth” style (ht: Jung Choi) (added 4 August 2014)
6. What is natural capital? This talks about all the value nature provides to businesses. (added 30 December 2014) (ht: Karen Lips)
7. How to make a t-shirt: from Marketplace’s Planet Money, focuses on uses of natural resources and other factors that go into making a t-shirt. (added 30 December 2014) (ht: Karen Lips)
8. The other inconvenient truth: a TED talk by Jonathan Foley. I’ve used this in my class when talking about human impacts on the environment; Karen Lips uses it in a class focused on Biodiversity and Natural Capital. (added 30 December 2014)
9. Ocean acidification (added 30 December 2014) (ht: Karen Lips)
10. How the teddy bear taught us compassion: a TED talk that focuses on how the stories we tell about animals influence a species’ chance for survival (added 30 December 2014) (ht: Karen Lips)
11. The immigrant, a film about climate change. Winner, 2014 Beneath the Waves Film Fest / Best Student Film. (added 30 December 2014) (ht: Karen Lips)
12. A drone’s eye view of conservation; Lian Pin Koh on using drones to protect forests and wildlife (TED talk) (added 13 May 2016) (ht: Karen Lips)
13. Ecology from the air; Greg Asner on using high tech tools to account for carbon and to map/measure forest responses to climate change (TED talk) (added 13 May 2016) (ht: Karen Lips)
14. Tagging tuna in the deep ocean; Barbara Block on using tagged tuna to understand their biology and ecology. (TED talk) (added 13 May 2016) (ht: Karen Lips)

Ecosystem ecology
1. Interactions between ecosystem engineers and resources
– ht Johan Eklöf, who says: This 8-second time laps video shows how juvenile blue mussels placed in a random pattern in indoor tanks form regular ‘string-like’ patterns similar to those that mussels form in the field. A few neat field experiments (van de Koppel et al. 2005 Science) showed that the pattern is formed because of a trade-off between i) competition for food (which increases with local mussel density) and ii) the risk for dis-lodgement due to wave action (which decreases with local density).
2. Hydrothermal vents: not all primary producers rely on the sun (David Attenborough)
3. Pompeii worms at hydrothermal vents (another example of how not all primary producers rely on the sun) (David Attenborough)
4. Should we seed the ocean with iron to try to stimulate productivity and absorb more CO2? (I use this to lead into a discussion on possible pros and cons of this sort of thing.)
5. Whale fall community (ht: Joshua Drew)
6. A massive deep sea mussel bed; video explains the symbiotic relationship between the mussels and chemoautotrophic bacteria, and also has the robotic arm play around with the very cool solid methane hydrate that has formed near the mussels (ht: Deep Sea News)
7. A very cool visualization of how carbon dioxide moves around in the atmosphere (ht: Emilio Bruna) (added 18 November 2014) (note added 10 May 2016: students absolutely love this video. It’s mesmerizing.)
8. Another whale fall video: this one is a beautiful animation (ht: Paul Harnik) (added 9 May 2015)

Global change
1. Global warming: A way forward: facing climate change (by National Geographic)
2. An unexpected climate scientist (George Divoky’s work on seabirds in the Arctic)
3. A very cool visualization of how carbon dioxide moves around in the atmosphere (ht: Emilio Bruna) (added 18 November 2014) (note added 10 May 2016: students absolutely love this video. It’s mesmerizing.)
4. Spiraling global temperatures from 1850-2016 (added 10 May 2016)

1. The video on this page is a great overview of the human microbiome (added April 14 2014)
2. Poop transplants! This is a great animation on the topic (added 4 August 2014)

Rapid evolution (yes, this is supposed to be videos related to ecology, but some evolution ones are too neat not to share!)
1.Evolution of antibiotic resistance, shown on a plate containing different concentrations of antibiotics. (added 12 September 2016)

General (Lots of different taxa)
1. Encyclopedia of Life podcasts (ht: Gaurav Kandlikar) (added 28 OCT 2013)

1. Kelp forests; also touches on overfishing, covers whole ecosystem, including sea urchins, sea otters, and trophic cascades (ht: @GrunerDaniel)
2. More on kelp forests, this one from the BBC, including video of a sea urchin army removing kelp holdfasts from rocks (ht: @GrunerDaniel and Jarrett Byrnes; I’ve also used this one when teaching) (David Attenborough)
3. Hydrothermal vents: not all primary producers rely on the sun (David Attenborough)
4. Pompeii worms at hydrothermal vents (David Attenborough)
5. Lake Malawi cichlids (David Attenborough)
6. Spring in a deciduous forest (David Attenborough) (added 7 July 2014)
7. Intertidal zone (added 30 October 2014)
8. Appalachian streams, with a particular focus on hellbenders (added 28 December 2014) (ht: Gina Baucom)

1. Fungal timelapse (David Attenborogh)

1. The world’s biggest flower: Titan arum (David Attenborough)
2. Giant waterlilies of the Amazon (David Attenborough)
3. Conifer reproduction (ht: Gaurav Kandlikar) (added 28 OCT 2013)

1. Diana Nyad describes what it’s like to get stung by a box jellyfish (starting at 8 minutes).
2. Octopus in hiding (cephalopod camouflage!) (ht: Jeremy)
3. Tongue-eating louse
4. Darkling beetle: possibly the fastest beetle in the world (ht: @GrunerDaniel)
5. Coral anatomy (David Attenborough)
6. Dragonfly flight (from 3:00 to 3:42) (added 27 Dec 2014)
7. Related to the above, this video of a dragonfly landing is amazing. How cool is it the way it unfolds its legs at the end? As one person said on twitter, it’s like it’s deploying its landing gear. (Added 4 September 2016)

1. Frozen frogs (ht: @GrunerDaniel)
2. Gangster birds: cowbirds parasitizing nests in the forest
3. Appalachian streams, featuring hellbenders. There is some neat hellbender footage in this film! (added 28 December 2014) (ht: Gina Baucom)
4. A sperm whale checking out a deep-sea remotely operated video (ROV). Very cool! (added 15 April 2015)

1. Five reasons to thank plankton (added 27 August 2015)

1. What caused the Cambrian explosion? Emphasizes the likely role of ecological interactions. (added 20 October 2015)

39 thoughts on “Videos for teaching ecology (Updated periodically)

    • Heh, yeah, I didn’t realize how much work it would be when I decided to do it.😉 Though there are certainly worse ways to spend one’s time than watching a lot of David Attenborough.🙂

  1. In the early going, the most-clicked videos are:

    1. Ecology is…
    2. Rock-paper-scissors simulation
    3. E. O. Wilson on the Wilson-Simberloff biogeography experiments

    I’m surprised that the rock-paper-scissors simulation is proving so popular. Perhaps because the “David Attenborough vote” is widely split…🙂

  2. Thanks for compiling the videos, Meg. I do have one bone to pick, however,
    Re: “What is ecology?”
    In defense of environmental science, it IS an interdisciplinary scientific field and one of the most important of those disciplines is ecology. The video is not ecology, nor is it environmental science. Rather, it is environmentalism, which places value judgements on our interactions with the environment.

  3. This was a very good idea. To me one of the best series I have ever seen was “Prisoners of the Sun” parts 1-3. It is old and I tried forever to get hold of it without success. Brilliant look at energy flow with all the things that go with it, including humans interference. Anyone know how to get hold of them on dvd or any other way? This was pre dvd days early 90s

  4. Thanks Meg, this is super duper and I will return here often. As I run through my own course, remembering several additional ones. This one is a must, for anyone who still believes that lemmings commit suicide – this is a heinous act of defamation inflicted upon us by Disney….
    The video is actually incomplete as there is no video evidence of the crime, but it can be paired with info gleaned from other sources, e.g., wikipedia

    • Now that you mention that one, I’m kind of kicking myself for not thinking of it, as it’s fairly famous. I’d think it would be a very good way to introduce a unit on evolution of altruism. You could show students the video, and then show them the Far Side cartoon of a bunch of lemmings jumping into the sea–except that one is wearing a life preserver. And then pose the question: How come lemmings commit suicide for the good of the species, when the evolution of that altruistic trait could be undermined by “cheaters with life preservers”? The answer in this case of course being that lemmings don’t actually commit suicide at all (Gary Larson 1, Disney 0).

      Also an object lesson in the importance of thinking critically and not just taking what you see at face value. (Not that you default to the skeptical assumption that everything you see is fake, of course…)

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  7. I just wanted to say thanks for doing this. I am teaching Principles of Ecology for the first time this semester and I’ve consulted this post to pull videos for nearly every lecture. You should charge for this service🙂

    • What’s that? You’re offering to buy me a beer at ESA this year? Sure!😉

      Seriously: glad you like it! I’m hoping to get a chance to update it with a few more videos soon.

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  12. I tried the Biogeography videos, but the E.O. Wilson one gave the error that I can’t watch it because of rights restrictions (only viewable in US?), and the 650 millions years one isn’t showing, but some other garbage is. Pity! But some of the other videos I tried were great!

    • You can find that video via the PBS youtube channel – at least here in the UK. A search for ‘lord of the ants’ should get you there.

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  15. For teaching coevolution of predators and prey, how about the example of sinistral and dextral land snails and snail-eating snakes. The short version is that snails need to be of the same “shell handedness” to mate (at least easily), which creates positive frequency-dependent selection that should cause all snails to have the same handedness. Dextral is the common one. So how does the rare sinistral shell morph persist? The answer is that snail-eating snakes are highly specialized to prey on the common (dextral) snails. The snakes have a morphological specialization–most of their teeth are on one side of the mouth–and a behavioral specialization–they have a quite stereotyped method of attacking from the side. So when a snake is faced with a rare sinistral snail, it doesn’t quite know what to do and sometimes ends up just bouncing its jaws off the shell. This dynamic seems to have led to predator-induced snail speciation into dextral and sinistral species. Video of successful attacks on dextral snails and unsuccessful attacks on sinistral snails here (mpg files):

    EDIT: oh nuts, I just checked and the links to the videos seem to be broken! Oh well, perhaps googling would reveal another video source.

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