x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Here's blood in your eye

A showdown with the blood-squirting horned lizard is just another day at the office for the UK naturalist Nick Baker, the host of Weird Creatures on Animal Planet.

It should come as no surprise that Nick Baker's fascination with the eccentricities of nature began with the bugs in his parents' garden.

"I have always been quite a curious person and that curiosity definitely started well back, when I was a little boy of just a couple of years of age," says the host of Weird Creatures with Nick Baker.

"I was particularly into the smaller species that could be run down in my mum and dad's herbaceous border, on the patio and among the rockery. I remember being very keen on finding and catching woodlice, beetles and spiders."

The boy who once stuffed his spiders, ladybirds, frogs and toads into jam jars, tanks, buckets and ice-cream tubs — who spent his formative years practically living at the Natural History Museum in London — hasn't changed much as a man of 40.

Only today, the entire world is Nick's rockery, and he shares his naturalist passion with millions over the telly as he seeks out the planet's most peculiar creatures.

"You want weird? We've got it. You're about to meet the blood-squirting horned lizard," Baker says of this week's premiere episode, in which he travels to the searing Sonoran Desert outside of Tucson, Arizona, where prickly cacti tower overhead.

This spiny palm-sized lizard pools blood behind its eyelids in a special blood sinus cavity. The reptile uses muscles to cinch the veins that exit its head to build pressure — and to blast a jet of blood from its eyes directly into the face of its unsuspecting foe.

"As far as one can tell, the actual ability to squirt blood works well as an anti-predator device," says Colin McCarthy, the curator of reptiles at London's Natural History Museum. "[Predators] seem to find the blood distasteful."

Adds Baker: "It has to be one of the most bizarre anti-predatory strategies in the entire animal world."

In weeks to come, he'll introduce viewers to the likes of the leafy sea dragon seahorse, the wormlike mole lizard, the endangered horseshoe crab (unchanged in 350 million years), the slow loris (the only poisonous primate) and the tamandua anteater, to name but a few.

"I'm quite a simple bloke really," says Baker, "I just love being outdoors and I have a thing for animals and plants, I always have. I'll be honest, I never expected my career to take the monumental leap it did and now I find myself in the dream job."


Weird Creatures is broadcast at 7.25pm on Wednesday on Animal Planet