Last night's TV review: Nature’s Wildest Weapons: Horns, Tusks and Antlers (BBC2) – lessons for humanity from the animal kingdom

Plus Peter Kay’s Car Share (BBC1)

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The Independent Culture

There's a chap named Doug who I think has an undeniable claim to be the horniest man in Montana, and indeed the United States, if not the world. Professor Doug Emlen, that is, who, as Nature’s Wildest Weapons: Horns, Tusks and Antlers reveals, has made it his life’s work to research the “huge appendages” that sprout in various corners of the animal kingdom.

Entering the warehouse that houses his collection of elk and other magnificent horns is like a nightmarish caricature of traditional Scots baronial interior decor, and something of a work of art as well as a monument to scientific endeavour. Wielding a 20-pound elk antler as he does with such obvious excitement cannot fail but to fill the viewer with awe. Horny Doug, as he may come to be known, deserves much more exposure on our screens.

And so it was that we were taken on a voyage of discovery. All those “monarch of the glen” gigantic antlers you see on all sorts of deer around the world have very little to do with self-defence against predators, nor any use to catch prey for these herbivores. The gigantic appendages are in fact almost entirely used for courtship rituals and the elimination of weaker brethren from the gene pool.

In conditions of intense competition, defensible resources and one-on-one duels, this “arms race” towards huge physical weaponry reaches extreme levels, whether it’s fiddler crabs, hippos or elk. They are used for fighting and display for reproduction through duelling, normally non-fatally. Indeed, in most cases rival males just back away if they see an adversary with a big enough tusk to gore them to death. A fiddler crab can slice through a bald shell, but it rarely happens.

And the lesson for us humans? You've no doubt twigged: nukes and the arms race are the analogy, used for deterrence and showing off, frightening off opponents but never used, and also prioritised over other concerns: for elk, that means seasonal osteoporosis in their other bones as the mating season approaches; in North Korea, it means a hungry population; and in the UK weaker conventional forces and public services.

If you’re a small beetle you have to sneak past the big guy guarding his female mate by tunnelling your own alternative route into the boudoir. Big-horn sheep who lose in duelling instead gang up on the big ram and in a sort of ovine riot instead get their woolly hooves on the ewes in a few minutes of confusion. Such asymmetric victories are seen in the human world too: for example, Isis terror techniques or the victory of tiny Vietnam over superpower America. A lesson for President Trump, maybe, who seems to be permanently horny.

One of the many charms of the work of Peter Kay is that it is family entertainment, in the old cliché. Nowadays, with the web fragmenting and individualised viewing, it’s probably a more precious thing than ever.

This latest episode of Peter Kay's Car Share did, however, contain the phrase “tighter than a nun's chuff”, which I find a little uncomfortable in company, as well as act of simulated sex, in more ways than one, between the Incredible Hulk and the Statue of Liberty on the bonnet of a Fiat 500L. Not to mention something about a blind lesbian in a fish shop, void urine, Crazy Frog's genitalia and an admittedly cute little naked male bum. We all know that Peter likes to push t’envelope, but really.

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