The joy of rex: Are documentaries becoming sexed-up?

Tonight, dinosaurs' mating habits will be explored on our screens. Will we learn anything or is it just the latest in a long line of sexed-up documentaries?

Ever pondered the sexual dimensions of a male dinosaur? Perhaps, but that doesn't matter because, thanks to palaeobiologists, we now know that Tyrannosaurus rex boasted a 6ft-long penis (the John Holmes of the prehistoric world was the titanosaurus, with 12ft).

And we can be grateful to new research that has worked out that dinosaurs performed complex mating rituals that included dances and displays of plumage. The creatures also used mating calls and pheromones to attract the opposite sex. The study surmises that dinosaur sex organs would have most closely resembled those of crocodiles, that they mated standing up, and that the male T. Rex would have bitten its mate to stop her running away because his arms were too short to hold her effectively.

These details are presented in the snappily titled Tyrannosaurus Sex (Discovery Channel, tonight, 9pm), which uses expert research and cutting-edge CGI to bring to life the mating habits of creatures which have been extinct for millions of years. You've seen Walking with Dinosaurs; now enjoy "Bonking with Dinosaurs"; it even comes with a graphic-content warning.

Why make a documentary on such a seemingly niche subject? Kristi Curry Rogers, an assistant professor of biology and geology at Macalester College in Minnesota, explains: "One question people really want to know is, exactly how did dinosaurs have sex?"

The answer, in the case of the armour-plated, spike-tailed stegosaurus, is "very carefully".

Some questions, however, are set to remain unanswered.

"We don't know enough about what dinosaurs were thinking to know whether they were having orgasms," laments Ms Curry Rogers.

Sex evidently sells in the case of dinosaurs, but has the natural history genre become sexed up? In prehistoric documentaries, special effects and CGI are now commonplace and bring the subjects to life for audiences who have come to expect the thrill of computer imagery.

Dan Korn, the Discovery Channel's head of programming, explains: "Audiences go to the cinema and see films like Jurassic Park, and if TV slips too far below that benchmark, there is a problem. They want to see strong special effects in their front rooms."

A scan down the listings suggests the wildlife landscape has also changed since the days when Sir David Attenborough could stand in the foreground and deliver narration to camera with a disinterested polar bear looking on in the distance. With titles such as Hollywood's Killer Bear, Monster Jellyfish Attack, Fishzilla, Shark Bite Beach and Ultimate Air Jaws, the emphasis is on the extreme.

While there is still a voracious appetite for big-budget kite-mark documentaries such as the BBC's Blue Planet and Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World, modern programme makers also have to think creatively when it comes to subject matter. If there are not enough dissections of unusually large cephalopods on television for you, they have the answer: Inside Nature's Giants, where vets perform autopsies on creatures such as elephants, whales and giant squid. With skilful execution, the series won a Bafta and proved that sensational can be educational and entertaining.

There is a flip side to this quest for the remarkable, however. The wildlife documentary maker Chris Palmer alleges that natural history programme makers often cheat. In his book Shooting in the Wild, he reveals how some film-makers use wild animals that aren't quite wild, filmed in nature that isn't entirely natural. He accuses one presenter of baiting animals into combat and asserts that "if you see a bear feeding on a deer carcass in a film, it is almost certainly a tame bear searching for hidden jelly beans in the entrails of the deer stomach".

At least with the odd oversexed CGI T. Rex, you know what you're getting.

'Tyrannosaurus Sex' is on the Discovery Channel at 9pm tonight

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Floyd Mayweather will relinquish his five world titles after beating Manny Pacquiao
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

Guru Careers: Print Project Manager

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A Print Project Manager is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living