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Dancing scorpions, leaping spiders star in British 3D TV series

By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) - Two scorpions do a courtship dance in the moonlight. A female praying mantis bites off a male's head and feasts on him while his rear end impregnates her. An assassin bug glues its dead insect victims to its back as camouflage.

These are some of the bizarre scenes from the world of bugs captured for the first time with macroscopic 3D cameras for a British TV series, giving a vivid close-up of natural wonders on a scale so tiny the naked human eye cannot discern them.

"Micro Monsters 3D With David Attenborough", a six-part series, will air in June and July on Sky 3D, part of Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB pay-TV group.

Much of the filming took place in a studio in London where exotic bugs were provided by Martin French, an accountant with a lifelong passion for insects who keeps 14,000 of them in his garden shed in the provincial city of Norwich, eastern England.

"When you see something as beautiful as this, you can't fail to fall in love with it," French told Reuters, gazing fondly at a target mantis, a delicate insect with a distinctive yellow circle on its back, as it walked all over his hand.

At a presentation of the new TV series at a hotel in London, French produced millipedes, giant beetles and even a tarantula out of plastic boxes and passed them around as if they were particularly cute kittens.

During filming, he had to make sure the conditions were right in the studio for his insects to engage in the same natural behavior they adopt in the wild, but in front of the large, unwieldy cameras.

In one stomach-churning sequence, a male praying mantis gently approaches a female from behind, but she suddenly turns on him, bites his head off and starts devouring him. Astonishingly, the male's rear end still succeeds in latching onto the female and fertilizing her despite the damage done.

In another scene, a Portia spider spends hours positioning herself in exactly the right spot before pouncing on an unsuspecting St Andrews Cross spider in a terrifying show of predatory precision.

"In 3D, these creatures are simply miraculous," said Attenborough, the illustrious British natural history broadcaster who presents the series, in a statement.

The series is the fifth collaboration between Sky and Attenborough, who is better-known for his six decades of program-making for the publicly funded BBC.

Attenborough's warm, authoritative voice is instantly recognizable to generations of TV viewers who learned everything they know about wildlife from his flagship BBC programs, from "Zoo Quest" in the 1950s to "Frozen Planet" in 2011.

Attracting Attenborough to make nature programs has been a coup for Sky as it takes on the BBC in a field in which the public broadcaster has traditionally excelled.

Sky has set itself a target of increasing its investment in original British content by 50 percent over the next three years and expects to invest 600 million pounds ($913 million) a year in such programs by 2014.

($1 = 0.6572 British pounds)

(Editing by Paul Cacciatore)

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