Planet Earth II Recap: The One With the Islands

Planet Earth II

Season 1 Episode 1
Editor’s Rating *****
A Komodo dragon. Photo: Elizabeth White/BBC NHU 2016

The breathtaking BBC series enjoyed by stoners and 8-year-olds alike is finally back, and it’s called … Planet Earth II. After ten years, you’d think they would’ve come up with a better name. Let’s just say that if the BBC asked me for a suggestion, I would’ve said Our Planet Still Has Stuff on It! Who Knew!?, but they didn’t, so let’s get to the animals.

David Attenborough’s dulcet narration kicks in as episode one begins. It’s called “Islands,” but it sadly does not include the private island owned by Virgin Airlines’ billionaire Richard Branson. (Yes, the one where he famously hosted Mariah Carey during an iconic episode of MTV Cribs.) Instead, most of these not-so-iconic islands are straight-up impossible to reach. Perhaps that’s why Planet Earth took ten years to get a sequel.

We start on an island called Escudo de Veraguas. It’s off the coast of Panama and home to the cutest freaking sloths I’ve ever seen. They are extremely slow, much like the stereotype, until mating season. When it’s time to get it on, they jump right in.

On Komodo Island in Indonesia, there are living dragons. The largest living lizards on the planet, actually. And they are terrifying.

If you somehow aren’t convinced that dinosaurs still live among us (okay, in Indonesia), look at these two Komodo dragons go at it. You could tell me that these are characters from a reboot of It Came From the Swamp and I’d believe you.

Moving along. Madagascar, one of the world’s biggest and oldest islands, is home to over 250,000 rare species — including an extraordinary number of different lemurs. Here’s a cute one, traveling upon his mother’s back.

Then there’s Fernandina, a Galapagos Island slash active volcano in the Pacific where nothing can really live. Nothing except for these seagoing iguanas, which graze the ocean floor. Look at this regular Michael Phelps do the butterfly stroke.

Other things that live on Fernandina Island: crabs that hang out on the iguanas’ backs and pick junk out of their scales like exfoliating facialists …

… and, because life just cannot be that good, Fernandina Island also has terrifying snakes that prey on newborn iguanas. The iguana hatchlings must traverse a dire stretch to reach the rocks where they’ll be safe. These snakes aren’t stupid! Babies are easy prey.

Nature is ruthless and while I’d normally show you the truth, I feel that we should end this short tale on a high note.

Curious what bird flirting looks like? Wonder no more.

(These two New Zealand–based Buller’s albatross are in a long-distance relationship. That is not a joke.)

Moving on. A piece of travel advice: Never go to Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean because — deep breath now — it is ruled by crabs!



This terrifying display is called the March of the Red Crabs. It marks the period when 50 million or so of these creepy crawlers (a.k.a. the Christmas Island red crabs) return to the sea to mate. It’s famous and many people travel to Christmas Island to see it, which is a problem, Attenborough explains, because colonies of crazy yellow ants were accidentally introduced to the island via humans on boats. These crazy ants have killed roughly 15 million crabs by squirting acid into their eyes and mouths. Other ways crabs won’t make it to the ocean? If you smoosh them with you car. That’s why Christmas Island rangers created “crab crossings” that allow them to safely travel beneath cars. If you ask me, it’s freakin’ adorable.

Perhaps the most inspiring story told in “Islands” is that of the Chinstrap penguins — humanized to the point of practically becoming an episode of This American Life — of Zavodovski Island. Zavodovski is an active volcano, and its waddling inhabitants have to daily brave the stormiest of seas to feed their young.

This looks like some sort of spring-break ritual, but I assure you that it is not.

Ah, yes, nothing like fresh fish gobbled straight from inside your daddy’s mouth. Next week, Planet Earth II goes to the mountains!

Planet Earth II Recap: The One With the Islands