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Top 10 Things We Learned From Planet Earth

VO: Rebecca Brayton

Written by Michael Wynands

This wildlife documentary series caught the attention of viewers across the globe by showing us that our own world is often stranger than fiction. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be counting down the Top 10 Things We Learned From Planet Earth.

For this list, we’re looking at the most interesting information this series had to offer. From the depths of the ocean to isolated mountain ranges, it not only presented viewers with footage of rarely-seen animals in stunning HD, while also backing up those images with insight into the wildest and weirdest aspects of the animal kingdom – making for an end result that was both entertaining AND educational.

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Transcript
Script written by Michael Wynands.

Top 10 Things We Learned from Planet Earth


This wildlife documentary series caught the attention of viewers across the globe by showing us that our own world is often stranger than fiction. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Things We Learned From Planet Earth.

For this list, we’re looking at the most interesting information this series had to offer. From the depths of the ocean to isolated mountain ranges, it not only presented viewers with footage of rarely-seen animals in stunning HD; it also backed up those images with insight into the wildest and weirdest aspects of the animal kingdom – making for an end result that was both entertaining AND educational.

#10: Desert Locusts Are a Plague of Biblical Proportions

Forget all the post-apocalyptic movies you’ve watched. If you want to see a real-world “end of days” scenario, you need look no further than the final segment of the fifth episode of Planet Earth, when the zombies (scratch that, LOCUSTS) rise from the dirt. As you may recall, locusts were one of the ten plagues of Egypt. But you don’t need the wrath of God to unleash them – just appropriate weather conditions. Planet Earth documented this force of nature in all its destructive glory, and the reality of this swarm is more terrifying than most fictional forces of mass destruction. Numbering in the billions, forming living clouds up to 40 miles wide and consuming everything in their path, desert locusts can inspire awe in the worst possible ways.

#9: Monkeys in Indonesia Are Quite Amphibious

Monkeys are full of surprises: they can be playful, they can be vicious, they can use tools and they have a high capacity for learning. Basically, they’re a lot like humans in that they’re hard to generalize. Just like us, some of them are uncomfortable in water, while others look like they’re part-fish. You’ve likely seen a monkey play in the water before, but the macaques of Indonesia aren’t just awkwardly doing the doggy paddle. They are incredibly adept swimmers who forage for food underwater, can hold their breath about as long as the average human, and are known to go swimming just for fun. Not all macaques are good in the water, but those found in the mangroves of Indonesia have fully embraced their semi-aquatic habitat.

#8: Dolphins Can Hydroplane

Planet Earth was a remarkable series in many ways, but one of its greatest strengths was in how it focused on animal species already known for particular abilities or intelligence, and still managed to teach viewers something totally new about them. Dolphins are incredibly intelligent, capable creatures. They use tools, educate their young, and have the longest memory in the animal kingdom. When a creature already has all that going for it, what else is left for a wildlife documentary series to explore? Oh, maybe this super-ingenious and little-known hunting method? Hydroplaning might be bad news when driving a car, but seeing these animals do it on purpose with their bodies in shallow water to catch fish is simply delightful.

#7: Birds of Paradise Have The Weirdest “Sexy Dance” Ever

Forget pick up lines. If you’re serious about catching the eye of a potential love interest, just shake what your mama gave ya until they take notice. Oh, you don’t have tail feathers? Tough break. For birds of paradise, it’s all about the moves. These birds come in all shapes, sizes and color combinations. When mating season rolls around, the males find themselves a spot on nature’s dance floor, and start moving. They send out mating calls and when a female approaches, they double down on their efforts rather than playing it cool, getting right up in the lady’s face. The animal kingdom is full of strange mating displays, but this might very well be the oddest. But who are we to judge? Our species uses Tinder.

#6: Chimps Have Some... Cannibalistic Tendencies

As discussed with the water-loving monkeys, we primates are all pretty similar. We get jealous, territorial, and sometimes even violent. But thanks to Planet Earth, we’ve been made aware of one major difference between ourselves and chimpanzees. When a territorial dispute breaks out, we humans, for the most part at least, don’t eat our defeated enemy. It’s a grisly moment in the series; one that many viewers, especially fans of chimpanzees, would likely rather forget. But there’s no denying that this particular reveal is a fascinating one. Although Jane Goodall wrote about cannibalism among chimps as early as 1977, few documentary series about chimpanzees have ventured into this particular area of simian culture – for pretty obvious reasons.

#5: Otters Can Intimidate Crocodiles

The case of the cannibalistic chimps was certainly one of the darker lessons Planet Earth taught its viewers. But this heart-warming segment, which showed how otters can overcome the odds even when faced with the largest, most cold-blooded of foes, helps balance the emotional scales. These otters are shown to be family-oriented, sociable, and simply adorable. All of which, combined, makes for an utterly nerve wracking experience when this large predator swims into their midst. Come on, it’s literally called a “mugger crocodile” – could it sound any more villainous? While a single otter wouldn’t stand a chance, this family effort proves that even the smallest of creatures can chase away a predator when they work together. It’s an unexpected ending, but a VERY welcome one.

#4: Cicadas Spend 17 Years Underground

These large insects can be found all across the globe - a total of 1,300 different species inhabiting Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, North America, South America, Southeast Asia, and even a handful in southern Europe. You might not know them by name, but you’ve likely heard them. They’re the bugs behind that extremely loud humming or buzzing sound you hear on summer nights. They’re also the bugs that leave an entire outer layer of skin or “exoskeleton” clinging to trees when they moult. Many people are vaguely familiar with these bugs as a result of their prominence, and that’s what makes this particular knowledge bomb so impactful. On top of that, they spend up to 17 years living underground as nymphs before we even see them.

#3: Some Places on Earth Look Truly Extraterrestrial

It would be unfair to say that Planet Earth only taught us incredible things about animals. It also presented wow-inducing footage of natural environments. From Angel Falls to the underwater caves of Mexico, the series brought viewers up close and personal with the seemingly unbelievable and, often, unreachable natural wonders of the globe. A few of them looked truly out of this world. If it were used as the setting of a sci-fi film, the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia would likely be mistaken for CGI. The mountain plateaus of Venezuela resemble James Cameron’s Pandora, while the rock formations that adorn them look like the handiwork of ancient alien civilizations. In the deep sea, it’s an alien world of a very different sort.

#2: Male Penguins Protect Their Eggs Through Four Months of Darkness

The Animal Kingdom “father of the year” award goes to the Emperor penguin… every single year. The idea of the “stay-at-home dad” might have been slow to develop with humans, but among other species, males have been stepping up in the parenting department for about as long as they’ve existed. Male seahorses carry their eggs instead of the females. Male emus incubate the eggs and raise their offspring as single parents for up to two years. But the emperor penguin reigns supreme. They spend a full four months in darkness, huddling together as a team to keep warm, each of them balancing a precious egg on their feet. And they starve the whole time, losing up to 44lbs – or half their body weight – in the process.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
- 3 Million Caribou Migrate Up to 2000 Miles

- There Are Less Than 40 Amur Leopards Left in The World

- Dolphins and Birds Hunt Together

#1: Zombie Fungus Exists

We began with apocalyptic scenarios courtesy of desert locusts, and now we come full circle – with zombies, as presented by Planet Earth. A testament to the influence this documentary series has had, it’s worth noting that the creators of the critically acclaimed survival horror game “The Last of Us”, credit this particular segment from Planet Earth as their source of inspiration. This parasitic fungus, known as cordyceps, should certainly inspire fear. Its means of reproduction is horrifying: it takes control of an ant’s body, guides it to an ideal location, then sprouts from its body. Considering Planet Earth aired in 2006 – roughly around the same time that zombie culture first began to invade the mainstream – this creepy fact needed little help sticking with viewers.

Do you agree with our list? What was the most memorable thing that you learned from Planet Earth? For more unforgettable top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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