Socotra Island, Yemen has unique plants and animals.

Socotra Island, Yemen has unique plants and animals.

Right off the coast of Somalia in the Arabian Sea is an island unlike any other on the face of the planet. Socotra, a territory of Yemen, has a unique place in the world of biodiversity.

 

Given its prolonged geographic isolation, extreme heat, and frequent droughts, Socotra has developed some of the most unique wildlife on Earth.

 

The island, which is now considered a UNESCO World Heritage site, was surveyed in the 1990’s and found to have almost 700 different endemic species. That puts Socotra in the company of other isolated ecosystems like New Zealand, Hawaii, New Caledonia, and the Galapagos Islands.

 

While virtually all the flora and fauna on Socotra is impressive in its own way, two species in particular are especially eye-catching.

 

The first is the Socotra dragon tree or dragon blood tree (Dracaena cinnabari). The dragon blood tree casts a similar silhouette to a mushroom with a branchless trunk leading to an umbrella-shaped top containing a very dense canopy of upward facing limbs and leaves. Perhaps as striking as the tree’s outer appearance is its namesake “dragon blood” – the dark red sap beneath its bark.

 

The second is the cucumber tree (Dendrosicyos socotranus). Though not as regal looking (or sounding) as the dragon blood tree, the cucumber tree may be even more interesting. Standing up to 10 feet tall with a bulbous trunk and sparse leaves, the cucumber tree looks bizarre but is unmistakably… a tree. However, taxonomically, it falls under Cucurbitaceae – the same family as pumpkins, cucumbers, and melons. It’s the only species in the entire family that grows as a tree.

 

The extreme conditions that created the dragon blood and cucumber trees has manifested in a different way with fauna. While the fauna is extremely endemic (94%), it has resulted in just one type of mammal on the island – bats.

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