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The Socotra archipelago in the Arabian Sea supports so many diverse and unique species that it has been described as the most alien place on Earth. Hank takes you on a tour of this weird place in this episode of SciShow.

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[Intro Music]

The Socotra archipelago, part of the Republic of Yemen in the Arabian Sea, supports so many diverse and unique species of life that it's been described as the most alien place on Earth.  It's also a refueling stop for Somali pirates.

Socotra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, selected for its unique endemic flora and fauna.  Endemic species are exclusively native to only one place on Earth, be it an island, a forest, or a body of water.  A species can be indigenous to multiple habitats but for it to be endemic it must live in only one place and nowhere else.  And Socotra's got it like you have never seen!

37% of its plants, 90% of its reptiles, and 95% of its land snails are endemic to the island.  It sports a total of over 300 endemic species, third only to Hawaii and the Galapagos in endemic biodiversity.  Islands often have more endemics than other habitats because their isolated, obviously; it's hard for island species to wander, and it doesn't take a rum-sodden, shipwrecked pirate to tell you that some pretty crazy stuff can happen on islands.  That's right, I'm talking about funky plants--Socotra is full of them.

Check out the queen of Socotra, Dracaena cinnabari, also known as the dragon's blood tree.  The IUCN has red-listed this large evergreen calling it an "umbrella species for conservation," which is kind of funny because it kind of looks like a giant umbrella blown inside-out on a windy day.  The tree earned its sweet nickname from its propensity to ooze dark red sap called "blood of the dragon."  Valuable as a Targaryen's tears, this prized resin has been used since ancient times in making dye, cosmetics, medicine, and more recently, violin varnish.  The tree's unique shape helps it survive arid conditions by catching mist in its waxy leaves and then funneling that water down to its well-shaded roots.

Then there's your bulbous cucumber tree, like your weirdo uncle this tree is so different from other members of its family, in this case the family that includes pumpkins, melons, and gourds, that it's also the only species of its genus, and it's older than dirt.  I mean, literally, older than dirt--at least, the dirt that it grows in right now, since scientists recently discovered that the cucumber tree's lineage is about twice as old as Socotra itself, indicating that the tree is an isolated relic of some ancient and now extinct mainland progenitor.

Not to be outdone in the grotesque swelling department, desert roses are scattered across the Socotran landscape.  These so called bottle trees store water in their chunky trunks to fight off drought.  The island's subspecies can grow much bigger and more ridiculous-looking than their mainland cousins, reaching heights of up to five meters of bulk and bulge.

Because they're only found in one place in the world, endemic species are particularly vulnerable to extinction brought on by human factors, natural events, and increasingly, changes in climate.  Few people travel to Socotra, but the island is working on expanding tourism in hopes of fostering conservation.

So maybe next time spring break rolls around, forget Cancun and get thee to Socotra and taste the dragon!

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow.  If you have any questions or comments or suggestions for other weird places you'd like us to talk about, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter, and of course down in the comments below.  And if you want to keep getting smarter with us here at SciShow, you can go to, and subscribe.

[Outro Music]