Animals of Socotra

Known as the “Galápagos of the Indian Ocean”, Socotra is home to an incredible array of wildlife, with over 700 species found nowhere else on Earth.

On this page, you’ll explore the diverse fauna of Socotra, including its 200+ species of birds, 30+ species of reptiles, and the vibrant marine life that inhabits its coastal waters. Learn about their habitats, behaviors, and the ongoing conservation efforts to protect these extraordinary species.

Mammals of Socotra

Socotra’s mammal population is relatively sparse compared to its birds and reptiles. However, the mammals that do inhabit the island have adapted remarkably well to the unique environmental conditions. The most commonly seen mammals include bats, which are the only native land mammals, and several introduced species such as goats and feral cats.

Native mammals: bats

Bats are the only native terrestrial mammals found on Socotra. They play a crucial role in the island’s ecosystem, particularly in pollination and seed dispersal.

Socotra long-eared bat (Otonycteris hemprichii socotranus)

  • Description: This bat is distinguished by its long ears and large eyes, which help it navigate and hunt in the dark.
  • Habitat: It is commonly found in caves and rocky outcrops.
  • Conservation status: Currently not well-documented, but habitat preservation is crucial for its survival.
  • Interesting facts: These bats feed primarily on insects and are known for their agility in flight.

Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus)

  • Description: A larger bat species with a wingspan of up to 60 cm, known for its role in pollinating the island’s unique flora.
  • Habitat: Frequently found in caves and abandoned buildings.
  • Conservation status: Stable, but dependent on the availability of roosting sites.
  • Interesting facts: These bats are frugivorous and play a key role in seed dispersal, helping to maintain the island’s plant diversity.
 

Introduced mammals

Goats

  • Description: Introduced by humans, goats are now widespread across the island.
  • Impact: They pose a significant threat to the island’s vegetation, contributing to soil erosion and habitat degradation.
  • Management: Efforts are ongoing to control the goat population to protect Socotra’s unique flora.

Feral cats

  • Description: Also introduced by humans, feral cats are common in settled areas.
  • Impact: They are a significant threat to native wildlife, particularly birds and small reptiles.
  • Management: Conservation programs are working to manage feral cat populations to mitigate their impact on native species.

Camels

  • Description: Camels were introduced to Socotra and are now commonly seen across the island.
  • Role: They are used by locals for transportation and as a source of milk and meat.
  • Impact: While useful to the local population, camels can also contribute to overgrazing and habitat degradation if not properly managed.
Camel in Socotra

Birds of Socotra

Socotra boasts over 200 bird species, including a remarkable number of endemics. The island’s varied habitats, from coastal areas and mangroves to mountainous regions and dry valleys, provide ideal environments for a wide range of bird species. Birdwatchers visiting Socotra can expect to see a mix of resident and migratory birds.

Endemic bird species

Socotra sunbird (Chalcomitra balfouri)

  • Description: The Socotra Sunbird is a small, vibrant bird with iridescent plumage, primarily green and blue. Males are particularly striking with their bright colors.
  • Habitat: Commonly found in areas with abundant flowering plants, as they feed primarily on nectar.
  • Conservation status: Currently not considered threatened.
  • Interesting facts: Their role in pollination is crucial, making them important contributors to the island’s ecosystem.

Socotra sparrow (Passer insularis)

  • Description: The Socotra Sparrow is a small, robust bird with a distinctive grey head and brown body.
  • Habitat: Found across various habitats including woodlands, gardens, and urban areas.
  • Conservation status: Not threatened, and quite common on the island.
  • Interesting facts: These sparrows are very adaptable and can be seen near human settlements.

Socotra starling (Onychognathus frater)

  • Description: The Socotra Starling is a medium-sized bird with glossy black plumage and a distinctive yellow eye.
  • Habitat: Prefers open woodlands and mountainous regions.
  • Conservation status: Considered stable, with no immediate threats.
  • Interesting facts: These starlings are known for their complex vocalizations and social behavior.

Socotra cisticola (Cisticola haesitatus)

  • Description: A small, warbler-like bird with a light brown and buff coloration, known for its distinctive, repetitive song.
  • Habitat: Found in grasslands and scrubby areas.
  • Conservation status: Stable population, but habitat changes could pose future risks.
  • Interesting facts: Its song is a common sound in Socotra’s grasslands, making it easier to hear than see.

Socotra warbler (Incana incana)

  • Description: The Socotra Warbler is a small, insectivorous bird with a plain grey-brown plumage.
  • Habitat: Found in dense vegetation, particularly in wadis and other green areas.
  • Conservation status: Stable, with no significant threats currently known.
  • Interesting facts: They are more often heard than seen, with their distinctive warbling song echoing through their habitats.

Socotra bunting (Emberiza socotrana)

  • Description: A small bird with striking plumage, including a distinctive black and white head pattern.
  • Habitat: Prefers rocky areas and open woodlands.
  • Conservation status: Endangered, with a small population and limited distribution.
  • Interesting facts: Their population is estimated to be around 1,000 pairs, making them one of the rarer species on the island.
 

Notable non-endemic birds

Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus)

  • Description: A striking vulture with white plumage and a distinctive yellow face.
  • Habitat: Commonly found near coastal areas and human settlements, where they scavenge for food.
  • Conservation Status: Endangered globally, but relatively stable on Socotra.
  • Interesting Facts: These vultures are known for their intelligence, often using tools to break open eggs and other food sources.
 

Migratory birds

Socotra’s strategic location along migration routes makes it a vital stopover for many migratory birds. Species such as the Greater Flamingo, European Roller, and various species of raptors and shorebirds can be seen during migration seasons.

Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus)

  • Description: Large, pink birds known for their long legs and necks.
  • Habitat: Commonly found in lagoons and shallow coastal waters.
  • Conservation status: Not threatened, often seen in large flocks.
  • Interesting facts: They feed on algae and small crustaceans, which contribute to their pink coloration.

European roller (Coracias garrulus)

  • Description: A striking blue bird with a robust body and strong bill.
  • Habitat: Found in open woodlands and grasslands during migration.
  • Conservation status: Near threatened due to habitat loss in breeding grounds.
  • Interesting facts: Known for their acrobatic flight displays during the breeding season.

👉🏼 Birdwatching Tips

  • Best times to visit: The best time for birdwatching in Socotra is from October to April, during the cooler months and peak migration seasons.
  • Key locations: Dihamri Marine Protected Area, Ayhaft Canyon, and Homhil Protected Area are prime spots for observing both endemic and migratory birds.
  • Guided tours: Consider joining our guided birdwatching tour to enhance your experience and increase your chances of spotting rare species. You can contact us here.
Egyptian vulture in Socotra

Reptiles of Socotra

Socotra boasts over 30 species of reptiles, with a high level of endemism. The island’s harsh, arid environment and rugged terrain provide ideal conditions for these resilient creatures. Reptiles on Socotra range from geckos and skinks to snakes and chameleons, each contributing to the island’s unique ecological balance.

Endemic reptile species

Socotran blue baboon spider (Monocentropus balfouri)

  • Note: Although not a reptile, this notable species is often discussed alongside Socotra’s unique fauna.
  • Description: A striking tarantula with a blue hue, native to Socotra.
  • Habitat: Prefers arid and rocky environments.
  • Conservation status: Not currently threatened.
  • Interesting facts: Known for its unique coloration and social behavior.

Socotra rock gecko (Haemodracon riebeckii)

  • Description: A small, agile gecko with a distinct pattern of dark and light bands.
  • Habitat: Commonly found on rocky outcrops and cliffs.
  • Conservation status: Stable, with no immediate threats.
  • Interesting facts: This gecko is nocturnal, coming out at night to hunt for insects.

Socotra skink (Trachylepis socotrana)

  • Description: A sleek, shiny lizard with smooth scales and a streamlined body.
  • Habitat: Prefers arid, rocky areas and is often seen basking in the sun.
  • Conservation status: Stable, but habitat preservation is crucial.
  • Interesting facts: These skinks are excellent climbers and are often seen darting among rocks.

Socotran chameleon (Chamaeleo monachus)

  • Description: A small, color-changing lizard with a distinctive casque on its head.
  • Habitat: Found in various habitats, including forests and shrublands.
  • Conservation status: Not currently threatened, but sensitive to habitat changes.
  • Interesting facts: Like other chameleons, they can change color for camouflage, communication, and temperature regulation.
 

Other notable reptiles

Arabian fat-tailed gecko (Hemitheconyx caudicinctus)

  • Description: A robust gecko with a thick tail used for fat storage.
  • Habitat: Prefers dry, rocky environments and is often found in crevices.
  • Conservation status: Stable, commonly seen across the island.
  • Interesting facts: Known for its ability to store fat in its tail, providing energy during lean times.

Dwarf gecko (Pristurus spp.)

  • Description: Small, nimble geckos with various color patterns depending on the species.
  • Habitat: Found in a range of habitats from coastal areas to inland deserts.
  • Conservation status: Generally stable, though some species may be more at risk.
  • Interesting facts: These geckos are diurnal and can often be seen hunting insects during the day.
 

Snakes

Socotran racer (Platyceps socotranus)

  • Description: A slender, fast-moving snake with a light brown or greyish color.
  • Habitat: Prefers rocky and arid environments.
  • Conservation status: Stable, though rarely seen due to its elusive nature.
  • Interesting facts: Non-venomous and known for its speed, this snake preys on lizards and small mammals.

Saw-scaled viper (Echis pyramidum)

  • Description: A small, venomous snake with a distinctive saw-like scale pattern.
  • Habitat: Found in dry, rocky areas and is well-camouflaged against the desert landscape.
  • Conservation status: Not currently threatened, but caution is advised when encountered.
  • Interesting facts: This viper is known for its defensive behavior, producing a distinctive rasping sound by rubbing its scales together.
Chameleon in Socotra

Marine life of Socotra

Socotra’s marine ecosystem is influenced by its unique geographical position at the confluence of the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Gulf of Aden. This results in a rich mix of marine species, many of which are found only in this region. The coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangroves around Socotra provide essential habitats for numerous marine organisms.

Coral reefs

Socotra’s coral reefs are among the most pristine in the world, supporting a high diversity of coral species. These reefs provide vital habitats for a wide variety of marine life. Here are a few key species.

Stony corals (Scleractinia)

  • Description: Stony corals form the backbone of the reef ecosystem with their hard calcium carbonate skeletons.
  • Habitat: Found in shallow, sunlit waters where they can form extensive reef structures.
  • Conservation status: Some species are vulnerable due to climate change and ocean acidification

Soft corals (Alcyonacea)

  • Description: Unlike stony corals, soft corals lack a hard skeleton and have a more flexible, tree-like structure.
  • Habitat: Often found on the deeper parts of the reef, where they add to the complexity of the habitat.
  • Conservation status: Generally more resilient than stony corals but still affected by environmental changes.

 

Fish species

Socotra’s waters are home to over 700 species of fish, many of which are unique to the region. These fish range from small, colorful reef dwellers to large pelagic species.

Parrotfish (Scaridae)

  • Description: Brightly colored fish known for their beak-like teeth, which they use to scrape algae from coral.
  • Habitat: Commonly found on coral reefs where they play a crucial role in maintaining the health of the reef by controlling algae growth.
  • Interesting facts: Parrotfish are known to change sex during their lifetime, and they excrete sand, contributing to the sandy beaches of Socotra.

Moray eels (Muraenidae)

  • Description: Long, snake-like fish that often hide in crevices within the reef.
  • Habitat: Prefer sheltered areas within coral reefs and rocky substrates.
  • Interesting facts: Despite their fearsome appearance, moray eels are generally shy and pose little threat to humans.

Humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)

  • Description: One of the largest reef fish, recognizable by its prominent hump on the head.
  • Habitat: Found on coral reefs and inshore habitats.
  • Conservation status: Endangered due to overfishing and habitat destruction.
  • Interesting facts: These wrasses can live for over 30 years and play a vital role in maintaining the health of coral reefs by preying on destructive starfish.

 

Marine mammals

Several species of marine mammals can be found in the waters around Socotra, including dolphins and whales.

Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris)

  • Description: Known for their acrobatic spinning leaps out of the water.
  • Habitat: Often seen in large pods in the open sea around Socotra.
  • Conservation status: Generally not threatened, but populations can be affected by fishing activities and habitat degradation.
  • Interesting facts: Spinner dolphins are highly social animals and communicate using a variety of clicks and whistles.

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

  • Description: Large baleen whales known for their complex songs and acrobatic breaching.
  • Habitat: Occasionally seen in the waters around Socotra during migration.
  • Conservation status: Endangered, with populations slowly recovering due to international conservation efforts.
  • Interesting facts: Humpback whales undertake some of the longest migrations of any mammal, traveling thousands of miles between feeding and breeding grounds.

Crustaceans and other marine invertebrates

The marine ecosystem of Socotra is rich in various invertebrates, including crustaceans, mollusks, and echinoderms.

Lobsters (Palinuridae)

  • Description: Large crustaceans with long antennae and spiny bodies.
  • Habitat: Found in rocky and coral reef environments.
  • Conservation status: Some species are overfished and need management for sustainable harvesting.
  • Interesting facts: Lobsters are nocturnal and often hide in crevices during the day.

Sea cucumbers (Holothuroidea)

  • Description: Echinoderms with elongated bodies, found on the seafloor.
  • Habitat: Commonly found in seagrass beds and coral reefs.
  • Conservation status: Some species are harvested for traditional medicine and food, which can impact populations.
  • Interesting facts: Sea cucumbers play a vital role in nutrient recycling and maintaining the health of marine ecosystems.

Insects and arachnids of Socotra

Socotra’s insect and arachnid population is incredibly diverse, with numerous species that contribute significantly to the island’s ecosystems. These creatures play essential roles in pollination, decomposition, and as part of the food web, supporting other wildlife.

Insects

Socotra is home to a wide variety of insects, including many that are endemic to the island. These insects can be found in all habitats, from coastal areas and mangroves to the highland forests.

Socotran butterfly (Belenois ogygia)

  • Description: A medium-sized butterfly with striking white and black wings.
  • Habitat: Commonly found in open areas and near flowering plants.
  • Conservation status: Not currently threatened.
  • Interesting facts: This butterfly is known for its long migrations across the island.

Dragonflies and damselflies (Odonata)

  • Description: Agile fliers with elongated bodies and large eyes, found near water bodies.
  • Habitat: Frequent streams, ponds, and other freshwater sources.
  • Conservation status: Generally stable, but sensitive to water pollution.
  • Interesting facts: Dragonflies are efficient predators, feeding on mosquitoes and other small insects.

Socotran honey bee (Apis mellifera jemenitica)

  • Description: A subspecies of the honey bee, adapted to the island’s climate.
  • Habitat: Found in various environments, including woodlands and near human settlements.
  • Conservation status: Stable, though susceptible to habitat loss and pesticides.
  • Interesting facts: These bees are vital for pollination and honey production on the island.

Socotran ant (Monomorium socotranum)

  • Description: Small, industrious ants that play a significant role in the ecosystem.
  • Habitat: Found in diverse environments, including forests and grasslands.
  • Conservation status: Not currently threatened.
  • Interesting facts: These ants are important for soil aeration and nutrient cycling.


Arachnids

Socotra’s arachnid population includes spiders, scorpions, and other related species. Many of these arachnids are endemic to the island and have adapted to its unique habitats.

Socotran blue baboon spider (Monocentropus balfouri)

  • Description: A striking tarantula with a blue hue, native to Socotra.
  • Habitat: Prefers arid and rocky environments.
  • Conservation status: Not currently threatened.
  • Interesting facts: Known for its unique coloration and social behavior, this spider is a favorite among arachnid enthusiasts.

Socotran scorpion (Hottentotta socotrensis)

  • Description: A medium-sized scorpion with a robust body and potent venom.
  • Habitat: Commonly found in arid and rocky areas.
  • Conservation status: Not well-documented, but believed to be stable.
  • Interesting facts: Like other scorpions, it glows under ultraviolet light, a trait used by researchers to locate them.

Socotran wolf spider (Hogna socotrana)

  • Description: A large, ground-dwelling spider known for its speed and hunting prowess.
  • Habitat: Found in open areas and under rocks.
  • Conservation status: Stable, with no immediate threats.
  • Interesting facts: Unlike most spiders, wolf spiders do not build webs; they hunt their prey directly.

Socotran harvestman (Opiliones spp.)

  • Description: Also known as daddy longlegs, these arachnids have long legs and a small body.
  • Habitat: Found in a variety of habitats, from forests to grasslands.
  • Conservation status: Not currently threatened.
  • Interesting facts: Harvestmen are scavengers, feeding on decomposing organic matter and small insects.

Ready to visit Socotra?

Let’s get in touch!

Adnan, ready to make your journey unforgettable.

×

Hello, I'm here to answer all your questions about Socotra. Let's chat!

× Chat with Adnan