alien-like places

Two of the Most Alien-Like Places on the Planet

We share the planet with many alien-like species and alien-like landscapes. 

The Atacama Desert and Socotra feature bizarre endemic flora and fauna that make them stand out among the most alien-like places on Earth.

For example, NASA has compared camping in Chile’s Atacama Desert to camping on Mars. As the driest place on Earth, the desert has been an ideal testing ground to practice searching for life on the Red Planet.

The Atacama Desert

As for lifeforms, the Atacama is home to some strange ones, adapted to life where it never rains. One of the most alien-appearing plants in the world, the llareta (also spelled yareta), looks like something straight out of science fiction.

Yareta plant by Pedro Szekely via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Massive Green Blobs

As you can see, the llareta looks like a cluster of giant smooth green blobs. However, it’s related to parsley, carrots, and fennel. Unfortunately, their firm rounded shapes attract tourists who sometimes are seen laying on them. 

Perhaps, if they knew the llareta could live for over 3,000 years and grow a centimeter a year, they might think twice? In the past, people used the ancient dry plants as fuel for locomotives, burning away thousands of years of growth in seconds. Fortunately, it’s now offered some protection by law.

Amazingly, these green blobs can be older than Giant Sequoia trees.

See the llareta via ShantiUniverse:

The Atacama is home to many oddball animals like the strange rabbit-like southern vizcacha, flamingoes, and llama-like vicuñas. 

vizcacha by Alexandre Buisse via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 3.0 with viscacha by Diego Delso via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 4.0

Super-Size Hummingbirds

Also, it’s home to the largest hummingbird on Earth, the aptly-named Giant Hummingbird, appearing to ignore earthly size restrictions.

Giant Hummingbirds are roughly the size of a cardinal or starling, about 8 1/2 inches long with a long bill. With their long wings, these hummingbirds can glide, unlike other hummingbirds.

They can weigh about 7/10 of an ounce or 0.04 pounds. While an average hummingbird’s nest is one inch long, these giants make nests about 8 inches across and 6 inches tall.

In coloration, these hummingbirds are not as flashy as some other species but subtly beautiful. Unlike other species, males and females look much alike.

See the Giant Hummingbird via Hummingbird Spot:

The Island of Socotra

Another alien-like place with species found nowhere else is the archipelago of Socotra, 250 miles off the coast of Yemen. Amazingly, the island is home to nearly 700 endemic species and the unique Socotri language. It has been called the most alien place on Earth.

Like the Atacama, this place is home to odd long-lived plants. The Dragon’s blood tree is found only on the island and can live for centuries. Dragon’s blood trees look quite alien, like strange umbrellas or tree roots growing upside-down.”


Dragon’s Blood tree by Rod Waddington via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When cut, the trees ooze red sap, where cinnabar comes from, known for medicinal qualities. Plus, the ‘blood’ is used to stain violins, in dyes, and in cosmetics.

Also, there are nine species of unique frankincense trees as well as myrrh trees on Socotra. Both were once considered highly valuable and familiar as two gifts of the Magi, along with gold.

Related: Alien-Like Creatures We Share Earth With Right Now

Egyptian Vultures

Socotra has the largest recorded density of rare Egyptian vultures, also called the pharaoh’s chicken seen in hieroglyphs. The vulture was the first letter in the Egyptian hieroglyphic alphabet used for the “ah” sound in names such as Adam. Appearing with the head of an Ibis, the god Thoth invented the writing system according to belief.

Egyptian vulture by Carlos Delgado via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 with hieroglyphs from the tomb of Seti I by Jon Bodsworth via Wikimedia Commons.

Once, it was a symbol of Egyptian royalty, sacred to Isis, the Egyptian goddess.

Recently, a wildlife tour guide in the Isles of Scilly spotted an Egyptian vulture, the first such appearance in the UK in 150 years. (see video below)

Cucumber Trees

Although the Dragon’s blood trees are world-famous, another endemic tree of Socotra is exceptionally alien. The Cucumber tree is the only member of the family Cucurbitaceae to grow into a tree. Other species in the family include gourds, melons, and squashes.

Cucumber tree, Dendrosicyos socotranus by Gerry & Bonni via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY 2.0 

Strangely, scientists discovered the stubby-looking tree has a lineage twice the age of the island. Thus, they believe the endangered trees are island relics of a progenitor lineage that went extinct on the mainland. 

But that’s not the only bizarre tree on Socotra. See more in the video from SciShow below:

Featured image: Dragon’s blood tree by Rod Waddington via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0) with Yareta plant by Pedro Szekely via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)