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10 Animals We Thought Were Extinct But Aren’t

10 Animals We Thought Were Extinct But Aren’t

Earlier this week, Israeli, German, and French researchers announced that they spotted the Hula painted frog, a frog that was previously classified as extinct. This is a remarkable find, but by no means the first. Species have disappeared in the past, only to reappear when we least expect them.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

1. Coelacanth

This is perhaps the best known of all the formerly-extinct creatures. We thought the objectively terrifying coelacanth (pronounced SEEL-uh-kanth) went extinct 65 million years ago, until a South African museum curator discovered a specimen on a fishing trawler in 1938. There are two known species: one that lives off the coast of the eastern coast of Africa and one that lives off the coast of Indonesia. The fact that we know about them at all is kind of amazing. They are not easy to find. They can live up to 2,300 feet below the water’s surface. They are, however, pretty huge. Like, as big as a person. They can grow up to six and a half feet and weigh almost 200 pounds. Some scientists think coelacanths represent an evolutionary step between sea and land animals.

Credit: Wikipedia

2. Gracilidris

These little guys were only discovered alive in 2006, so not much is known. This nocturnal genus of ant was thought to have died out between 15 and 20 million years ago. A species of Gracilidris has been found in Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil and lives in small underground colonies.

Credit: Wikipedia

3. Giant Palouse Earthworm

This albino macroinvertebrate is found in eastern Washington state and part of Idaho, which is why it’s also called the Washington giant earthworm. We thought it was extinct in the 1980s, but recently that’s been proven false. Two specimens were recovered in 2010; prior to that the most recent sighting was in 2005. There have been reports that this worm can get up to three feet long, but nothing confirmed. The most common length is probably about a foot. But holy cow! A foot-long earthworm!

4. Terror Skink

One of the best common names in the animal kingdom, this rare reptile was thought to be extinct until 2003. And no wonder; it’s only found in the Isle of Pines. Before being photographed, filmed and released by specialists at the French National Museum of Natural History, the skink was only known by one specimen.

5. The Nelson

The name of this tiny shrew may be weirdly anthropomorphized, but for the past century or so it hasn’t been too keen on making itself known. This little guys were discovered in 1894…and weren’t seen again for 109 years. That is, until two scientists decided to look for them. These four-inch-long creatures were rediscovered on the slopes of the San MartŪn Tuxtla volcano in Mexico. I do encourage you to browse some photos. It’s a pretty adorable animal.

Credit: Wikipedia

6. Arakan Forest Turtle

Prior to its rediscovery in 1994, the Arakan Forest Turtle had last been seen in 1908. In a way, it’s not surprising they stayed hidden for so long. They like to hide in forest floor debris in western Myanmar. But they couldn’t hide forever, and in 1994 a couple of specimens turned up in Asian food markets. Despite being critically endangered, the Arakan Forest Turtle is still traded by pet dealers.

Credit: Wikipedia

7. Javan Elephant

The story of how this comparatively small elephant is became de-extinct is pretty cool. Scientists thought the Javan elephant went extinct not long after Europeans came to southeast Asia. However, it looks like a ceremonial elephant trade centuries ago saved the Javan elephant from the fate of the dodo. Locals believed that the Sultan of Sulu (which is now part of the Philippines) transplanted elephants from Java to Borneo, which wouldn’t have been uncommon at the time. In 2003, a study concluded that the Borneo pygmy elephant are genetically distinct from other Asian elephants and likely originated on Java. This seems to be one instance when the trade of animals may have actually saved the species from extinction.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

8. Lord Howe Island Stick Insect

This giant, terrifying insect is also called the tree lobster, which means it wins for best common name in the animal kingdom (sorry terror skink). And do they ever have a harrowing story of survival. Tree lobsters used to be wildly common on Lord Howe Island off the coast of New South Wales. Like, you couldn’t go anywhere without bumping into one. But this all changed in the 1880s and the first two decades of the 1900s when mice and rats, respectively, were introduced to the island. By 1920 you couldn’t find a tree lobster if you tried, and by 1960 they were considered extinct. However, you can’t keep a good insect down. There were rumors of a tree lobster population on the nearby island of Ball’s Pyramid, which is basically just a shear cliff jutting out of the ocean. In 2001, a team of intrepid scientists decided to brave the cliffs to try to prove that the insect was, indeed, extinct. Boy, where they wrong! Instead, they found a population of 24 tree lobsters. It’s thought that they floated to the island as discarded bait, or where carried by birds. However they got there, they survived, and there are efforts underway to reintroduce them to their natural habitat.

Credit: Wikipedia

9. Takahe

This is one of those flightless birds native to New Zealand. They were considered extinct in 1898 after four specimens were killed and mounted for museums. Gross, right? But never fear! In 1948 the bird was rediscovered near Lake Te Anau. Even though they were once abundant, there are now only a few hundred.

Credit: Wikipedia

10. Cuban Solenodon

Oof, this is kind of an ugly creature. But don’t say that to its face; its saliva is venomous. So I guess it might be just as well that we’ve only managed to catch 37 specimens since its discovery in 1861. As you may guess from its name, it’s native to Cuba. By 1970 we thought this nocturnal burrowing animal was extinct since none had been spotted in 80 years. That assumption was premature, however, because three specimens were captured from 1973-74. The most recent find was in 2003 when one was captured, named Alejandrito, studied and released back into the wild.


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8:14PM PDT on Oct 22, 2013

Stories like this are always encouraging--the road ahead for these species will undoubtedly be a difficult one, but at least they aren't gone yet. There's still hope.

2:23PM PDT on Aug 1, 2013

great news. still, so many have been truly lost

8:46PM PDT on Jul 30, 2013

very interesting.....who knew!

6:34AM PDT on Jul 11, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

12:48PM PDT on Jun 30, 2013

Out of sight and out of mind of humans are the trillions of species living on the tens of millions of other habitable planets in just this galaxy. There are two hundred billion stars in the galaxy and a majority of them have planets. Many of those are also life planets that can support life giving water. It is a cosmic relief that humans are quarantined to only the poor abused earth, and because of the vast distances and humanity's primitive technologies and humanity's suicidal, warring destructive societies, humans will never be able to organize the plunder and destruction of other life planets in this universe. All the animals, birds, fish, insects and plants which inhabit those planets are completely safe from the nightmare of humanity.

7:22PM PDT on Jun 18, 2013

For all the doom merchants who think it will end tragically for these animals and that it would be better if we just left them alone - you're not very well informed. Without human intervention of the most intensive kind, most of these animals would have slipped into extinction by now. It's a paradox that, though we have caused the situation, our input is necessary to remedy it. So please support biologists and others who work very hard to preserve the planet's biodiversity and don't ever give up on any species.

8:30AM PDT on Jun 18, 2013

Pretty cool!

5:48PM PDT on Jun 11, 2013


4:59PM PDT on Jun 10, 2013

Hopefully there will be sufficient diversity left (after we kill each other off) to have planet earth flourish once again.

2:07PM PDT on Jun 10, 2013

There are still a few Barbary lions left, too--but all in captivity, I think. For you that don't know--these were the prized lions of the Roman arena and were hunted to "extinction"--except that a few were found in obscure circuses and private zoos. If you look them up you will see how large and beautiful they were/are. Their mane is different, too. I sure am hoping for success with breeding attempts.

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