How did nobody notice a "tree lobster" for decades? How have giant earthworms been squirming around America without catching anyone’s eye? How did people not see that entire herds of mini elephants were alive and kicking in their own country? These animals are too weird to overlook, yet scientists were convinced that they didn’t exist anymore – until recent evidence proved them wrong.
Evolutionary biology isn't always a perfect science. Researchers themselves have even given a name to species that they mistakenly believed to be extinct. Named for the legendary Lazarus who came back from the dead, Lazarus species are the wide variety of animals that have seemed to do the same thing. They've gone from officially not existing to existing once again. It'd be miraculous if they hadn't actually been alive all along. When these creatures had gone unseen for years upon years, scientists just wrote them off. When they reappeared (sometimes more than 100 years after last being seen!) they totally shocked the world. We can only hope that some of today's endangered and extinct species will pleasantly surprise us with Lazarus status in the future.
We've dug through reports by evolutionary research groups and scientific records to find the most unique and spectacular animals that defied all odds to stay alive even after being labeled extinct. Some of them look like they truly belong in the Fantastic Beasts film franchise. Here are 14 strange and formerly ‘extinct’ creatures that still roam the earth, along with 11 animals that are actually gone forever.
25 These Wild Dogs of New Guinea (Still Here)
If you're a dog person, you'll get how crazy it is for this entire species of dog to be overlooked for years. They're so cute! A distant relative of the Australian dingo, the New Guinea Wild Dog is the rarest and ancient dog species in the world.
They went extinct in New Guinea over 50 years ago but were discovered last year deep in a remote mountain range area. Travelers and scientists alike found and photographed around 15 individual dogs, enough to make up one thriving pack.
"The discovery and confirmation of the highland wild dog for the first time in over half a century is not only exciting but an incredible opportunity for science," researchers told Science Alert.
24 The Tree Lobsters of Australia (Still Here)
You would think something as interesting as a lobster that lives in trees would be hard to miss, but Australia's Lord Howe Stick Insect, also known as a Tree Lobster, was thought to be extinct for decades.
After a ship crashed into an Australian coast over 100 years ago, rats from the ship crawled onto land and were thought to eradicate the Tree Lobster species. Scientists believed that they had until 1960 when travelers discovered skeletons of the species near a volcano eruption site. They're now bred at the Melbourne Zoo, which hopes to keep them firmly un-extinct.
23 This Nocturnal Gracilidris Ant (Still Here)
Scientists thought this creature went extinct more than 15 MILLION years ago, but no! As recently as 2006, these ants have been found in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. That's exciting because they are one of the few species of creatures that have actually survived multiple ice ages and natural disasters, and lived alongside animals like Woolly Mammoths and Sabre Tooth Tigers.
Part of why it may have gone unseen for so many years is that this type of ant is nocturnal, and lives in colonies deep underground. Even the most committed scientists and researchers missed out on spotting it at the right time and place.
22 This Tiny Shrew Named Nelson (Still Here)
The teeny tiny little Nelson Shrew was discovered in 1894 and then not seen again for more than 100 years. He must be shy.
When discovered, explorers killed a few specimens of this shrew and brought them back to be showcased in the Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. When no more specimens were found in the wild for years and years, everyone assumed that the explorers had killed the only ones. Then one little Nelson Shrew popped up on the slopes of the San MartÃn Tuxtla volcano in Mexico in 2009, and the scientific community had to eat their words.
21 This Giant Palehouse Earthworm (Still Here)
If you're squeamish, this discovery might make you squirm a bit. Giant worms that scientists thought had been extinct since the 1980s recently turned up in Washington State, USA. Can you imagine finding this in your backyard? Yikes.
According to NPR, these earthworms can grow up to 5 feet in length, but are most commonly found to be about one foot long. That's still a hefty size for a worm! Despite their creepy-crawly appearances, these creatures can be great for the health of dirt and plants by providing natural fertilizer. We're (mostly) glad it turns out that they're still around these days.
20 The West African Coelacanth (Still Here)
A coelacanth is a fancy scientific word for a big fish. It's so eerie to look at that we rank it one above the giant earthworm for spook-factor alone.
This fish is yet another animal that scientists didn't just recently lose track of - they thought it had been extinct for 65 MILLION YEARS. It went undetected for 65 million years! A South African museum curator re-discovered this fish, alive and well, on a fishing expedition off the coast of his continent in 1938. We now know that coelacanths can grow to 6 feet long, weigh up to 200 pounds, and live up to 2,300 feet below the surface of the ocean, which accounts for some of their unsettling appearances.
19 The Small Elephants of Java (Still Here)
Elephants seem pretty big to hide from the sight of every person in the world, but somehow this breed of elephant managed to do just that. They've been up in the Bornean Mountains just minding their own business for decades now, all while scientists thought they were extinct.
According to the World Wildlife Foundation, These elephants managed to survive because of the elephant trade industry in Asia many decades ago. Usually considered to be a cruel practice, shipping off and selling elephants actually managed to keep this breed of elephants alive, since the poaching that wiped them out in their country of origin never reached the particular part of Borneo where they ended up.
18 This Stubfoot Toad of Colombia (Still Here)
This Colombian toad also defied odds, outliving the epidemic that killed off many other species of amphibians about a decade ago. 10 years after the chytrid fungus devastated many breeds of frog around the world, this small species of toad was discovered by scientists who had assumed it was also extinct.
According to Conservation.org, the scientists were thrilled. The discovery (or re-discovery) of this little stub-footed toad gave a lot of hope to the scientific community. Maybe the fact that this toad beat extinction, other small and fragile species also have a fighting chance of survival. Let's hope that's true.
17 The Naked-Backed Fruit Bats of The Philippines (Still Here)
These bats aren't just friendly and good at keeping bug populations under control, they also make particularly useful guano. Back in its heyday when its population was abundant, the massive piles of guano that this bat produced were mined and used as fertilizer.
In 1996, this species of bat was officially declared extinct. It seemed like a reasonable decision since not even one of these bats had been seen since 1964. Scientists even collected intensive surveys asking the population about whether any hint of this species had been seen. After all that work, it was rediscovered in 2001. Unfortunately, most of their fruit-filled forest habitats are now gone, so the species still remains threatened.
16 The Forest Turtles of Arakan (Still Here)
It makes sense that this creature fooled the scientific community for so long. It's easy to pretend to be extinct when your favorite past time involves hiding under the natural debris on forest floors. According to the Wildscreen Arkive, the Arkan forest turtle was so well hidden from the world that scientists thought it had been extinct since 1908.
It was re-discovered in 1994 in an unusual place. Scientists weren't the ones that found it; travelers did! Sadly, parts of it were being sold in Chinese food markets. Now, these turtles are classified as critically endangered, but you might still find it being sold as food or a pet when you travel to China.
15 This Australian Night Parrot (Still Here)
When you think of parrots, you might imagine bright colors and a loud, squawky voice. How then could a parrot stay unseen, unheard, and out of the spotlight long enough to be considered extinct? Perhaps it's by being nocturnal.
One of these parrots was hit by a car near Queensland, Australia in 1990, reminding the world that it was not, in fact, extinct. Otherwise, it hadn't been seen alive since 1912. This inspired naturalist John Young to search for the parrot for 15 years. He finally captured a photo of it in 2013. That's more than 100 years of this parrot keeping out of sight!
14 The Venomous Cuban Solenodon (Still Here)
Doesn't this sweet little mole creature look harmless? It actually isn't. The Venomous Cuban Solenodon is unique because they are one of few mammals that actually use poisonous saliva as a defense mechanism, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
After not being seen for 80 years, scientists declared the Venomous Cuban Solenodon extinct. They were wrong. In 1973 and 1974, three different specimens were found and collected by researchers. These creatures are still around today, in (you guessed it) Cuba. The most recent of these creatures were found in 2003, named Alejandrito. Thankfully he was released back into the wild after being studied.
13 These Tahake Birds of New Zealand (Still Here)
When you think of birds that can't fly, you probably think of penguins or flamingos. You probably don't think of tahake birds, and there's a reason for that. Scientists believed these New Zealand native birds to be extinct from 1898 to 1948 after every known specimen had been taxidermied.
Lucky for the tahake population, many of them did survive despite the scientist's conclusions. Now there are only a few hundred tahake birds left in the world according to Teara's taxonomy of large New Zealand birds. A few hundred is very different from zero, however, since there is a chance with the right conservation efforts the population of tahake could grow for years to come.
12 The ‘Terror Skink’ of The South Pacific (Still Here)
Also known as Bocourt's terrific skink, the terror skink is a lizard with uniquely long, curved teeth. It was rediscovered in 2003 after last being sighted in 1876. That 1876 sighting was of just one solitary skink, so scientists assumed that the species had died out shortly thereafter.
It was seen then on an uninhabited small island called New Caledonia in the South Pacific Ocean. Now it has been confirmed to exist on similar small islands in the South Pacific, so if you ever take a sunny cruise down that way, look out for terror skinks! They're considered a top predator.
11 The Baiji White Dolphin (Actually Extinct)
The Baiji White Dolphin, also called the Chinese River Dolphin, has been extinct since 2002. While living, it was an extremely rare dolphin that could only be found in China's Yangtze River. Aside from its rarity, this dolphin was just like any other: it used echolocation to communicate and navigate through its surroundings and grew up to 8 feet long.
It lived in the Yangtze River for more than 20 million years (!) until its numbers started declining in the 1950s. That's when industrialization in China turned the river into a busy waterway full of fishing and dangerous hydroelectricity machines. The extinction of these mammals is made all the sadder by their sweet natures and intelligence.
10 The 7-Foot Tall Irish Elk (Actually Extinct)
Pictured above in model form, the Irish Elk is clearly a sight to behold. According to Owlcation, this species of deer populated Europe from Northern Ireland all the way to Siberia until they were wiped out by the world's most recent ice age. What a loss!
These striking creatures stood around 7 feet tall, with an impressive antler span of up to 12 feet. Their massive antlers are thought to have developed as a way for the males to compete for the best mates, both by physically fighting using them and catching the eyes of potential mates with them. Sadly these creatures are long gone these days.
9 The Tasmanian Tiger (Actually Extinct)
You've likely heard of the Tasmanian devil. It's a species of creature from Tasmania that runs around and carnivorously nibbles up a variety of mammals smaller than itself. Well years ago, it had a cousin in the Tasmanian tiger: a virtually identical creature with stripes along its lower back. Isn't everything better with stripes?
The Tasmanian tiger became extinct in the 1930s because farmers believed that this species was responsible for raiding hen houses and eating up all of their produce. According to The Conversation, government officials even paid farmers to hunt and eliminate as many Tasmanian tigers as they could. Now, there are none left.
8 The 30-Foot Long Steller’s Sea Cow (Actually Extinct)
She hasn't got the prettiest face, but this sea cow was once a very valuable part of her ecosystem. It was also ginormous, measuring up at 30 feet long and weighing over one tonne.
As often happens in the animal kingdom, this creature went extinct because it was so docile. Its calm and tame nature made it very easy to hunt, while its fat was used for oil lamps and its skin to line boats. According to Britannica.com, it lived in shallow waters and liked to feed on reeds, making it even easier prey. It became extinct in 1768 (the photo above is a regular old sea cow used in a Steller's sea cow recreation for BBC Television).
7 The Mountain Ibex of The Pyrenees (Actually Extinct)
The Pyrenean Mountain Ibex is one of the most recently extinct species on this list, and one of the most recently extinct species of the world for that matter. According to the Mother Nature Network, there used to be thousands of these little creatures roaming across France and Spain, but their numbers dropped drastically by the early 1900s.
The last Pyrenean Ibex was nicknamed Celia. After she finally passed away, the species was briefly resurrected using cloning technology in 2009. This was a landmark innovation! Unfortunately, the clone survived for only 11 minutes, making this species completely extinct once again.
6 The Half-Striped Quagga (Actually Extinct)
Have you ever heard of a half-striped quagga? We hadn't either. As it turns out, this rare and unusual creature once looked like a mix between a zebra and a donkey. According to Owlcation, they were a subspecies of zebra that diverged around 200,000 years ago and became extinct in the 19th century.
The quagga was native to South Africa and named for the sound that they made, which apparently sounded like "quagga." They were hunted into extinction in the 1880s, but nobody noticed that they were completely gone until decades later. Since people used "quagga" to also describe zebras, the decline of the actual quagga population was hard to track.
5 The Passenger Pigeon (Actually Extinct)
Martha, the world's very last passenger pigeon, ceased to exist in 1914. Now more than 100 years later, scientists and historians are sad to acknowledge the great loss that this species is to the animal kingdom.
Passenger pigeons played a big part in human history, as their sharp senses of direction made them useful for sending telegraphs and messages between people. They became so popular in North America in the 1900s that they were often sold as cheap meat, according to NPR. Most of these birds had been either shot down or eaten by the time scientists realized they were on the brink of extinction.
4 The Black Rhino of Cameroon (Actually Extinct)
We're sure you can guess why this beautiful creature became extinct. It wasn't a natural disaster or a devastating virus. It was just the greed of poachers who wanted to benefit from the beauty of their horns and skins and all the money that these pieces of rhino could get them.
According to Scientific American, the black rhino was a form of western rhinoceros with a specific genetic mutation. They report that at the beginning of the 20th century, an estimated one million black rhinoceroses lived on the savannas of Africa. By 2001, that number had dropped to about 2,300, and today it is zero.
3 The Dodo of Mauritius (Actually Extinct)
If you've ever seen Alice in Wonderland, you'll know about the dodo bird. It's used in that story as clubs for Alice and the Queen to use for playing cricket, a fantastical idea since the rare birds were considered exotic and extinct even at the time Alice was written.
In reality, the dodo has been gone since 1691. Like the docile Steller's sea cow (item number 8 on this list) the dodo evolved to be so tame that it eventually became easy prey for hunters sailing the Indian Ocean and passing Mauritius, the only place on earth where dodos lived. They had been safe there for so long, according to Bagheera.com, that they had lost their need and ability to fly or swim.
2 The Great Auk Pinguinus of Britain (Actually Extinct)
Have you ever visited England? It's a place known for many things, but penguins are not one of them. The Great Auk Pinguinus looked like a giant, round-beaked penguin and actually lived in Britain for centuries until going extinct in the 1850s.
According to Owlcation, its feathers became luxury exports in the 1600s and were easy to get since the Great Auk couldn't fly or run very fast. By the 1770s hunting for these birds had gotten so out of hand that Britain passed its first-ever environmental protection laws to prohibit the killing of these creatures, but it was already too late.
1 The Pinta Island Tortoise (Actually Extinct)
Did you ever hear about Lonesome George? He is the most recent and most heartbreaking example of an endangered species. The last living member of the Pinta Island Tortoise species, Lonesome George lived alone (obviously) on Pinta Island in the beautiful Galapagos Islands. He was then brought to a conservation facility where he survived until 2012, leaving no offspring.
According to the Smithsonian Magazine, this turtle ended up living for about 100 years. They say researchers were excited to find Lonesome George but disappointed that he didn't end up keeping his species alive. Let's hope the Pina Island Tortoise will become another Lazarus species and surprise us all by resurfacing when we least expect it.
References: NationalGeographic.com, Zoo.org.au, TheConversation.com, Animals.NationalGeographic.com, News.BBC.co.uk, NPR.org, WeForum.org, OneOfAKindPlanet.org, Telegraph.co.uk, SmithsonianMag.com