Every year, a number of species go extinct due to numerous reasons such as the changing environment, habitat destruction, the introduction of predators, and even human interference. Most of these species face the same fate as dinosaurs and are wiped from the face of the Earth forever. But every once in a while, a species, almost in a Biblical way, comes back from the dead. They are known as the “Lazarus species,” which are thought to be extinct only to be rediscovered sometime later. Keep reading this article to know about 10 such rediscovered species that were earlier thought to be extinct
1. Wollemi Pine
The Wollemi pine is a tree whose genus was thought to have gone extinct millions of years ago until an Australian man found several live trees in a remote valley of New South Wales in 1994.
The Wollemi pine is a dinosaur-era plant and is known as the “dinosaur tree” or “living fossil.” It is so named because it is the only remaining member of an ancient genus that dated back to the time of the dinosaurs. Before 1994, it was only known due to its fossil record. In 1994, David Noble, a National Parks and Wildlife Service Officer from New South Wales, was exploring an inaccessible part of Wollemi National Park. During his expedition, he stumbled upon some trees located in a sandstone gorge. Since he had never seen such trees, he took some samples. When he presented the samples to botanists, they were surprised to find this ancient line of conifer alive. Based on their location, the trees became known as the Wollemi pines.
The oldest known fossil of the Wollemi tree is about 200 million years old. Currently, the Wollemi tree is classified as critically endangered. It is found only in two sites, both located in Wollemi Park in New South Wales. It is an evergreen tree with distinctive, brown and knobby bark that resembles bubbling chocolate. The tree grows continuously except in the winter season when it develops a white, waxy coating over its growing buds. This coating or “polar caps” protects the growing tips. Botanists believe that the species has survived the ice ages using this technique. (1, 2)
2. Red-crested Tree Rat
A rodent that was believed to be extinct for 113 years casually showed up on the handrail on the front porch of an ecolodge in Colombia in 2011. It let researchers photograph it for two hours before disappearing into the night after which it was never seen again.
Red-crested tree rat (Santamartamys rufodorsalis) is a magnificent guinea-pig-sized rodent. It was last seen in 1898 before being declared extinct. Later several organized searches were conducted but to no avail. In 2011, a red-crested tree rat shocked biologists worldwide by casually appearing at the El Dorado Nature Reserve in Sierra Nevada, Columbia. On 4 May 2011, this mammal casually showed up at the front door of IUCN Member ProAves’ El Dorado Nature Reserve Eco-lodge at 9:30 p. m.
This nocturnal mammal was rediscovered by two volunteer researchers from ProAves, Lizzie Noble and Simon McKeown. According to them, the animal appeared near the handrail where they were sitting and even let them photograph it including close-ups. After a brief photo session, it calmly went back to the forest. The red-crested tree rat is now included in the critically endangered species of IUCN list. (1, 2)
3. Neptune’s Cup
Neptune’s Cup is a species of sponge went extinct in the early 1900s due to over-harvesting. Surprisingly, more than a hundred years later, two specimens were rediscovered off the coast of southern Singapore.
Neptune’s Cup (Cliona patera) is a large sponge shaped like a wine glass. Due to its cup-like shape, it was sometimes used as tubs for babies. The Neptune’s Cup measured up to a meter in both height and width. Due to its size, it was highly sought after by private collectors and museums. As the demand increased, people started over-harvesting it until they disappeared from Singapore in the 1870s. Later, in 1908, some collectors spotted it in West Java, Indonesia. Since then, the species was declared extinct.
Fast forward a century, and in 2011, two live Neptune’s Cup sponges were found in the waters off St. John’s Island, Singapore. The first specimen was found in March 2011 by biologists of an environmental engineering firm. Soon, a second sponge was found just 50 meters away. Since then, four more sponges have been found in Singapore. (1, 2)
The coelacanth, a prehistoric fish more related to reptiles and mammals than modern fish, was thought to have gone extinct 66 million years ago until a fisherman caught one in 1938.
The coelacanth is a dinosaur-era fish that was believed to have gone extinct 65 million years ago until it was rediscovered in 1938. Before then, it was only known to the world through some fossil records. On 23 December 1938, a live specimen was caught off the east coast of South Africa by a local angler. Museum curator Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer discovered it among other catch on the fishing trawler of the fishermen. Fascinated by this unusual fish, she sent drawings of the fish to a Rhodes University ichthyologist, JLB Smith. After recognizing the fish, Smith immediately sent his famous cable: “MOST IMPORTANT PRESERVE SKELETON AND GILLS = FISH DESCRIBED.”
When Latimer sent the drawings to Smith, he was on a vacation. Latimer wasn’t able to preserve the fish for long and so sent it to a taxidermist. By the time Smith recognized the fish and sent the cable, the fish was already stuffed. Since the skeleton was no longer available, Smith began a hunt for a second specimen. He found one more than a decade later. Currently, there exist two kinds: the West Indian Ocean coelacanth and the Indonesian coelacanth. The West Indian Ocean coelacanth is assessed as a critically endangered species by the IUCN. (1, 2)
5. Blue-Bearded Helmetcrest
The beautiful Blue-Bearded Helmetcrest bird was thought to be extinct for 69 years until they were rediscovered in the Santa Marta Mountains in Colombia in 2015.
The blue-bearded helmetcrest bird is one of the world’s rarest hummingbirds. It is named after the male’s distinctive blue beard and cowlick-like crest. The bird was first discovered in 1880, and since then, only 62 specimens were collected, the most recent being collected in 1946. From 1999 to 2011, multiple expeditions were conducted in search of the blue-bearded helmetcrest. Several groups of scientists searched the diverse alpine ecosystem of Sierra Nevada’s páramo, but all of them failed for almost a decade.
The high-altitude habitat of these birds were being degraded by extensive burning and overgrazing. Due to this, scientists feared that the species might be extinct. After multiple failed expeditions, IUCN classified the species as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) in 2014. Soon after, in 2015, two conservationists documented three specimens of these birds. They spotted three birds in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park, Colombia while documenting fires set by local farmers. (1, 2)