Lazarus Species: 12 'Extinct' Animals Found Alive

Large blue grey fish with greenish fins and white markings swimming downward in ocean

slowmotiongli / Getty Images

They're called "Lazarus species" — creatures that have disappeared, sometimes for millions of years, only to be seen again in modern times miraculously. Their rediscoveries are a bewildering reminder that when given a chance, life finds a way to survive. Here's a brief list of 12 animals thought lost forever and (perhaps?) found again. Only time will tell if they will stay around.

1
of 12

Bermuda Petrel

bermuda petrel in flight

n88n88 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The dramatic rediscovery of the Bermuda petrel has become one of the most inspiring stories in the history of nature conservation. These birds were believed extinct for 330 years, with the last sightings in the 1620s. Then, in 1951, 18 nesting pairs were found on remote rocky islets in Castle Harbor. Even so, they are still battling extinction today with a global population of just more than 250 individuals.

2
of 12

Chacoan Peccary

Chacoan peccary

Dave Pape / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

The Chacoan is the largest (by size) species of peccary, a beast that resembles a pig but hails from a different continent and cannot be domesticated. The Chacoan peccary first described in 1930 based only on fossil records and believed to be extinct. Then in 1975, surprised researchers discovered one alive in the Chaco region of Paraguay. Today there are around 3,000 known individuals.

3
of 12

Coelacanth

Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae), close-up

Peter Scoones / Getty Images

Coelacanth are an ancient order of fish believed to have gone extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period some 65-plus million years ago. That was until 1938, when one was miraculously discovered off the east coast of South Africa near the mouth of the Chalumna River. Closely related to lungfishes and tetrapods, coelacanths are among the oldest living jawed fishes known to exist. They can live as long as 100 years and swim at depths of 90 to 100 meters.

4
of 12

Lord Howe Island Stick Insect

Lord Howe's Stick Insect Back From Extinction

Matt Cardy / Getty Images

Sometimes referred to as "land lobsters" or "walking sausages," a Lord Howe stick insect is considered the rarest insect in the world. The once plentiful insect became prey to invasive black rats and thought extinct since 1930 in its only known native habitat on Australia's Lord Howe Island. In 2001, researchers found fewer than 30 individuals on the small islet of Ball's Pyramid, the world's tallest and most isolated sea stack.

5
of 12

La Palma Giant Lizard

large lizard with brilliant blue coloring crouches on craggy brown rock
The lizard shown here is a relative of the La Palma giant lizard, also found on the Canary Islands.

H. Zell / Wikimedia Commons

The La Palma giant lizard (Gallotia auaritae) was historically found on the volcanic ocean island of La Palma in the Canary Island archipelago. Until alleged sightings of individual lizards in 2007, the giant lizard was believed to have been extinct for around 500 years. As a result, this species has been upgraded from extinct to critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, but scientists disagree on whether there is enough scientific evidence for its survival. Not a single living lizard has been captured so far, so the remaining population — if any — is believed to be quite small.

6
of 12

Takahe

Two adult takahē (male on left, female on right) allopreening. On the left is "T2" and on the right is "Puffin" - two takahē that were based at Zealandia EcoSanctuary in their retirement years.

Judi Lapsley Miller / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 4.0

The Takahe is a flightless bird indigenous to New Zealand thought to be extinct after the last four known specimens were taken in 1898. However, after a carefully planned search effort, the bird was rediscovered in 1948 near Lake Anau. This rare, odd-looking bird remains endangered today, with only 225 individuals remaining.

7
of 12

Cuban Solenodon

Illustration, Solenodon (Solenodon cubanus), side view.

Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

This strange-looking creature is so rare that only 37 specimens have ever been caught. Initially discovered in 1861, no individuals were found from 1890 to 1974. Unusual among mammals in that its saliva is venomous, the most recent Cuban solenodon sighting 2003, sparked giving the individual a name: Alejandrito.

8
of 12

New Caledonian Crested Gecko

Crested Gecko sitting on a log

Chris Rogers / Getty Images

Originally described in 1866 and long feared extinct, this unusual gecko was rediscovered in 1994 in the aftermath of a tropical storm. Its oddest features are the hair-like projections found above the eyes and a crest that runs from each eye to the tail. The species is currently being assessed for CITES protection and endangered status.

9
of 12

New Holland Mouse

New Holland Mouse, Pseudomys novaehollandiae captured in Munmorah SCA (State Conservation Area)

Doug Beckers / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The New Holland mouse was first discovered in 1843. It vanished from view for more than a century before its rediscovery in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park north of Sydney in 1967. The cute creatures are still fighting for existence despite valiant conservation efforts. One of its remote Victorian populations was wiped out in the Australian wildfires of 1983, although healthier populations still exist in New South Wales and Tasmania.

10
of 12

Giant Palouse Earthworm

Giant Palouse earthworm

Greg Goebel / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Originally discovered in 1897, these giant worms were declared extinct in the 1980s until three specimens were unearthed, the most recent in 2005. Found in Eastern Washington state and parts of Idaho, these ghostly burrowers can dig down as deep as 15 feet, grow to as long as 3.3 feet in length, and are albino in appearance.

11
of 12

Large-Billed Reed-Warbler

small gray-brown bird with a large bill, a flat forehead, and a short, pale supercilium

Sayam Chowdhury / ebird.org

This species is called the world's least-known bird. It was known only from a single specimen collected in 1867 and believed extinct. Then in Thailand in 2006, a wild population was discovered and confirmed to be large-billed reed-warblers via DNA matching to the original specimen. Today the birds largely remain a mystery, and unfortunately, DNA sequence variation points to a stable or shrinking population structure.

12
of 12

Laotian Rock Rat

Laotian Rock Rat

Jean-Pierre Hugot / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5

This species was first discovered for sale as meat at a market in Thakhek, Khammouan, in Laos in 1996, and was considered so unusual and distinct from any other living rodent that it was given its own family. Then in 2006, after a systematic reanalysis, the Laotian rock rat was reclassified — incredibly — to belong to an ancient fossil family that was thought to have gone extinct 11 million years ago. Return trips to Laos by the Wildlife Conservation Society have uncovered several other specimens, raising hopes that the animal may not be as rare as once thought.