Lazarus Species Were Believed To Be Extinct—But Aren't

Brilliance | Dec. 19, 2017

Extinction is always sad. But in some cases, we mourn too soon: not all species declared extinct actually are. Those are called Lazarus species, after the biblical story in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. It can be incredibly hard to know whether a species is extinct or just hard to find, but it only takes the discovery of a single animal to prove the species is still around. Take the coelacanth (pronounced SEEL-uh-kanth), an ancient 2-meter (6.5-foot) long fish with lobe fins that move eerily like a horse's legs. These creatures were believed to have died out with the dinosaurs, but one was finally discovered in 1938 off the coast of South Africa. Experts estimate that only 500 are alive today.

A similarly gargantuan Lazarus creature is the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect, affectionately known as the "tree lobster" or "walking sausage." This five-inch insect had been assumed extinct since it only inhabits one small island between Australia and New Zealand, and that island had been overrun with insect-hungry rats around 1920. But in 2001, scientists discovered a small colony of them living under a bush. The Australian night parrot, on the other hand, is pretty nondescript, but it's been called the "world's most mysterious bird". That's because it wasn't seen for more than 100 years. Aside from a few sightings—and a few dead birds—between 1979 and 2005, we couldn't prove its existence until a few were caught on video in 2013.

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