8 Extinct Animals That Really Weren't

Mickey Samuni-Blank, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Most of the time, when a species has been declared extinct, it's truly gone. Occasionally, however, a species that has been declared kaput, sometimes for hundreds of years, can appear in the most unexpected places. These creatures are known as “Lazarus species” since they seem to have made a miraculous return from the dead, much like the biblical story of Jesus resurrecting Lazarus. Here are some of the species we’ve declared gone a little too soon.

1. Hula Painted Frog (Latonia nigriventer)

Believed to have died out 60 years ago, this frog with the polka-dotted belly was the first amphibian to be declared extinct—so you can imagine a park ranger’s surprise when he glimpsed one hopping across the road in 2011. The species dwindled in the 1950s when the Hula marshlands in Israel were drained to prevent malaria. An additional 10 frogs have been spotted since the initial discovery four years ago, leading researchers to hope that the little guys are on the rebound.

2. Myanmar Jerdon’s babbler (Chrysomma altirostre)

One of the most recent additions to Lazarus society, a bird called Jerdon’s babbler, was last seen in Myanmar in 1941, leading researchers to conclude that degrading grasslands had sent the little brown bird the way of the dodo. But in 2014, a team from the Wildlife Conservation Society was surveying the grasslands near the two of Myitkyo when they happened to hear the call of a bird that sounded like the babbler’s song. Upon closer inspection, it wasn’t just a couple of Jerdon’s babblers—it was a whole slew of them. The babbler’s grassland habitat is still threatened, so conservationists are now working on systems to help the birds thrive and repopulate.

3. Yellow-Tailed Woolly Monkey (Oreonax flavicauda)

Wikimedia Commons // Platyrrhinus

For nearly 50 years, scientists thought the yellow-tailed woolly monkey had been eradicated from the planet. Then, in 1974, one of the little primates was found in Brazil—not in the wild, but being kept as a pet. It’s estimated that less than 250 of the monkeys remain, making it one of the most endangered primates in the world [PDF].

4. Gilbert’s Potoroo (Potorous gilbertii)

Also known as the rat kangaroo, this teeny-tiny marsupial flew under the radar for more than a century, disappearing in the 1800s. In 1994, a Ph.D. student studying quokkas on the South Coast of Western Australia managed to accidentally trap a couple potoroos. The nocturnal mammals somewhat resemble quokkas, though much smaller—so at first blush, the student thought she had captured baby quokkas. These days, it’s estimated that there are only 30 to 40 potoroos left in the wild, with an additional 90 to 100 in two conservation colonies. This tiny population makes it the world’s rarest marsupial.

5. Arakan Forest Turtle (Heosemys depressa)

Wikimedia Commons // Eoghanacht

The Arakan forest turtle was last seen by a British explorer in 1908—and even then, it was just a single specimen. The semiterrestrial turtle then dropped out of sight until 1994, when several of them were found in a Chinese food market. Though they’re still considered one of the world’s rarest turtle species, five of them were observed in the wild for the first time in 2009.

6. Forest Owlet (Athene blewitti)

As if it wasn’t bad enough that we thought the forest owlet was extinct for decades, we also managed to lose one of our only stuffed specimens of the bird—or so we thought. It turned out that ornithologist Richard Meinertzhagen had stolen the forest owlet from the British Museum of Natural History sometime after 1925. He later submitted that exact owl to another museum, claiming he found it in India in 1914. When researchers could find no evidence of the owlet in India, they concluded that it must be extinct. Meinertzhagen was later exposed as a fraud, but it took until 1997 to find the forest owlet in the wild again.

7. Night Parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis)

Often called “the world’s most mysterious bird,” the night parrot stayed in the shadows for more than 100 years. Though there were a couple of sightings of the Australian bird reported in 1979 and 2005, no one was able to capture it on film for proof. A couple of dead parrots also turned up occasionally—insert your own Monty Python joke here—but the first hard evidence we had of their continued existence didn’t occur until 2013, when Queensland ornithologist John Young captured video of two of the elusive birds.

8. Lord Howe Island Stick Insect (Dryococelus australis)

Wikimedia Commons // Granitethighs

Most of us probably wouldn’t be too thrilled to stumble upon this 5-inch stick insect, but most of us aren’t entomologists. And don’t worry—you’re not going to find one of these so-called “tree lobsters” in your house. They’re found in the wild only on Ball’s Pyramid near Lord Howe Island between Australia and New Zealand—and even then, only under a specific bush. It was assumed that a population of black rats had eaten all of the giant insects sometime after 1920, but scientists found a small colony of them living around a single plant in 2001.

Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.


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