It's always sad when an animal species goes extinct and suddenly disappears from our world. By that same line of thought, though, it's absolutely thrilling when a new species is discovered. But perhaps most miraculous of all is when we find that animals that were thought to be extinct are somehow still alive! It's not that these species were somehow revived from extinction - rather, many of them have hidden away, often right under our noses, continuing to live after when we had assumed they were long gone. Several of these species have even lived for millions of years without being rediscovered.
These animals are often referred to as "Lazarus species," because of the way they seem to rise from the dead. And while the concept of these creatures might be exciting, it's also a little bit concerning as the vast majority of them are still highly endangered. Certain species, such as the Javan Elephant, have gone from extinct to rediscovered and back again several times over.
Still, those animals that are no longer extinct give us some hope for the future. Who knows what species might rise from the grave next? Here are a few who have already pulled off this fantastic feat.
The coelacanth is probably the most famous Lazarus species due primarily to the way it was discovered. Paleontologists had found numerous fossils of a large, scaly fish during their excavations, but had always believed the species to be extinct - that is until 1938, when the fish suddenly turned up in a fishing net!
A museum curator by the name of Marjorie Courtenay Latimer received a call one afternoon to come see a strange species of fish and rushed right over. Upon inspection of the five-foot-long animal, Marjorie knew she'd never seen anything like it and decided to consult her colleagues. A year later, it was finally agreed: the fish was in fact a coelacanth! The animal still lives to this day, though it dwells in the depths so it's difficult to find.
It makes sense that the world's smallest mammal would also be one of its most vulnerable. They are less than four inches long, weigh next to nothing, and only live in Indonesia. And until recently, they were thought to be extinct. A live one had not been seen in the region since 1930, and scientists decided that it had likely been eradicated. Everyone continued to believe this until one of the little creatures was finally found in a mouse trap in 2000!
Scientists set up nets and were able to catch several live ones, and have since been researching their habitat and numbers. Scientists are still unsure how many of the animals are running about, so they are still considered highly endangered and conservation efforts are in full effect.
The story behind the Lord Howe Island stick insect seems pretty far-fetched, but it is impressively true. Lord Howe Island is a remote and rocky island off the coast of Australia and was once home to a large stick insect referred to as a "tree lobster." Unfortunately, they were apparently also as tasty as real lobster and a ship that ran aground there in 1918 released a pack of rats that loved to snack on them. Within two years, the insects were entirely gone.
Decades passed and a rumor eventually surfaced about a strange insect living on a nearby island called Ball's Pyramid, which is basically just a huge stone spire sticking out of the ocean. In 2001, a pair of Australian scientists decided to climb the spire to see for themselves, and they narrowed their search down to a single plant. There, under that one plant, was a colony of 24 of the insects, alive and kickin'! That one plant is still their only remaining home.
The Clarion Nightsnake wasn't a very well-known animal for decades, probably because it had only been spotted once. Then in 1936, renowned naturalist William Beebe visited the island of Clarion and found an oddly spotted snake. He put it in a jar and took it in for study. Return visits failed to find any more of these snakes, and soon the only remaining specimen was considered a labeling error, so the snake was forgotten.
In 1914, a research group was traveling through one of the remote Revillagigedo Islands when a student spotted an oddly patterned snake. After a series of DNA tests, they were able to confirm that this snake was, in fact, the Clarion Nightsnake. Scientists are still uncertain how many of these snakes exist, but they've survived for over 80 years on the little island without being disturbed.