Friday, January 22, 2016

Lazarus Species: When Extinct Species Really Aren't Extinct

New species are discovered all the time. Sadly, species seem to go extinct just as often. However, it is uncommon for a species that was once thought to be extinct to be “rediscovered,” but it does happen. This can be very exciting for the scientific community, especially when one of these “rediscovered” species, also known as Lazarus species, has been thought to have gone extinct millions of years ago. The following are five Lazarus species. Some have only been “missing” for a few decades, others for millions of years. All of them are endangered.

Pygmy Tarsier habitat
Pygmy Tarsier Habitat
Courtesy of IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Lazarus Species: Pygmy Tarsier

Pygmy Tarsiers are adorable little primates that look like a cross between Gizmo and the gremlins from the movie Gremlins. They weigh roughly two ounces and are covered in thick fur. They have large, wide eyes that they don’t move because they can move their heads 180 degrees in both directions. They have very long legs in relation to their body size and long, thin fingers that end in claws.

Until recently, Pygmy Tarsiers were thought to be extinct. The last time that these creatures had been seen was in 1921. They were found again in 2000. Scientists were trapping rats on Mt. Rore Katimbo in Indonesia when they accidentally killed one with a trap. The scientists reported the discovery and accidental killing of the creature. This prompted a professor, her student and a group of local Indonesians to search for a live specimen.

Three live Tarsier Pygmies have been found, two males and one female. The research team equipped them with radio collars, so they could track their movement and possibly find more. Unfortunately, a hawk ate the female. At this time, it is unknown just how rare these creatures are. However, it is almost certain that they are critically endangered.

Lazarus Species: Laotian Rock Rats

Laotian Rock Rats are small rodents that resemble something of a mix between a rat and a squirrel. They have beady eyes, long whiskers and are covered in a dark gray fur. Their tails are more like that of a squirrel than that of a rat. However, they are less fluffy. They do not walk like either a rat or a squirrel. Their walk has been likened to the waddle of a duck. Because their natural habitats are limestone outcroppings in central Laos, they have had no need to adapt to life in trees.

The Laotian Rock Rat was found again in a market in Laos. Unfortunately, the creature was dead and was being sold for its meat. The incident was reported in Science Magazine in 2005. Another specimen (this one alive) was recently discovered by a research team, led by a retired professor from Florida State University. The animal has since been photographed, videotaped and released back into its natural habitat. How many more of them there are, if any, is uncertain.

Coelacanth up close
Photo by Pascalou Petit
Lazarus Species: Coelacanth

The Coelacanth is a large and impressive fish. There are two known species of them. One dwells in the waters off of the Comoros Islands in Africa; the other can be found in the ocean near Sulawesi, Indonesia. They live in depths of up to 2,300 feet.

Coelacanths can grow to be up to six and a half feet in length and weigh up to 198 pounds. They possess two fins that stick out from their bodies. These fins work in an alternating pattern like legs. It is thought that these fish may be a link in the evolutionary chain.

Coelacanths were previously thought to have gone extinct right around the same time as the dinosaurs-65 million years ago.  A live specimen was discovered in 1938 by a museum curator on a fishing boat. Since then, these fish have been well documented in the wild. 

Arakan Forest Turtle
Arakan Forest Turtle
Lazarus Species: Arakan Forest Turtle

Arakan Forest Turtles are small turtles. They grow up to 11 inches in length and can weigh 7-10 pounds. They are primarily dormant when they are not eating or foraging. They are omnivorous. Their diet consists of fish, fruit, crustaceans and insects, among other things. They can be found in the rivers and streams in Arakan, Burma.

Arakan Forest Turtles were thought to be extinct until a dead specimen was discovered in a Burmese market. It was being sold for meat. It is very common for people in the area to kill turtles for food and medicine and so the Arakan Forest Turtle’s future may be very precarious. Captive breeding conservation efforts are currently underway.

Lazarus Species: Worcester’s Buttonquail

Not much is known about the rare, if not now extinct, Worcester’s Buttonquail. This bird was previously only known through dead museum specimens and drawings of them. One was found on Luzon Island in the Philippines in 2009. A picture was taken of the animal. However, it was killed and eaten shortly after the photo was taken.


Dell ‘Amore, Christine, 2/18/09, retrieved 2/3/10,

Coelacanth, retrieved 2/2/10,

Arakan Forest Turtle, retrieved 2/2/10,

Laotian rock rat rediscovered after 11 million years, retrieved 2/2/10,

Bryner, Jeanna, 11/19/08, Tiny Primates Found Alive Again in Indonesian Rainforest, retrieved 2/2/10,,2933,454664,00.html

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