Back from the dead?

8 rare species thought to be extinct that actually aren't

Weird, wacky, and way more resilient than we give them credit for.

Jon Flanders

For over a century, researchers believed that the giant tortoise Chelonoidis phantasticus was extinct in the Galapagos Islands.

But after sequencing the genome of a living Galapagos tortoise discovered in 2019, scientists learned that it was actually a Chelonoidis phantasticus.


Lucas Bustamante © Galapagos Conservancy

The only known living member of C. phantasticus, named Fernanda, is just one example of a creature dismissed as extinct who later turned out to be alive.

Photo by Riley Fortier

Nature has surprised us like this many times, which emphasizes that flora and fauna are sometimes more resilient than we give them credit for.

Here are 7 more species once thought to be extinct that actually aren’t:

7. Small Whorled Pogonia

Sometimes species disappear from an area but eventually make a comeback. This was the case in Vermont with an orchid called the small whorled pogonia.

John Gange/Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

John Gange/Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

Just last week, Vermont's Fish and Wildlife Department announced that the plant had been spotted in the state after it was believed to be all but gone from that region since 1902.

6. Shelta Cave Crayfish

This small, rare crayfish is extremely picky about its habitat. It’s native only to the Shelta Cave in northern Alabama — and hadn’t been spotted there in 30 years.

Dr. Matthew L. Niemiller

The cave’s aquatic ecosystem essentially collapsed in the 1970s, but researchers found two live specimens of the crayfish in 2019 and 2020.

Amata Hinkle
5. Black-Browed Babbler

In 2020, residents on the island of Borneo spotted and captured the first live specimen of this bird in over 170 years.

Huub Veldhuijzen van Zanten/Naturalis Biodiversity Center via Wikimedia Commons

Known from just one specimen collected in the mid-1800s, researchers long thought the bird was extinct.

The modern babbler sports dark red eyes, which stand in contrast to the artificial yellow peepers of the taxidermied specimen.

4. Somali Elephant Shrew

Though the last recorded sighting of the endangered Elephantulus revoilii shrew is from the 1970s, locals in Djibouti had reported potential sightings of the small mammal over the past few years, reported the BBC.

Steven Heritage/PeerJ

Houssein Rayaleh/PeerJ

When field researchers investigated these sightings, they found that the species was very much alive in Djibouti — and potentially in neighboring Ethiopia and Somalia, too. The researchers reported these findings in a 2020 paper.

3. Gasteranthus extinctus

This bright orange wildflower was named for its impending extinction after scientists first spotted it 40 years ago, in the remains of a decimated forest.

Photo by Riley Fortier

But in 2019 and 2021, the critically endangered plant was recorded at five sites along the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Ecuador — the first known sightings in several decades.

Photo by Riley Fortier
2. Hill’s Horseshoe Bat

For 40 years, no one recorded a sighting of this rare species until researchers searched for it in Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park in 2019.

Jon Flanders

Jon Flanders

Researchers also recorded the bat’s echolocation calls for the first time.

The sound clips helped them identify wild calls in at least eight different locations, indicating a small area where the species lives today.

1. Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

Just about a year ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its plans to declare the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker extinct after it's last universally accepted sighting in 1944.

mikroman6/Moment/Getty Images

However, a scientific pre-print paper (one not yet peer-reviewed or published in a journal) from April 2022 asserts that the bird is still out there.

Heritage Images/Hulton Fine Art Collection/Getty Images

Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images

Researchers document drone and trail cam footage collected over 10 years of searching — reigniting hope that the last of these iconic woodpeckers haven’t yet ceased to exist.

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