November 21, 2022 | David F. Coppedge

Lost and Found: Extinct Species Turn Up

Don’t count out extinct species. In some cases, they might be
playing hide and seek. We can be thankful they are still alive.


There have been false alarms of sightings, like the ivory-billed woodpecker and the unconfirmed reports of living pterosaurs, but you never know what unusual species still lurk in the forest or under the sea. Never say never.

Black-naped pheasant-pigeon sighted in PNG for first time in 140 years (BBC News, 18 Nov 2022). A “mammoth” search effort in Papua New Guinea, requiring escaping from pirates, talking to indigenous people, and traversing remote jungles on a remote island, turned up a prize: a beautiful bird long thought extinct. “It was like finding a unicorn,” said one team member.

“As I was scrolling through the photos, I was stunned by this photo of this bird walking right past our camera,” Cornell University researcher Jordan Boersma said.

The images they captured are the first time the long-lost bird has been documented by scientists since 1882.

Black-naped pheasant-pigeon on an island near Papua New Guinea. Credit: American Bird Conservancy.

The photo in the article shows a camera-trap image of the bird with its long black tail, black head and saddle-brown back. It probably tastes good cooked, like pheasant, but please don’t hunt and capture one for Thanksgiving.

Tiny clam that was thought to be extinct found alive (New Scientist, 18 Nov 2022). The last specimen of this clam found near Santa Barbara, California, was seen 85 years ago.

A species of clam thought to be extinct has been found alive. The only previous evidence of the species was from a fossil collected in 1937.

Jeffrey Goddard at the University of California, Santa Barbara, made the unexpected discovery in 2018 while exploring the nearby shores of Naples Point. During his search of the rocky tidal area, Goddard was immediately intrigued by a pair of centimetre-long clams, each waving an equally long white-striped foot.

Back from the dead: Meet the frogs overcoming extinction (Michigan State, 8 Nov 2022). Students from Michigan State went hunting for rare harlequin frogs in Ecuador in 2019.

“It was very dramatic,” Fitzpatrick said. “We were all spanned out across this field, but nobody thought we were going to see this frog. Then one of our collaborators started shouting in Spanish, ‘I found one!’”

Now, geneticists who studied its genome think there may be 32 more species to be found. Many of these frogs have been decimated in their habitat by a pathogenic fungus. Somehow, these are defying the odds and overcoming the threat.

“I can’t tell you how special it is to hold something we never thought we’d see again,” said Kyle Jaynes, the lead author of the new study published in the journal Biological Conservation. Jaynes is an MSU doctoral student in the Department of Integrative Biology and the Ecology, Evolution and Behavior Program, or EEB.

Discovery of lonely tortoise doubles known members of ‘phantasticus’ species (, 19 July 2022). The last giant tortoise found on Fernandina island in the Galapagos was a lonely male. Now, a lonely female has been found.

The discovery in 2019 of a lone small female tortoise living on one of the most inaccessible islands of the Galapagos Islands has baffled evolutionary biologists. Only one other tortoise, a large male discovered in 1906, has ever been found on Fernandina Island, an isolated island on the western edge of the iconic archipelago.

When an Extinct Species Is Found Alive, What Happens Next? (The Scientist, 1 Nov 2022). Following up on the discovery of the tortoise and the long-lost frogs, Andy Carstens looks into the implications of finding species once thought lost forever. Should they be taken into captivity? Do their genomes confirm the identity of the extinct species? And should they be bred back to larger numbers, as was done successfully with the California condor that was almost gone?

Life for the unextinct—whether it’s a tree, a tortoise, or toad—is tenuous, but “they represent hope,” says Terán-Valdez. “A species that was considered extinct comes back? You don’t get that every day.”

Endangered Devils Hole pupfish is one of the most inbred animals known (UC Berkeley News, 4 Nov 2022). This little fish is not extinct (yet), but its salty habitat in a remote underground cave forces it to endure unique challenges. So far, it has survived, to the surprise of researchers.

Confined to a single deep limestone cave in Nevada’s Mojave Desert, 263 of them live in water that hovers around 93 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, with food resources so scarce that they are always on the edge of starvation, and with oxygen levels so low that most other fish would die immediately. The pupfish, Cyprinodon diabolis, live in the smallest habitat of any known vertebrate.

Genetic inbreeding is known to harm a species, but scientists are surprised at how well these fish are doing, given the extreme lack of diversity between individuals.

The fact that the genome of the fish collected in 1980 was about as inbred as today’s fish is “maybe good news,” Martin said, “in that the population has historically been highly inbred with very low genetic diversity, suggesting that the recent decline in the ‘90s, with population bottlenecks to only 35 fish in 2013 and 38 fish in 2007, doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect.”

For more on the Devil’s Hole pupfish, see our earlier reports:

Don’t expect to find a T. rex hiding under a lilypad, but these stories give hope that small numbers of endangered species may still get by in isolated habitats.

This issue overlaps with controversies about what constitutes a species. Animals and plants are capable of more developmental and phenotypic plasticity than previously thought. Gene sharing can also extend beyond the species barrier. Depending on the rarity of a species, its economic importance, its particular trait uniqueness (e.g., Venus flytrap) or its role in its ecological environment, it might be more strategic to focus on endangered genera.

We have one more rediscovered “extinct” species to celebrate: you! We are all part Neanderthal, a type of “hominin” thought to have been displaced by “modern” humans. We all have Neanderthal genes! (7 March 2019). Now see if you can get favored treatment by applying for membership in the Endangered Species List.


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