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.