By Matthew Murdoch
Science tells us a lot of things. And normally science is right. That’s why we like it. We like that the earth moves round the sun. We like that gravity keeps our feet on the ground. We like that there are 24 hours in the day. Yup science is ace. Except, that sometimes science is wrong. But that can be fun too, especially when science is wrong about species which are supposed to be extinct or weren’t supposed to have existed at all. From prehistoric fish and flightless birds – it seems that there have been more than a few premature pronunciations of death or indeed denial of existence over the years. We’ve cobbled together a hit-list of five of our favourite back from the dead species, plus a bonus five which almost certainly aren’t likely to be confirmed as existing any time soon. Though you never know . . .
Whilst a normal sized squid could quite happily feed a large family, a giant squid could feed your whole street then some. Not that you’d want to go fishing for one of these bad boys. Coming in at a not unimpressive 13 metres in length, Giant Squid had been considered nothing more than a myth till they ended up appearing in fishing nets with increasing regularity.
The Coelacanth is thought to have started swimming the world’s oceans about 365 million years ago. Despite its sturdy structure and relative success as a species, scientists had assumed that the fish had vanished about 65 million years ago. When one was caught back in 1938 it caused mass excitement (within a very small group of academics anyway) and has gone on to become the best known of the living fossils. But you knew that already . . .
Back in 1898 it looked like some overly keen zoologists had deprived New Zealand of the last of its Takahes. A plump flightless bird resembling a cross between a turkey and a depressed peacock, the Takahe was written off as another example of an unfortunate extinction. A little bit of sniffing about 50 years later though and the critter sauntered onto the scene like it had never been away. Sadly it’s still heavily protected, meaning we have no information on what it tastes like.
Basically a mini-giraffe, the Okapi has gone from dead as a doorknob to the highlight of Bristol zoo’s Okapi enclosure in the short space of 120 years. Now the poster-animal for rediscovered species worldwide, the Okapi’s unearthing has inspired dozens of expeditions in search of new or forgotten mammals.
The Rock Rat
There’s a little argument about the exact ‘not deadness’ of the Laotian Rock Rat. Some experts believe it has recently been rediscovered after having been presumed extinct almost 11 million years ago. Others believe it’s a new as yet uncategorised species of squirrely rodent. Either way, the Rock Rat lives. Yay for the Rock Rat!
Scotland might lay claim to the world’s most famous ‘lake monster’ but that doesn’t mean there aren’t others out there. Lake Ogopogo in Canada boasts its own plesiosaurs-like inhabitant. Described as being similar to Nessie, this long necked ‘monster’ has also had itself snapped on occasion. Whilst a prehistoric predator’s survival seems unlikely, the lake is large enough, deep enough and home to enough fish to keep something out of the ordinary hidden from sight.
Dinosaurs alive? According to dozens of credible (and just as many not so credible) eyewitnesses there are seemingly more than a few lurking about the relatively secluded Congo River Basin. Descriptions of Mokele Mbembe vary. But with no reliable photographs and only some weird recording of its ‘roar’ and possibly some dubious poop to go by, it doesn’t look likely that this area of Africa will become some sort of actual Jurassic Park any time soon.
The Mylodon was a gigantic sloth which lived in South America some 10,000 years ago. Standing 10ft tall on its back legs, with huge claws this furry critter would have been an impressive animal were it alive today. Alive it might well be though. Various cultures in South America believe in a mythical forest dwelling monster known as the Mapinguari. Mapinguari’s description is eerily close to that of the ancient Mylodon. At least the description would be eerily close if it wasn’t for the additional mouth in its stomach the Mapinguari is often alleged to have. We think this one’s unlikely.
Some argue that the Himalayan yeti is one of mankind’s early unevolved ancestors. Most argue that it doesn’t exist. Whether fiction or fact, the yeti remains one of the best loved mysteries. Tall, hairy and tough looking this strange creature has been sighted, tracked, photographed and even scalped over the years. Still the evidence isn’t conclusive and science says no.
How could you miss something as big as a mammoth you might ask. Well, not easily we’d imagine – they were after all slightly larger than our own African elephant. Archaeologists however are finding increasingly ‘young’ mammoth remains during excavations. Some of these specimens are thought to have died out as ‘recently’ as 1700BC. Ok so that wasn’t exactly yesterday, but there have been enough sporadic sightings of hairy elephants across Russia’s inhospitable north to suggest that there’s enough mileage to keep this legend going a little longer.