With its more than 4.5 billion years, planet Earth has seen the appearance and disappearance of an innumerable number of animal and plant species. In this article we are going to show you a selection of some extinct animals that have coexisted with humans (even until relatively recently).
10 Extinct animals that coexisted with humans
The quagga (Equus quagga quagga) is a subspecies of the plains zebra that was endemic to South Africa until it was hunted to extinction in the late 19th century. It was long thought to be a distinct species, but early genetic studies have supported it being a subspecies of the plains zebra. A more recent study suggests that it is the southernmost clone or ecotype of the species.
The quagga is believed to have been about 257 cm long and 125-135 cm tall at the shoulder. It was distinguished from other zebras by its limited pattern of mainly brown and white stripes, mostly on the front of the body. The rear was brown and unstriped, and had a more horse-like appearance.
The distribution of stripes varied considerably among individuals. Little is known about quagga behavior, but it is possible that they gathered in herds of 30 to 50 individuals.
Quaggas were said to be wild and lively, but were also considered more docile than Burchell’s zebra. They were formerly found in large numbers in the Karoo of Cape Province and in the southern part of the Orange Free State in South Africa.
After European settlement in South Africa, the quagga was heavily hunted, as it competed with domestic animals for forage. Some were taken to zoos in Europe, but breeding programs were unsuccessful. The last wild population lived in the Orange Free State; the quagga became extinct in the wild in 1878. The last captive specimen died in Amsterdam on August 12, 1883. Only one live quagga has ever been photographed, and only 23 skins are currently in existence. In 1984, the quagga was the first extinct animal whose DNA was analyzed.
The Quagga Project attempts to recreate the coat pattern phenotype by selective breeding of the genetically closest subspecies, which is Burchell’s zebra.
2- Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger
The thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) is an extinct carnivorous marsupial that was native to mainland Australia and the islands of Tasmania and New Guinea. The last known living animal was captured in 1930 in Tasmania. It is commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger (for its stripes on its lower back) or Tasmanian wolf (for its canid-like characteristics). Several Tasmanian Aboriginal names have been recorded, including coorinna, kanunnah, cab-berr-one-nen-er, loarinna, laoonana, can-nen-ner and lagunta, while kaparunina is used in Palawa kani.
The thylacine was relatively shy and nocturnal, with the general appearance of a medium-to-large sized canid, except for its stiff tail and kangaroo-like abdominal pouch. Due to convergent evolution, it had anatomy and adaptations similar to those of the tiger (Panthera tigris) and wolf (Canis lupus) of the northern hemisphere, such as dark transverse stripes radiating from the upper back, and a skull shape extremely similar to that of canids, despite being unrelated.
Its closest living relatives are the other members of Dasyuromorphia, such as the Tasmanian devil and quolls. The thylacine was one of only two marsupials known to have a pouch in both sexes: the other species (still extant) is the water opossum of Central and South America. The pouch of the male thylacine served as a protective sheath, covering the external reproductive organs.
The thylacine had become locally extinct in both New Guinea and mainland Australia prior to British colonization of the continent, but its last stronghold was on the island of Tasmania, along with other endemic species such as the Tasmanian devil.
Intensive hunting, encouraged by bounties, is often the cause of their extinction, but other contributing factors may include disease, the introduction of and competition with dingoes, and human encroachment on their habitat.
3- Golden Toad
The golden toad (Incilius periglenes) is an extinct species of true toad that was once abundant in a small high-altitude region of about 4 square kilometers in an area north of the town of Monteverde, Costa Rica. This toad was first described in 1966 by herpetologist Jay Savage. The last sighting of a single male golden toad was on May 15, 1989, and it has since been classified as extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The golden toad is one of about 500 species in the family Bufonidae, the“true toads“. Males were orange and sometimes slightly mottled on the belly, while females showed a greater variety of colors, such as black, yellow, red, green and white; both sexes had smooth skin. While males had a bright orange color that attracted females for mating, females were covered with a dark, charcoal-like color outlined with yellow lines.
Sexual dimorphism played a key role in identifying females, which were typically larger than males. Body length ranged from 39 to 48 mm in males and 42 to 56 mm in females. Males had proportionally longer limbs and longer, sharper noses than females. Females also had enlarged cranial ridges above the level of the orbit (eye socket), whereas in males the ridges were much lower.
Individuals spent most of their lives in damp burrows, particularly during the dry season. The average lifespan of the golden toad is unknown, but other amphibian species of the family Bufonidae have an average lifespan of 10-12 years.
The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is an extinct flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Mauritius, located east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The closest genetic relative of the dodo was the also extinct Rodrigues’ solitaire. Both formed the subfamily Raphinae, a clade of extinct flightless birds that were part of the family that includes pigeons and turtledoves. The closest living relative of the dodo is the Nicobar pigeon.
It was once thought that a white dodo existed on the nearby island of Reunion, but this assumption is now believed to have been mere confusion based on the also extinct Réunion ibis and paintings of white dodoes.
Subfossil remains show that the dodo was about one meter tall and could weigh between 10.6 and 17.5 kg in the wild. The appearance of the dodo in life is known only from drawings, paintings and written accounts from the 17th century. Since these portraits vary considerably, and only some of the illustrations are known to have been drawn from live specimens, the exact appearance of the dodo in life remains unresolved, and little is known about its behavior.
It has been depicted with brownish-gray plumage, yellow legs, a tuft of tail feathers, a bare gray head, and a black, yellow, and green beak.
It used gizzard stones to help digest its food, which is thought to have included fruit, and its primary habitat is believed to have been the forests of the drier coastal areas of Mauritius. According to one account, its clutch consisted of a single egg. It is assumed that the dodo stopped flying due to the availability of abundant food sources and the relative absence of predators in Mauritius.
Although historically the dodo has been described as a fat and clumsy animal, it is now believed that it was well adapted to its ecosystem.
The first recorded mention of the dodo was made by Dutch sailors in 1598. In the years that followed, the bird was hunted by sailors and invasive species, while its habitat was destroyed. The last widely accepted sighting of a dodo was in 1662. Its extinction was not immediately noted and some considered it a myth.
In the 19th century a small amount of remains of four specimens that had been brought to Europe in the early 17th century were investigated. Among them was a desiccated head, the only soft tissue of the dodo that survives today. Since then, a large amount of subfossil material has been collected in Mauritius, especially in the Mare aux Songes swamp.
The extinction of the dodo in less than a century since its discovery drew attention to the previously unrecognized problem of human involvement in the disappearance of entire species. The dodo achieved widespread recognition for its role in the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and has since become a fixture of popular culture, often as a symbol of extinction and obsolescence.
The giant moa (Dinornis) is an extinct bird genus belonging to the moa family. Like other moa, it belonged to the order Dinornithiformes. It was endemic to New Zealand. Two species of Dinornis are considered valid, the North Island giant moa (Dinornis novaezealandiae) and the South Island giant moa (Dinornis robustus).
Dinornis may have been the tallest bird that ever lived, with females of the largest species reaching 3.6 m in height, and one of the most massive, weighing 230-240 kg (510-530 lb) or 278 kg (613 lb) according to various estimates.
The feather remains are reddish-brown and hair-like, and apparently covered most of the body except for the lower legs and most of the head (plus a small portion of the neck below the head). Although no moa chick feathers have been found, it is likely that they were mottled or striped to camouflage them from Haast’s eagles.
The feet were large and powerful, and could probably give a powerful kick in case of threat. The birds had long, strong necks and broad, sharp beaks that would have allowed them to eat vegetation, from subalpine grasses to tree branches. Relative to their body, the head was small, with a pointed, short, flat and somewhat curved bill.
The giant moa of the North Island used to be larger than that of the South Island.
6- Haast’s eagle
The Haast’s eagle (Hieraaetus moorei) is an extinct species of eagle that lived on the South Island of New Zealand, commonly accepted as the pouakai of Maori legend. It was the largest known eagle, weighing an estimated 15 kilograms (33 lb), compared to the 9 kg harpy eagle.
Its enormous size is explained as an evolutionary response to the size of its prey, the flightless moa, the largest of which could weigh 230 kg (510 lb).
It became extinct around the year 1400, after the arrival of the Maori.
7- Smilodon or Sabretooths
Smilodon is a genus of the extinct subfamily of machairodont felids. It is one of the most famous prehistoric mammals and the best known saber-toothed cat. Although it is commonly known as the saber-toothed tiger, it was not closely related to the tiger or other modern felids.
Smilodon lived in the Americas during the Pleistocene epoch (2.5 mya – 10,000 years ago). The genus was named in 1842 from fossils from Brazil; the generic name means “scalpel” or “two-edged knife” combined with “tooth”. Three species are currently recognized: S. gracilis, S. fatalis and S. populator.
In general, Smilodon was more robust than any other felid today, with especially well-developed forelimbs and exceptionally long upper canine teeth.
In North America, Smilodon hunted large herbivores such as bison and camels, and continued to be successful even when it encountered new prey species in South America. Smilodon is believed to have killed its prey by grasping them with its forelimbs and biting them, but it is unclear how the bite was produced.
Scientists debate whether Smilodon had a social or solitary lifestyle; analysis of the behavior of modern predators, as well as the fossil remains of Smilodon, could be interpreted as supporting either view. Smilodon probably lived in closed habitats, such as forests and thickets, which would have provided cover for ambushing prey.
Smilodon became extinct at the same time as most of the megafauna of North and South America, about 10,000 years ago. It has been proposed that its dependence on large animals was the cause of its extinction, along with climate change and competition with other species, but the exact cause is unknown.
8- Woolly Mammoth
The woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) is an extinct species of mammoth that lived during the Pleistocene until its extinction in the Holocene epoch. It was one of the last of a line of mammoth species, which began with Mammuthus subplanifrons in the early Pliocene. The woolly mammoth began to separate from the steppe mammoth about 800,000 years ago in eastern Asia. Its closest relative is the Asian elephant.
DNA studies show that the Columbian mammoth was a hybrid between woolly mammoths and another lineage descended from steppe mammoths. The appearance and behavior of this species are among the best studied of any prehistoric animal thanks to the discovery of frozen carcasses in Siberia and North America, as well as skeletons, teeth, stomach contents, dung and depictions of life in prehistoric cave paintings.
Mammoth remains had long been known in Asia before Europeans became acquainted with them in the 17th century. The origin of these remains was long debated, often explained as the remains of legendary creatures. Georges Cuvier identified the mammoth as an extinct species of elephant in 1796.
The woolly mammoth was about the same size as modern African elephants. Males grew to between 2.7 and 3.4 m and weighed up to 6 metric tons (6.6 short tons). Females reached 2.6 to 2.9 m shoulder height and weighed up to 4 metric tons (4.4 short tons). A newborn calf weighed about 90 kg (200 lb).
The woolly mammoth was well adapted to the cold environment of the last ice age. It was covered in fur, with an outer layer of long hairs and a shorter undercoat.
The coat color varied from dark to light. The ears and tail were short to minimize frostbite and heat loss. It had long, curved tusks and four molars, which were replaced six times during an individual’s lifetime.
Its behavior was similar to that of modern elephants, and it used its tusks and trunk to manipulate objects, fight and forage for food. The woolly mammoth’s diet consisted mainly of grasses and reeds.
Individuals could probably reach 60 years of age. Their habitat was the mammoth steppe, which extended across northern Eurasia and North America.
The woolly mammoth coexisted with early humans, who used its bones and tusks to make art, tools and dwellings, and hunted the species for food.
The woolly mammoth population declined in the late Pleistocene, disappearing from most of its continental range, although isolated populations survived on St. Paul Island until 5,600 years ago, on Wrangel Island until 4,000 years ago, and possibly (based on ancient electronic DNA) in the Yukon until 5,700 years ago and on the Taymyr Peninsula until 3,900 years ago. After their extinction, humans continued to use their ivory as a raw material, a tradition that continues today.
With a mammoth genome project completed in 2015, it has been proposed that the species could be revived through various means, but none of the proposed methods are yet viable.
9- Woolly rhinoceros
The woolly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis) is an extinct species of rhinoceros that was common throughout Europe and Asia during the Pleistocene epoch and survived until the end of the last glacial period. The woolly rhinoceros was a member of the Pleistocene megafauna.
The woolly rhinoceros was covered with long, thick hair that allowed it to survive in the extremely cold and harsh mammoth steppe. It had a huge hump that reached from the shoulder and fed mainly on herbaceous plants that grew in the steppe.
Mummified carcasses preserved in the permafrost and many skeletal remains of woolly rhinoceroses have been found. Images of woolly rhinos are found among cave paintings in Europe and Asia.
The remains of woolly rhinoceroses have been known long before the species was described, and were the basis for some mythical creatures. The native peoples of Siberia believed that their horns were the claws of giant birds.
In 1335 a rhinoceros skull was found in Klagenfurt (Austria), which was believed to be that of a dragon. In 1590 it was used as the basis for the head of a parrot statue. Gotthilf Heinrich von Schubert held the belief that the horns were the claws of giant birds, and classified the animal with the name Gryphus antiquitatis, meaning“griffin of antiquity“.
10- Passenger pigeon
The passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) is an extinct species of pigeon that was endemic to North America. Its common name derives from the French word passager, meaning “passing through”, due to the migratory habits of the species.
The pigeon migrated in huge flocks, constantly seeking food, shelter and breeding sites, and was once the most abundant bird in North America, numbering some 3 billion, and possibly as many as 5 billion.
The fast-flying passenger pigeon could reach a speed of 100 km/h (62 mph). It fed mainly on mast, but also on fruits and invertebrates. They practiced perching and communal breeding, and their extreme gregariousness may be related to foraging and satiation of predators.
They were hunted by Native Americans, but hunting intensified after the arrival of Europeans, especially in the 19th century. Pigeon meat was marketed as cheap food, which led to massive hunting for many decades.
Other factors contributed to the decline and subsequent extinction of the species, such as the decline of the large breeding populations necessary for its conservation and widespread deforestation, which destroyed its habitat. A slow decline between about 1800 and 1870 was followed by a rapid decline between 1870 and 1890. The last confirmed wild bird is believed to have been shot in 1901.
The last captive birds were divided into three groups in the late 20th century, some of which were photographed alive. Martha, believed to be the last passenger pigeon, died on September 1, 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoo. The eradication of the species is a notable example of anthropogenic extinction.