The Ongoing Search for Extinct Species

BY LIAN MLODZIENSKI

SC Staff Writer

In the Gospel of John in the New Testament of the Bible, there was a man named Lazarus.  In this particular story, Lazarus is very sick, which causes him to die, and Jesus raises him from the dead. (John 11:1-46)

Like in this story, where a man comes back from the grave, scientists have created a new taxon of species that were once believed to have been extinct.

An organism qualifies for this taxon, known as the Lazarus taxon, when it disappears from the fossil record and is later rediscovered. These extinctions may also be called pseudoextinctions.

The organism may have mutated in such a way that the two resulting creatures were thought to be very different from each other.

Sometimes these “thought to be dead” creatures are found living millions of years later.

Because of this, the fossil record is thought to be unreliable.

In order for a fossil to form, the environmental conditions must be just right.  Sometimes the dead organisms are frozen, dried, or encased in tar or resin.

An example of a creature from the Lazarus taxon is the coelacanth. This creature is a fish that is thought to have played an important role in the evolutionary chain.

Until 1938, the coelacanth was believed to have died in the Cretaceous period, over 65 million years ago. When a living coelacanth was discovered off the coast of South Africa, it caused a sensation throughout the world’s scientific community.

Discoveries like coelacanth have sparked an interest in the possibility of the Loch Ness monster being real. Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands has been home to the idea of Nessie for many years now, partially due to the fact that plesiosaur fossils have been found in the lake. Many believe that one day there may be concrete, irrefutable proof of the creature’s current existence.

In August, a Discovery Channel special opening Shark Week questioned whether or not the Megalodon still exists.

The Megalodon was the biggest prehistoric shark that ever lived, and it is closely related to the Great White Shark. Fossils of the teeth of this shark are seven inches long. It was about sixty feet long and ate whales.

There are still many people who hunt for extinct creatures.

Water covers about 70% of the Earth’s surface, and yet 95% of the Earth’s oceans remain unexplored, unseen by human eyes. Who knows what could be lurking in the water?

Email Lian at:

lmlodzien1@live.esu.edu

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