The Recently Extinct Plants and Animals Database

Pauline Taxa: Fossil Taxa Later Discovered Alive

By Branden Holmes

In addition to the many millions of living species which have been described, a few very special taxa have been named upon the basis of fossil or subfossil material only to later be discovered still living. Although technically named Lazarus taxa, an allusion to the story of the Biblical Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead after four days (John 11:1-44), pronunciation of extinction in each of these cases turned out to be premature, unlike that of Lazarus. None of them were really resurrected from the dead like Lazarus, or the Pyrenean ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica), the only true Lazarus taxon to date (Folch et al. 2009)1.

Instead the reappearance of most taxa, both those discovered and rediscovered as living, should rather be likened to Paul in Acts (Acts 14:19-20), when he is stoned, putatively to death, but miraculously recovers, clearly never having actually being dead. And hence these taxa should be more appropriately referred to as Pauline taxa rather than Lazarus taxa, a name which I shall adopt throughout this website.



Appendix 1: Potential future additions to this list

Sarcophilus laniarus (Owen, 1838), the mainland Tasmanian devil, might be conspecific with the extant Tasmanial devil, Sarcophilus harrisii (Boitard, 1841).


1 Although the Southern gastric brooding frog (Rheobatrachus silus) has also been resurrected, albeit in a restricted sense (see Phillips, 2013).

2 I owe a debt to a blog post by vertebrate palaeontologist Darren Naish.

3 Sadly this species is now believed to be extinct. The last known individual was collected in 1937.


Folch, J., Cocero, M. J., Chesné, P., Alabart, J. L., Domínguez, V., Cognié, Y., Roche, A., Fernández-Árias, A., Martí, J. I., Sánchez, P., Echegoyen, E., Beckers, J. F., Sánchez Bonastre, A. and Vignon, X. (2009). First birth of an animal from an extinct subspecies (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica) by cloning. Theriogenology 71(6): 1026-1034. [Abstract]

Mantell, G. A. (1850). Notice of the Discovery by Mr. Walter Mantell, in the Middle Island of New Zealand, of a living specimen of the Notornis, a bird of the rail family, allied to Brachypteryx, and hitherto unknown to naturalists except in a fossil state. Proc. Zool. Soc.. Lond. pt. 18. 209-212.

Phillips, Nicky. (2013). Extinct frog hops back into the gene pool. The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 March (Saturday).

Rosso, Antonietta and Novosel, Maja. (2010). The genus Adeonella (Bryozoa, Ascophora) in the Mediterranean, with description of two new living species and rediscovery of a fossil one. Journal of Natural History 44(27-28): 1697-1727. [Abstract]

Turvey, Samuel T. et al. (2016). Holocene range collapse of giant muntjacs and pseudo-endemism in the Annamite large mammal fauna. Journal of Biogeography. DOI: 10.1111/jbi.12763 [Abstract]

Voss, R. S. and Carleton, M. D. (1993). A new genus for Hesperomys molitor Winge and Holochilus magnus Hershkovitz (Mammalia, Muridae) with an analysis of its phylogenetic relationships. American Museum Novitates 3085: 1-39.

Woodman, Neal, Koch, Claudia and Hutterer, Rainer. (2017). Rediscovery of the type series of the Sacred Shrew, Sorex religiosus I. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1826, with additional notes on mummified shrews of ancient Egypt (Mammalia: Soricidae). Zootaxa 4341(1): 1-24. [Abstract]