by Denyse O'Leary
Recently, New Scientist has defended cryptobiologists, people who search for creatures presumed to no longer exist or never exist:
And the truth, of course, is that even in the 21st century, the natural world is still brimming with mystery. Tropical biologists commonly find that half or more of the insect species they capture in the rainforest canopy are new to science. Undiscovered fish and other species are frequently found in the deep sea. Up to half of all the plant species in the Amazon are still scientifically undocumented.Yes exactly, and while we are here, one third of species believed recently extinct turn up again.
Not all of the new discoveries are small or obscure. The Mindoro fruit bat, discovered in the Philippines in 2007, has a 1-metre wingspan. The same year saw the discovery of a venomous snake in Australia and a large electric ray in South Africa.
And despite the misfire of the recent Tasmanian tiger video, there are many Lazarus species that have been rediscovered after having been presumed extinct. Until 1951, the Bermuda petrel had not been seen by scientists for 330 years. The Javan elephant, okapi, coelacanth, mountain pygmy possum, venomous Cuban solenodon and giant terror skink were also erroneously consigned to oblivion. The Laotian rock rat, discovered in 1996, is now the sole known representative of a rodent family that was thought to have vanished 11 million years ago. The Wollemi pine - the only known survivor of a 200-million-year-old plant family - was discovered in 1994 just a stone's throw from Sydney, Australia.
- William Laurance, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The call of the weird: In praise of cryptobiologists,Ã¢â‚¬Â New Scientist, 22 June 2011
Sources suggest that the question of whether a species could exist or still exist should be based on biophysiology, not guffaws from the crowd. That would winnow out the crackpots, leaving room for serious students.
Is extinction harder than it used to be?
Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.
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