This article is published in collaboration with Quartz.
A pair of Australian sea snakes just scored a couple points against the Sixth Extinction. Scientists had given them up for extinct after the two species—the short nose and the leaf scaled sea snakes—disappeared from their homes on the Timor Sea’s tropical reefs more than a decade ago.
On top of that good news, the researchers went on to discover a population of the leaf scaled sea snake in the seagrass beds of Shark Bay, further along the coast.
This sort of “rediscovery” of species given up for extinct happens more often than you might think. Every year, a a few species are rediscovered. And some species are labelled extinct, erroneously, for far longer than the two Australian sea snakes. In March, for instance, a bird called Jerdon’s Babbler was found in Myanmar; the last sighting was 1941. This isn’t uncommon, as you can see from this chart from the Discovery Channel’s recent documentary, Racing Extinction:
That this happens reflects the limits of our understanding of animals and their habitats. For instance, in the case of the sea snakes, scientists hadn’t realized the two species could live in habitats so vastly different from the Timor Sea’s coral reefs. Both species’ unexpected adaptability to new habitats suggests that they might not even face imminent risk of extinction, say D’Anastasi and her colleagues in a just-published paper confirming the discovery (paywall).
Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
To keep up with the Agenda subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Author: Gwynn Guilford is a reporter and editor for Quartz.
Image: Lon Det, project officer of Cambodia’s crocodile conservation programme, holds a rare baby Siamese crocodile at Thmor Daun Pove’s natural resource protection community in Kho Kong province. REUTERS/Lach Chantha.