5 Prehistoric Animals That Could Still Exist Today
Finding a live prehistoric animal that was once thought extinct is a paleontologist's dream. But is this really possible today, considering all we know about the natural world? As much as we like to think we have every corner of our planet mapped and cataloged, there are still dark places where few people go.
The deep sea, forbidding jungles and dense forests remain difficult places to explore. Satellite imaging can’t reveal their secrets, and we humans struggle to simply survive in these last places of wilderness here on Earth. It sounds cliché, but almost anything could still be out there.
In the field of cryptozoology, researchers study rare animals that are not yet proven to exist by modern science. But there is another part of this research that includes animals we know once roamed our planet, but we now believe to be extinct. When considering a report of a strange creature, cryptozoologists must weigh the evidence and decide if it is a new animal, or perhaps a relic from the past that has still managed to survive.
The coelacanth is the best example of a living prehistoric creature we once thought extinct. This six-foot fish was known from the fossil record but thought to die out 65 million years ago, around the same time as the dinosaurs.
Marine biologists didn’t know that fishermen off the coast of Africa had been occasionally catching them for years. One species of coelacanth was rediscovered by western researchers in 1938 and another species in 1998.
This is called a Lazarus Taxon when a species is considered extinct because it has vanished from the fossil record but then appears again much later. There are other examples, from birds to lizards to different types of flora. But might there be some really interesting beasts out there, still hanging around after all these years?
Here are a few cryptids some say may be based on sightings of real animals:
The giant ground sloth called Megatherium was a huge and frightening beast, one of the largest terrestrial mammals ever to live on this planet. At twenty feet in length, it could stand up on its hind legs when necessary and was no doubt an imposing sight.
Megatherium was a slow-moving herbivore, so humans likely had little to fear, but putting yourself within reach if its massive claws would have surely been a bad idea. Early humans in South America hunted this massive creature to extinction ten thousand years ago, so why are we still talking about it?
In the deep jungles of South America, there are stories of a terrifying creature called the Mapinguari. This monster is said to stand ten feet tall or better, have enormous backward-facing claws, and a mouth on its belly. It may sound ridiculous, but these are qualities that may actually match up with the giant ground sloth, Megatherium.
Megatherium’s claws were so huge that researchers think it probably walked on its knuckles, with the claws out to the side. Hence the “backward-facing feet”. Megatherium would have easily stood ten feet or more on its hind legs, so the size is about right. As for the “mouth on the belly”, some researchers say this is indicative of the scent gland than many sloths possess.
Even though this sloth ate plants, and only used its claws to hook vegetation or for self-defense, it’s easy to see how villagers in remote parts of South America could be unnerved by such a rare and frightening creature.
2. The Megalodon Shark
Megalodon was the biggest shark ever to swim the oceans of the world, reaching lengths of sixty feet or more. It preyed on whales and other large marine mammals and would have been the apex predator of the ocean in its day.
Megalodon went extinct millions of years ago, probably due to changing global climate conditions, increased competition for a dwindling food supply, or a combination of both. So what makes us think megalodon could still be alive today?
Every now and then there is a report of a monster shark, bigger than one we currently know of. We know a typical great white shark is around sixteen feet in length, with the record being around twenty-one feet. So how then do we explain reports of 40-foot great whites and bigger?
These tales have been told as long as men have gone to sea. In recent times, anglers have reported possible Megalodon encounters in the Sea of Cortez and other areas where the ocean is deep and hard to explore.
Does this mean there is still a relic population of Megalodon somewhere in the deepest parts of the ocean?
3. Gigantopithecus Blacki
Thousands of years ago, in Asia, there lived a massive ape called Gigantopithecus Blacki. It stood teen feet tall and weighed a thousand pounds or more. Researchers think it was something like a large orangutan and would have eaten bamboo and other vegetation.
The only evidence that exists of this monster is fossilized teeth and jaw fragments, so there is a great deal of guessing as to its real size and anatomical specifics. Some researchers think it was bipedal, while others say it must have moved on all fours like a gorilla.
Gigantopithecus Blacki died off long ago and, while it would have encountered some of our relatives, it did not live in Asia around the time modern humans moved in.
Or did it? There are those who believe Gigantopithecus evolved into a mythical creature we have long been familiar with: Bigfoot.
If Giganto began to evolve while still in Asia it may have become bipedal (if it wasn’t already) and more human-like, and now exists as what we call the Yeti. When sea levels were lower during the last ice age there was a great exchange of fauna between North America and Asia, across a land we now call Beringia.
Beringia was the wide expanse of land which now makes up the seafloor under the present-day Bering Sea. It is also known as the Bering Land Bridge. Humans are believed to have made this trip and populated the Americas.
Did ancestors of Gigatopithecus come across too, and do they live on in the forests of North America as the Sasquatch?
Plesiosaurs were marine reptiles that lived during the time of the dinosaurs. There were many different types, in all shapes and sizes. The ones we are most familiar with are the long-necked, big-bodied animals with the flippers. Plesiosaurs mostly ate fish, but some of the bigger ones would have dined on larger aquatic animals and may have even plucked a dinosaur from the shore now and then.
It is widely accepted that the same mass-extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs did in the large marine reptiles as well, about 65 million years ago. But there are those who think some plesiosaurs are still with us, and they have plenty of reasons to say so.
Aquatic monsters matching the description of some of these reptiles have come from lakes all over the world, as well as the open ocean. This is one theory that allegedly explains the Loch Ness Monster. Because Loch Ness is connected to the ocean, the story goes that a population of plesiosaurs somehow escaped from the sea and into the confines of the lake.
This theory has issues on many levels, but the sheer rash of lake monster sightings from around the planet leads many cryptozoologists to keep the plesiosaur explanation on the table.
Some examples of plesiosaur-like creatures reported in North America include Champ from Lake Champlain and Memphre from Lake Memphremagog.
It’s every kid’s dream, and some adult’s too, but is it really possible that some dinosaurs may have survived extinction and live on today? Some cryptozoologists think so, and they aren’t talking about birds. They point to stories of strange beasts in the African Congo region as evidence.
Going by the tales relayed by local tribes, there seem to be several different types of dinosaurs still around in Africa. One, called Mokele-Mbeme, is said to have a large body like an elephant but a long neck and a small head. It lives in the river, eats plants, and becomes very aggressive if approached. This sounds a lot like a sauropod dinosaur.
Other descriptions match up with stegosaurs, horned rhino-like ceratopsians, and other dinosaurs believed to be extinct. If something like a dinosaur still lives somewhere in the world, remote parts of Africa would be a good place for them to stay hidden. These regions are seldom traveled by outsiders, and the geography, animals, and local politics make them dangerous places.
Still, it seems insane to think a few species of dinosaur may have escaped extinction, and somehow survived the event that killed off their kind as well as anything else larger than a badger.
What Else Is Out There?
We sometimes forget how big our world is, and how much there still is left to explore. It's true that there are new animals discovered every year, and some of them are fairly large. But any one of the beasts in this article would be the discovery of the century, and possibly of all time.
It's possible these animals may still exist out there somewhere, but just as possible, there may be even stranger creatures we can’t even imagine. The deepest oceans and densest jungles still have secrets, and there is still much to learn about the places humans fear to tread. Some may be new creatures, and others may be prehistoric animals we thought had gone extinct long ago.