Have you ever seen an extinct species?

The last dusky seaside sparrows in the wild had been captured by 1980; the last survivor of them died in 1987; and the taxon was declared extinct in 1990. This means that there are people alive today who are old enough to have seen this extinct sparrow alive.

Most of the time, it takes longer than that for a species to be officially declared extinct. But certainly, there are species which have not been seen in years, and may be extinct, although not yet officially declared so. Certainly, there are species which experienced naturalists in the area believe to be extinct, because of having searched carefully in the right places and not found them.

We have people on iNaturalist with many years of field experience and a depth of knowledge. Are there species that you used to see alive, that you believe to be extinct now, because neither you nor your colleagues can find them anymore?


I have never seen an extinct species but in 2013 I saw some sunflower sea stars in Monterey Bay. About 6 months later they were wiped out by wasting disease I have seen a species that is now locally extinct


Sadly (?) no, touching bones of aurochs and some other extinct species is the closest I’ve been to anything extinct.


There is an observation on iNat of a Spix’s Macaw

Also extinct (or EX in the wild) frogs are documented:


This isn’t exactly what you were asking, but in the 1970s I was a grad student at Cornell and worked part-time in the vertebrate collection. In a drawer in the bird collection, they had several museum-preps (stuffed skins) of passenger pigeons. In those days we were just beginning to understand the current human-caused tide of extinction, and only a few iconic species like passenger pigeon, dodo, etc. were acknowledged as extinct. Handling those skins was an awesome experience.

(Addendum: I found them listed online. There are 14 skins, collected in central New York state, between 1860 and 1894.)


There are observations for the Vegas Valley leopard frog, which iNat considers extinct:


There is an endemic orchid to Long Island; Platanthera pallida. It consists of two populations with less than 1,000 individuals, and could go extinct in 10 years. I have seen most of the individuals, and it seems that they are on a downward trend.


When I was 15 I got to see a Crested Honeycreeper (Palmeria dolei) in Waikamoi Forest Preserve on Maui. Not extinct, but once thought to be – they were extirpated on Molokai, and not found on Maui until 1972.

We saw several other honeycreepers, and it may well be that one of them might have gone extinct since – I haven’t kept track.


Speaking of the Dusky Seaside Sparrow, there are two observations from 1978
There’s also the extinct (in the wild) Hawaiian Crow observation from 1997


Similar scenario, I live in an area where Texas horned lizards have been extirpated for about 30 years. I caught them as a child. When I relate these experiences to my children who have never seen one, they might as well be extinct. Sad that I never took a pic of one back then.


I’ve seen an American Chestnut seedling in the forest (not sure if it was still sprouting from a century old root or was part of re-introduction experiments). I suppose they are not technically extinct as long as some roots are alive, and there is also a few adult specimens kept alive outside the native range.

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Not me personally, but a few members of my bird club once gave a talk on three extinct birds they’d seen and the interesting stories that led them to see those birds; Bachman’s Warbler, Eskimo Curlew, and :gasp: Ivory-billed Woodpecker.


Somebody has seen Slender-billed Curlew. They used to be so common that people would just go for them to known sites and expect to see them. Then within a decade or two, they were gone. To this day we still don’t know whey there used to breed! https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/5172732


Not a fully extinct species but regionally extirpated ones. In the 1980s-90s I saw a number of Chiricahua Leopard Frogs in places where they no longer occur and haven’t for 20-30 years. The taxonomy of this frog is still being debated so it’s possible some of these may have represented a unique species. And I saw the last Whooping Crane that was part of the experimental Rocky Mountain flock that migrated with Sandhill Cranes and wintered in central NM, before that reintroduction effort was abandoned.


These are actually Chiricahua Leopard Frogs, L. chiricahuensis although some have accepted a proposal that chiricahuensis is actually conspecific with L. fisheri (extinct in Nevada) and that the name fisheri should be applied to all populations.


Closest I’ve come was seeing a Wyoming Toad(let) in the wild as a part of sanctioned and permitted surveys in 2013. It was one of the only survivors of the previous year’s introduction and exhibited signs of Bd chytrid infection. At the time they were extinct in the wild but thanks to robust captive breeding efforts in zoos and research-informed reintroductions the species is rebounding in the wild quite nicely.

Conversations like this are interesting- I am at once somewhat envious of those who’ve seen extinct species, feeling utter dread about the possibility of joining that club, and infinitely grateful to those who’ve worked so hard to save the species we have that have rebounded.


Anyone who has seen a Black-footed Ferret in the wild recently (as I have) saw an animal that was twice declared extinct, then rediscovered, then rescued from the wild where it became fully or functionally extinct, although the species continued in captivity and is now being reintroduced.


That’s kind of untrue, some nests were seen, but not in recent times, and general area where they were breeding is known too, it’s just a huge area with few to none human settlings and a rough terrain. Similar situation now is with little curlew, much more visible to humans on wintering grounds.

A few nests have been found but it’s commonly believed that these are actually very rare records from an area that was not the typical breeding area for the species - this actually took a long time for anyone to realize and thus a lot of search effort has been wasted on the wrong area. I am not sure about the specific method - but I think it was simply isotope analysis of the wintering birds - that has shown that the most likely breeding range was actually in Kazachstan.

Presumed extinct, Bahama Nuthatch: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/109781627