Top 11 Most Amazing Extinct Animals!

T-Rex Dinosaur (Photo taken at Universal Studios "Jurassic Park" 4/12/07 by Scott Kinmartin cc2.0)

Top 11 Most Amazing Extinct Animals!

T-Rex Dinosaur (Photo taken at Universal Studios “Jurassic Park” 4/12/07 by Scott Kinmartin cc2.0)

“Extinct” is the word we use to describe species that used to exist, but don’t any longer. They can become extinct for many different reasons, including astronomic and geologic events (like asteroids and volcanoes), climate change, overpredation or irresponsible hunting, loss of habitat, lack of available food — and sometimes just getting bumped out by the competition!

If we could travel back in time, here are 11 of the most amazing animals we would see!

1. Aurochs

Aurochs morphology by Aurochs1,Aurochs2, Perfect Vision Graphics. cc3.0

The aurochs first appeared about 2 million years ago, and is the ancestor of today’s domestic cows. Interestingly, the word “aurochs” (even though it looks plural) is actually both singular and plural: if one aurochs were joined by another aurochs, then there would be two aurochs.

The species was known to humans for thousands of years, featured in everything from early cave paintings to medieval coats of arms. It was a huge animal, nearly 6 feet (1.8 meters) tall! Females (cows) and males (bulls) both had massive, curved horns that they used in defense against predators like lions, tigers, hyenas and Eurasian wolves, and that the bulls (with the larger horns) used in fighting with other aurochs.

The aurochs was hunted for its hide and meat by early humans, but by medieval times was mainly prized for its horns. This hunting for sport, only allowed for royalty and nobles, led to the extinction of the species. In 1564, as few as thirty-eight aurochs were in the care of royal gamekeepers, and the last one was sighted and killed in 1627.

2. Dire wolf

Canis dirus - dire wolf
Reconstruction of Canis dirus with two possible aspects according to its probable geographic origin: South-American or North American. Because there is some evidence to suggest that the Dire Wolf may have arisen from the northern Canis ambrusteri or a South American canid. Image credit: Sergiodlarosa cc3.0

The dire wolf, featured in fantasy books and games today, was the largest wolf ever. It was 25% larger than today’s gray wolf — about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long and weighing nearly 175 pounds (79 kilograms). Imagine an animal that size hunting in packs of thirty!

The dire wolf also had sharper teeth, wider jaws and a more powerful bite-force than the gray wolf, powerful enough to crush skulls. It preyed on wild horses, sloths, mastodons, bison and camels. Since many of these prey animals died after the ice age, the dire wolf died out shortly afterward.

The dire wolf is featured in the following book:
25 Extinct Animals… since the Birth of Mankind!

3. Moa

Megalapteryx - Moa
Restoration of an upland moa, Megalapteryx didinus. Image credit: George Edward Lodge

Moas were giant birds — the largest were even taller and heavier than today’s ostriches. Like ostriches, they were flightless, but unlike ostriches, they were truly wingless.

Moas had strong beaks that could cut through thick twigs to get at hard-to-reach leaves, and in spring, they used these twigs to make nests.

The moa is featured in the following book:
25 Extinct Animals… since the Birth of Mankind!

4. Haast’s eagle

Artist’s rendition of a Haast’s eagle attacking moa. Image Credit: PLoS Biology (an open-access journal published by the nonprofit organization Public Library of Science) All journal content, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under cc-by-2.5

The Haast’s eagle was the largest ever of any eagle. It grew up to 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) long and weighed as much as 36 pounds (16 kilograms) – nearly two times heavier than today’s eagles. It also had talons as large as a tiger’s claws!

Its prey consisted mostly of moas, which it would grab with one taloned foot and kill with the other, delivering a heavy, slicing blow. The Haast’s eagle was so dependent on the moa for its food, however, that when the moa disappeared, the eagle vanished as well.

The Haast’s eagle is featured in the following book:
25 Extinct Animals… since the Birth of Mankind!

5. Irish elk

Model in Ulster Museum. Image credit: Bazonka cc3.0

The Irish elk was one of the largest deer ever. It grew up to 6.9 feet (2.1 meters) tall and weighed almost as much as an Alaskan moose. It also had the largest antlers, which could grow up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) long from tip to tip.

As magnificent as they were, these antlers possibly led to the Irish elk’s extinction. Having large antlers meant that the Irish elk needed a lot of minerals (like calcium), and it’s possible that the vegetation it got those from started disappearing, so the Irish elk did, too.

6. Passenger pigeon

Martha the last passenger pigeon. By Enno Meyer

Passenger pigeons once numbered in the billions in North America. Just one flock could be so big it would take as long as 14 hours to pass, and blacken the sky overhead. They were very social birds, migrating in groups during the spring and nesting together, sometimes in the same tree.

Because of this, however, passenger pigeons were easy to shoot and they were heavily hunted for their flavorful meat and their feathers that were used to make soft beds. Martha, the last passenger pigeon, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

The passenger pigeon is featured in the following book:
25 Extinct Animals… since the Birth of Mankind!

7. Saber-toothed cat

Graphical reconstruction of the Smilodon fatalis based on bone structure and paleontological texts. Image credit: Sergiodlarosa GFDL

Imagine a large cat with fangs so huge they couldn’t even fit in its mouth and you have a saber-toothed cat. There were many different species of saber-toothed cats, but one of the best known is the smilodon, which had front teeth nearly 1 foot (0.3 meters) long!

The smilodon’s teeth, however, were not very strong. In fact, its teeth were easily breakable, so instead of using them to hunt, the smilodon caught prey by pouncing on it with its strong legs. Only when it had its prey pinned down did it use its sharp teeth to make the kill. The smilodon was an excellent hunter, preying on everything from bison and camels to ground sloths and mammoths.

Smilodons and the other saber-toothed cats disappeared after the last ice age, as the animals they preyed on disappeared as well.

The saber toothed cat is featured in the following books:
25 Extinct Animals… since the Birth of Mankind!
101 Facts… BIG CATS!

8. Short-faced bear

Arctodus Simus Reconstruct
Arctodus simus reconstruction. Scale when compared to a human. By Dantheman9758 GFDL

Before the polar bear and the grizzly bear, there was the short-faced bear, which could weigh up to 2000 pounds (907 kilograms). It had a short, broad muzzle which earned it the nickname “bulldog bear”.

Today’s bears are generally omnivorous, but the short-faced bear was probably highly carnivorous, hunting steppe horses, antelopes and, sometimes, dire wolves and smilodons. It could run faster than today’s bears and had powerful jaws that could crush skulls. It was also a scavenger.

The short-faced bear disappeared roughly 11,000 years ago, unable to compete against grizzly bears and vultures for food. It was also hunted by humans for fur and meat.

9. Thylacine

Thylacine family at Beaumaris Zoo in Hobart, 1910

The thylacine was a marsupial — this means that it had a pouch just like kangaroos and koalas. Interestingly, both males and females had a pouch.

Additionally, thylacines were unusual in that they were one of the few meat-eating marsupials, living and hunting in groups, preying on other marsupials like wallabies, wombats and possums, as well as on birds and rodents. They were such excellent hunters that farmers feared for their livestock and hunted them down. The last known wild thylacine was shot by a farmer in 1930.

Thylacines are featured in the following books:
25 Extinct Animals… since the Birth of Mankind!
101 facts… Marsupials

10. Woolly mammoth

Model at the Royal BC Museum. Image credit: Flying Puffin cc2.0

Before there were elephants, there were mammoths, the woolly mammoth being the last. It was not much larger than today’s African elephant, but had high shoulder humps and thick fur which made it look much bigger. It also had tusks that could grow up to 15 feet (4.6 meters) long.

The reason woolly mammoths had such thick fur was because they lived in cold places. Their fur was actually made of two layers, under which were 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) of fat. Many of them still froze to death, though, and several of them have been found completely frozen in ice, preserving them and giving scientists hope that they could one day be brought back to life.

In addition to their population decline due to change in climate, woolly mammoths were hunted by early humans for their wool, meat and tusks which were used to make housing, clothing, weapons and jewelry.

11. Dinosaur

T-Rex Dinosaur (Photo taken at Universal Studios “Jurassic Park” 4/12/07 by Scott Kinmartin cc2.0)

Probably the most famous of all the extinct creatures, dinosaurs lived on every continent of the world (including Antarctica), and came in every conceivable variety. At present, over 700 different species have been identified, and scientists think there are many more yet to be discovered.

The T. rex is one of the most famous dinosaurs, of course, because it was so huge and fierce, but did you know there was a dinosaur that might have been even more scary? Be happy you’ll never have to encounter any Utahraptors! These highly intelligent raptors were 25 feet (7.6 meters) long, weighed up to 2000 pounds (907 kilograms) and had huge, 9-inch- (23-centimeter-) long claws on their hind feet that they used to disembowel their prey!

As you probably know, the last of the dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago (at the end of the Cretaceous Period), due to an asteroid collision in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.

Sometimes extinctions occur naturally, sometimes they’re driven by human behavior, and sometimes they’re caused by a combination of both. In the past 500 years, at least a thousand species have become extinct, most of which were partially or entirely due to human activities, and more still are headed in that direction.

Many individuals, organizations and governments are taking action to stop these human-caused reasons for the trend toward extinction. Through the emerging (and highly debated) science of genetics, there may be the potential to “de-extinct” species that were once thought to be gone forever. Conservation and protection efforts, however, remain the best hope we have to bring Threatened and Endangered species back from the brink of extinction, so that awesome animals like pandas, polar bears tigers never make this list!

What do you know?

Think you remember what you’ve read? Try out the Extinct Animals Quiz!


Top 10 Most Amazing Extinct Animals

25 Extinct Animals… since the birth of mankind


Also see:
10 of the Most Recently Extinct Animals…
10 Animals Hunted to Extinction…


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