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They Still Walk Amongst Us

It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.

– Leon C. Megginson, on the Origin of Species

The sweeping ages of the dinosaurs, known as the Mesozoic Era (Triassic: 245-208 million years ago, Jurassic: 208-145 million years ago and Cretaceous: 145-66 million years ago), ended with an extinction-level event. But remnants remain, not just from the age of the dinosaurs, but millennia before. One such animal even saw the start of the Cryogenian Period (720-635 million years ago), when most of the Earth’s surface was covered in ice.
Not only have these species survived millions of years, there has been little to no change from their prehistoric behavior and appearance to now:


16: Alligator Snapping Turtle

Scientific name: Macrochelys temminckii

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region Follow
Alligator Snapping Turtle
Snapshot of a typically cranky snapping turtle at Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama.
Photographer: Garry Tucker, USFWS.
steve loya, USFWS Midwest Region.
Taken on May 2, 2004
Public domain

Weighing in at up to 400 pounds and primarily found in the waters of the southeastern United States, alligator snapping turtles have a long fossil history dating back to the Maastrichtian stage (72-66 million years ago) in the Late Cretaceous period. They are the heaviest freshwater turtle worldwide.

72-66 million years ago


15: Solenodon (mammal)

Scientific name: Solenodon

Summary Description
Hispaniolan solenodon (Solenodon paradoxus)
Date 21 June 2011
Source Own work cropped from Hispaniolan Solenodon.jpg
Author Seb az86556

Small, venomous, burrowing and nocturnal, Solendon, meaning “slotted tooth”, are endemic to some of the Caribbean countries. Often called a living fossil, their primitive characteristics are in keeping with their prehistoric ancestors from 76 million years ago.

76 million years ago

14a: Alligator Gar (fish)

Scientific name: Atractosteus spatula

Summary Description
English: Alligator gar – taken at the Cincinnati Zoo.
Date 27 December 2013, 13:44:48
Source Own work
Author Greg Hume
(Reusing this file)
Attribution required: Photo by Greg Hume

From their earliest ancestors (100 million years ago), the alligator gar retains its spiral valve, allowing it to breathe both in water and air. They are one of North America’s largest freshwater fish.

100 million years ago

14b: Giant Freshwater Stingray

Scientific name: Himantura chaophraya

Summary Description
English: Giant freshwater stingray (Himantura chaophraya)
Date 18 May 2015
Source Own work
Author BEDO (Thailand)

Growing upward of 6.2 feet across and reaching as much as 1,300 pounds, the giant freshwater stingray is one of the world’s largest fish. Its thin, oval pectoral fin disc evolved around 100 million years ago and, due to habitat degradation, display and fishing, it faces extinction.

100 million years ago

13: Martialis Heureka (ant)

Scientific name: Martialis heureka

Martialis heureka
Specimen Code:
Brazil: Amazonas: Embrapa, km 28, hwy AM010, 30km Manaus; 02°53’00″S 059°59’00″W 40-50 m
Collection Information:
Collection codes: CR030509-01
Collected by: C. Rabeling
Habitat: primary lowland rainforest
Date Collected: 9 May 2003
Method: ex leaf litter at dusk
Specimen Information:
Life Stage: 1w
Located at: ATOL voucher MZSP
Owned by: MZSP
Type Status: holotype
Date 17 December 2008
Source AntWeb: Martialis heureka (CASENT0106181)
Author Michael Branstetter
(Reusing this file)
California Academy of Sciences, 2000-2008

The martialis heureka’s ancestry is the oldest known, distinct ant lineage, dating back to approximately 120 million years ago. Discovered in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest in 2000, it has diverged from all other ant species, which is easily identifiable due to its unusual morphology.

120 million years ago

12: Goblin Shark

Scientific name: Mitsukurina owstoni

English: Head of a goblin shark (Mitsukurina owstoni) with jaws extended
Date 2011
Author Dianne Bray / Museum Victoria

Rare and poorly understood, this bizarre looking shark can grow up to 13 feet long and can trace its ancestry back 125 million years. Despite its size and appearance, it is fairly harmless to humans.

125 million years ago

11: Frilled Shark

Scientific name: Chlamydoselachus anguineus

English: Chlamydoselachus anguineus stuffed at Aquarium tropical du Palais de la Porte Dorée (Paris, France).
Date August 2010
Source Own work
This illustration was made by Citron
You must credit this : Citron / CC-BY-SA-3.0
(required by the license) © Citron / CC BY-SA 3.0

Its exact lineage unknown, possibly the Late Jurassic (150 million years ago), but definitely as far back as the Late Cretaceous (95 million years ago), the frilled shark is one of the oldest living shark species. With a frightening visage, they live at depths of 160-660 feet in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

150-95 million years ago

10: Chinese Giant Salamander

Scientific name: Andrias davidianus

English: Chinese giant salamander in Prague Zoo
Date 24 May 2014, 09:33:58
Source Zoo Praha
Author Petr Hamerník

Reaching lengths of up to 5.9 feet, the Chinese giant salamander is the largest amphibian and salamander in the world. Due to over-collection, habitat loss and pollution, these salamanders, who can date their lineage back 170 million years, are critically endangered.

170 million years ago

9a: Sturgeon (fish)

Scientific name: Acipenseridae

Short-nose Sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum)
Creator: National Aquarium
Source: WO1007-033a
Publisher: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Nearly unchanged for around 200 million years, the sturgeon occupies rivers, lakes and coastlines that span the subtropical to the sub-Arctic. Like others on this list, due to habitat destruction, over-harvesting and pollution, they are not only critically endangered, some of their species are at the edge of extinction.

200 million years ago

9b: Tuatara (reptile)

Scientific name: Sphenodon

Henry, the world’s oldest Tuatara in captivity at Invercargill, New Zealand
Date 22 November 2007
Source Own work
Author KeresH

Especially pronounced in males, Tuatara have a spiny crest along their back and are endemic to New Zealand. They have remained nearly unchanged in over 200 million years, yet they look like modern-day lizards and reptiles.

200 million years ago

8: Tadpole Shrimp

Scientific name: Notostraca

The tadpole shrimp Triops australiensis, native to Australia
Date 16 August 2009
Source Own work
Author NalesnikLD

These crustaceans resemble the horseshoe crab in miniature, but live in fresh water. After some 220 million years, the bodies of tadpole shrimp are an exact match to their ancient ancestors.

220 million years ago

7: Crocodilians

Scientific name: Crocodilia

Gavialis gangeticus
A gharial eating a fish at Indira Gandhi Zoological Park, Visakhapatnam, India.
Date 20 November 2009, 12:08
Source: Gharial eating a fish
Uploaded by Snowmanradio
Author: Siddhartha Lammata from Bangalore, India.

First appearing in the Early Triassic (250 million years ago), and unlike many other “living fossils”, crocodilians share a resemblance to the dinosaurs. The crocodilian family includes the alligator, caiman, crocodile, gharial and false gharial.

250 million years ago

6: Lamprey (eel)

Scientific name: Petromyzontiformes

I, Drow male, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publishes it under the following licenses:
GNU head Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled GNU Free Documentation License.

Bearing a striking resemblance to the modern day lamprey, the oldest fossil found dates back 360 million years and was found in South Africa. Although known for boring into the flesh and sucking the blood of their prey with their jawless, funnel-like, toothed mouths, only a minority 38 known types of this species have been proven to do so.

360 million years ago

5: Coelacanth (fish)

Scientific name: Coelacanthiformes

Location: Tokyo Sea Life Park (Kasai Rinkai Suizokuen), Japan
Other photos:
NCBI Taxonomy ID:106881
ITIS link: Latimeria menadoensis (Pouyaud, Wirjoatmodjo, Rachmatika, Tjakrawidjaja, Hadiaty and Hadie, 1999) (mirror)
Copyright: OpenCage

Rediscovered in 1938, Coelacanth reached their current evolutionary form approximately 400 million years ago. They are more closely related to lungfish, reptiles and mammals and are native to the Indonesian and Indian Ocean coastlines

400 million years ago

4: Horseshoe Crab

Scientific name: Limulidae

Image title: Limulus polyphemus horseshue crab on coast
Image from Public domain images website,
Date Not given
Transferred by Fæ on 2013-02-25
Author Breese Greg, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
(Reusing this file)
This file is in public domain, not copyrighted, no rights reserved, free for any use. You can use this picture for any use including commercial purposes without the prior written permission and without fee or obligation.

Virtually unchanged for around 450 million years, horseshoe crabs are considered the closest relative to the trilobite. They live on soft sandy or muddy bottoms in and around shallow ocean waters.

450 million years ago

3: Nautilus

Scientific name: Nautilidae

Deutsch: Nautilus, Palau
Date 7 February 2012, 00:43:41
Source Own work
Author Manuae

Surviving great planetary changes and several mass extinctions, the nautilus’ fossil record dates back 500 million years. Severely endangered, they inhabit the western and central Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.

500 million years ago

2: Jellyfish

Scientific name: Medusozoa

A Pacific sea nettle (Chrysaora fuscescens) at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, USA.
Date 25 August 2005
Author Dan90266

Found across the surface or in the watery depths, jellyfish can be found across the world’s oceans. They are the oldest multi-organ animal, dating back 700 million years, and appear to be expanding their populations due to overfishing of their natural predators. However, some are endangered.

700 million years ago

1: Sponge

Scientific name: Porifera

Aplysina archeri (Higgin, 1875)
English: Stove-pipe Sponge-pink variation.
Date 13 December 2009
Source Own work
Author Nhobgood (talk) Nick Hobgood

Although an exact estimate has been difficult, the fossil of a sea sponge proves they have been around for at least 760 million years. From fresh water to salt water, there are over 5,000 species worldwide and, despite common misconception, they are an animal, not a plant.

760 million years ago

Most of these animals, whose ancestors date back millions of years, are on the endangered species lists. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 aims to protect and conserve, not only these and other animals like them, but their habitats as well. If something isn’t done soon, the only thing left of them will be museum displays or photos. If you or someone you know wants to help, the Huffington Post offers “12 Things We Should All Do To Protect Endangered Species,” by Susie Almaneih, Contributor. For details, visit:

About Jenifer Chrisman

Jenifer joined the MWR Marketing team in 2011 as graphic designer. In 2014, she went back to her roots when she joined the Fort Gordon FYI Magazine team as a writer, along with her designer duties. As of 2015, she has created a series of briefs about the history, culture and traditions of the military called Culture.Mil, as well as writing various other pieces, including her favorite ... A Thin Line Of Many Colors.

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