The 9 Coolest Extinct Animals to Ever Walk the Earth

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Updated: August 4, 2022
Image Credit Baker; E.J. Keller. / public domain
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Key Points:
  • Tasmanian tigers were meat-eating marsupials who hunted kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and possums at night. Scientists believe the species suffered a severe decline about 2,000 years ago, and there were only a dozen alleged sightings since one was placed in captivity in 1933.
  • Wooly mammoths, who lived on the earth during the last Ice Age, were massive creatures similar to elephants with their giant tusks and long trunks, but also sporting hair. They roamed northern Asia, Europe, and Canada.
  • The quagga, a South African zebra-horse, had characteristics that favored being domesticated. However, they were wiped out in the 1800’s when Dutchmen settled the region and began hunting them.

In their day, woolly mammoths roamed the eponymous “mammoth steppe” — today’s northern Asia, Europe, and Canada — and stuck to a vegetarian diet.

Most lists of extinct animals only include picks that vanished and gone extinct within the last 100 years. So we’re shaking things up! Instead of sticking to the most recently extinct species, we’ve pulled our picks from all of known natural history — and then narrowed it down to the nine coolest extinct animals that we’ve ever seen.

#9 Woolly Mammoth

Woolly mammoths lived during the last Ice Age, stood 13 feet tall, and tipped the scales at 12,000 pounds! With their shaggy fur, gigantic tusks, and long trunks, woolly mammoths looked like fur-covered elephants — but bigger.

In their day, woolly mammoths roamed the eponymous “mammoth steppe” — today’s northern Asia, Europe, and Canada — and stuck to a vegetarian diet. When conflicts arose, woolly mammoths used their sizable horns to spear opponents. Plus, the bony appendages served a practical purpose: built-in shovels. 

Why Are Woolly Mammoths Memorable?

Woolly mammoths didn’t go extinct until 1650 BC and were around when Egyptians finished the Giza pyramids. Imagine being an early human who happened upon a woolly mammoth munching on some grass!? That would be pretty cool.

An artistic rendering of three woolly mammoths walking in a snowy landscape with mountains in the background.
Woolly mammoths are believed to have gone extinct in 1650 BC.

Daniel Eskridge/Shutterstock.com

#8 Chinese Paddlefish

Chinese paddlefish were large freshwater dwellers native to the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. Although some disagreement lingers in the scientific community, most conservationists are confident that Chinese paddlefish are now extinct. After all, nobody has seen one since 2003.

Also known as the Chinese swordfish, the now-extinct marine species had a long, slender snout resembling a sword — except flatter and longer. In their heyday, the average individual measured about 9.8 feet (3 meters), which is large for freshwater animals.

Multiple Chinese paddlefish swimming near the surface of a body of water.
The Chinese paddlefish is largely thought to be extinct, as there have been no reported sightings since 2003.

Natalia Belay/Shutterstock.com

Why Are Chinese Paddlefish Worth Noting?

Having a built-in sword is really unique. That’s why Chinese paddlefish made it to our list of extinct species. Also, Chinese swordfish may be the Elvis-Biggie-Tupacs of the underwater world: still alive but eluding human detection for decades.  

#7 Hispaniola Monkey

Hispaniola is the Caribbean Island home to both the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Back when Tudors sat on England’s throne — monkeys clambered around the tropical oasis, and one of those species was the Hispaniola monkey. Though little is known about them, primatologists are confident that European exploration in the late 1400s and 1500s precipitated the species’ demise. 

A green landscape with mountains in the distance and white clouds in a blue sky.
It is believed that European exploration in the late 1400s hastened the extinction of the Hispaniola monkey.

Evannovostro/Shutterstock.com

Why Did Hispaniola Monkeys Make Our Cool Extinct Species List?

In 2009, a diver randomly came across a Hispaniola monkey skull in an underwater cave. The discovery provided the first tangible evidence of the species’ existence, which, up until that point, had been a mere hypothesis. That’s an incredible discovery that has earned the Hispaniola monkey a spot on our list of the coolest ancient animals that went extinct. 

#6 Tasmanian Tiger

Tasmanian tigers weren’t tiger tigers; they were meat-eating marsupials who spent their days in caves and nights hunting kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, and possums

Scientists believe the species suffered a severe decline about 2,000 years ago — but an influx of Europeans and dingoes proved to be the proverbial nail in their collective coffin. It didn’t help that between 1830 and 1909 a British company with Australian land interests paid out Tasmanian tiger bounties. 

Naturalists caught the last wild Tasmanian tiger in 1933 and placed it in captivity. Since then, there have been about a dozen alleged sightings, but wildlife cameras have yet to capture any.   

A black and white drawing of a Tasmanian tiger.
Between 1830 and 1909, a bounty was paid for Tasmanian tigers from a British company with Australian land interests.

Hein Nouwens/Shutterstock.com

Why Are Tasmanian Tigers a Notable Extinct Animal?

Tasmanian tigers looked like dapper, punk-rock jackals with a hint of zebra, and they carried around their kids in kangaroo-like pouches. All of that aesthetic prowess landed Tasmanian tigers on our extinct species list. 

#5 Sea Mink

Judging by naturalists’ sketches, sea minks — one of the largest mink species to ever live in North America — looked like engorged water squirrels. Found near the Gulf of Maine and along the eastern Canadian coast, sea minks were heavily hunted by fur trappers and likely went extinct in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

Years after extinction, researchers debated its taxonomic roots. Around 2003, the conflict reached a fever pitch when two competing papers circulated. One insisted sea minks were an offshoot of American minks; the other argued they were a distinct species. In the end, the “separate species” side won, and, in 2007, the scientific powers that be changed the animal’s taxonomy.

A black and white drawing of a sea mink
Sea minks were hunted by fur trappers and likely went extinct in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

What Makes Sea Minks So Cool?

To survive in frigid Atlantic Northeast waters, you’ve got to be hardcore — and if scientists’ speculation about the species is accurate, sea minks spent oodles of time in that polar-tinged ocean. That takes a magnificently engineered physiology, which is…you got it…really cool. 

#4 Ankylosaurus

When you think of the before times (not the COVID before times, the before-before times) — when homo sapiens were still a twinkle in Mother Nature’s eye — what animals immediately come to mind? 

That’s right: Dinosaurs!

Usually, Tyrannosaurus rexes, Brontosauri, and Velociraptors get the most love, but we’re going with Ankylosaurus — the 26-foot long, 18,000-pound behemoth that lumbered around the Pacific Northwest about 68 million years ago. Although the natural knights could clobber with the best of them — and weighed five times as much as a Kia — Ankylosaurus were herbivores that didn’t eat meat!   

A colored drawing of an Ankylosaurus.
The Ankylosaurus was a herbivore that weighed about five times as much as a Kia.

Warpaint/Shutterstock.com

Why Is Ankylosaurus so awesome?

Ankylosaurus rocked built-in armor that covered their heads and backs. Plus, a huge hammer capped their tails. Armor and a built-in hammer? Not only is that awesome, but it wins the gargantuan dinosaur a spot on our list of extinct animals.

#3 Saint Helena Giant Earwig

When humans talk about extinct species, we typically stick to mammals, fish, and birds — but what about the insects!? To put things in perspective, out of a million known insects, scientists have only studied around 8,900 species. However, conservationists estimate that 5 to 10 percent of all insect species have gone extinct since the industrial revolution! That’s a whole lot of insect death.

Which is why we wanted to make sure they were represented on our animals that went extinct list.

In 1798, a Danish entomologist first noticed the crawlers. But by 1967, not a single one remained. In 1982, the Saint Helena Philatelic Bureau honored the fallen insect with a commemorative stamp.

A dead Saint Helena giant earwig.
The Saint Helena giant earwig was first discovered in 1798 and extinct by 1967.

Why Did Saint Helena Giant Earwigs Make Our List?

In its time, Saint Helena giants were the largest earwig in the world, and according to a scientist from the London Zoo, females of the species were “extremely good mothers.” Large and compassionate bug moms? Of course they made our list of the top 10 coolest extinct species!

#2 Quagga

Yes, once upon a time, a zebra horse roamed South Africa. Called quaggas, their coolness quotient is right up there with ligers‘.

Quagga comes from the Khoekhoe language and reportedly derives from the animal’s vocalization, which sounded like “kwa-ha.”

Little is known about quaggas, except that their stripe numbers vacillated, and the population drastically decreased when Dutchmen settled their historical range. At one point, they were prime candidates for domestication, but hunting continued. By the late 1800s, quaggas were wiped out.

A captive quagga standing in an enclosure
Quaggas were once considered for domestication but were hunted to extinction in the 1800s.

A Zebra-Horse: Need We Say More?

Not only does the quagga have zebra-like stripes on the front half of its body, but it’s also got a natural mohawk. There’s only one word for that: awesome!

#1 Neanderthals

Around 40,000 years ago, another hominid ruled the animal kingdom roost: Neanderthals! In 1829, archeologists first discovered fossils of the hominid species in Germany. Since then, scientists have done extensive research and are now sure Neanderthals existed alongside modern humans for some time.

Even crazier: we still carry around their genetic legacy. Homo sapiens sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis interbred, so today, 20 percent of Neanderthal genes persist in modern humans’ DNA.

The face of a model neanderthal.
Neanderthals are widely believed to have existed alongside modern humans for some time.

IR Stone/Shutterstock.com

Why Do Neanderthals Deserve Our Respect?

Neanderthals learned how to make and use tools, which catapulted people to the food chain’s summit. As thanks, we’re honoring the extinct species on our roster!

And there you have it: the top 9 coolest extinct species that once occupied Earth. Next up, let’s take a look at the 10 fastest animals currently torpedoing across and through our lands, oceans, and skies. 

Runner-Up: Mysterious Starling

Everyone enjoys a good mystery, right? Well here’s a member of the bird family that has been the source of much speculation. The mysterious starling, originally found on the island of Mauke in the Cook Islands, was discovered by an ornithologist in 1825. It resembled a Rarotonga Starling, but smaller, sporting dusky black feathers with lighter brown feather edges. 150 years later when scientists returned to study the breed more closely, it had mysteriously disappeared. They attributed the disappearance to the introduction of brown rats on the island. But who knows for sure?

Summary of the 9 Coolest Extinct Animals

Let’s look back at the animals that made our list for not only being extinct, but also very cool animals we wish were still in existence today:

RankExtinct AnimalTime Period/Extinction Date
1Neanderthals40,000 years ago
2Quagga1800’s
3Saint Helena Giant Earwig1967
4Ankylosaurus68 million years ago
5Sea Minklate 1800’s – early 1900’s
6Tasmanian TigerEarly 1900’s
7Hispaniola Monkey1500’s
8Chinese Paddlefish2003 (last sighting)
9Wooly Mammoth1650 BC

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AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.