The Aldabra white-throated rail bird was declared extinct, a victim of rising sea levels almost 100,000 years ago.
However, the flightless brown bird has recently been spotted – leaving scientists scratching their heads as to how – and why – the species has come back to life.
According to research in the Zoological Journal of Linnean Society, the re-incarnated Aldabra bird is a product of ‘iterative evolution’. That’s when old genes thought to have died out re-emerge at a different point in time.
That means that while a bird’s ancestors might have disappeared, that DNA still remains – and provided the environment is right, there’s nothing to stop those ancient genes from replicating in modern times.
So identical species can indeed produce multiple, slightly evolved offshoots, throughout the course of their species' history.
But don’t get your hopes up that this means dinosaurs and wooly mammoths will be popping up next. This scientific phenomenon only occurs within species that are nearly identical to their ancestors.
While iterative evolution has previously occurred in species such as turtles, it has never been seen in the realm of birds.
“We know of no other example in the rails, or of birds in general, that demonstrates this phenomenon so evidently,” said paleobiologist David Martill, in a statement.
“Only on the Aldabra, which has the oldest palaentological record of any oceanic island within the Indian Ocean region, is fossil evidence available that demonstrates the effects of changing sea levels on extinction and recolonization events.”
2020 was already an interesting and confusing year. Looks like now we have to contend with re-materializing birds, as well.