The Lazarus Taxon


The Lazarus Taxon
courtesy of Mr. E. on flickr

I can’t remember when I first read about the Coelacanth, but I was smallish, maybe 9 or ten. I remember being fascinated and horrified by the thoughts of this monstrous, Cretaceous fish being dragged up from the deep, confounding both fishermen and scientists with its antiquity. It’s ugly, it’s big and it’s blue. Mr. E’s image of the coelacanth above has brought me back to when I was a kid and reminded me of that fascination once again.


I suppose this has got me thinking about what a Lazarus Taxon is. Officially it’s a species which was presumed extinct, only to show up again sometime more recently. These fish reappeared in 1938 after being missing for, uh, about 65 million years. That’s quite a gap. There are pretty rational arguments why this gap exists, mostly to do with the fish dying out in shallow waters and being happiest in deeper waters where fossil records are like hens’ teeth. Maybe that’s not the best analogy (simile?)

Is there a modern equivalent in the shorter term? I wonder if Lord Lucan is a Lazarus all of his own, after all he’d only be 73 if still alive. Maybe some of those people who have skedaddled off into the sunset never to be seen again will one day do their own Taxon Thing and regale us all with tales of murky waters deep.

I may have to expand this to the Elvis and Zombie Taxons.