Ever since the dinosaurs died off 65 million years ago, reptiles have had it relatively easy in the extinction department, not nearly as susceptible to environmental changes as birds, mammals and amphibians. Regardless, here's a list of 10 snakes, turtles, lizards and crocodiles that have gone extinct in historical times, in descending order of disappearance. (See also 100 Recently Extinct Animals
and Why Do Animals Go Extinct?
1. The Jamaican Giant Galliwasp
It sounds like something from a Lewis Carroll
story, but the Giant Jamaican Galliwasp was a species of "anguid" lizard known as Celestus occiduus
. Galliwasps (mostly belonging to a related genus, Diploglossus) can be found all over the Caribbean--there are variants native to Cuba, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica--but the Jamaican Giant Galliwasp never quite came to terms with civilization, going completely extinct a couple of hundred years ago. (Galliwasps are mysterious, secretive creatures that mainly hunt at night, so there's still a lot we don't know about their resiliency to ecological pressure.)
2. The Round Island Burrowing Boa
The Round Island Burrowing Boa is a bit of a misnomer: in fact, this three-foot-long snake used to be native to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius (where the Dodo Bird
had gone extinct a few centuries before), and was only pushed out to the much smaller Round Island thanks to the depredations of human settlers and their pets. The last known sighting of the shy, gentle. euphoniously named Round Island Burrowing Boa was in 1996; by then, erosion of this snake's natural habitat by invasive goats and rabbits had spelled its doom.
3. The Cape Verde Giant Skink
Skinks--not to be confused with skunks--are the world's most diverse lizards, flourishing in deserts, mountains and polar regions. Even still, individual skink species are every bit as vulnerable to destruction as any other type of animal, as witness the early 20th century disappearance of the Cape Verde Giant Skink. Macroscincus, as this genus is technically known, was unable to adapt either to the resident humans of the Cape Verde islands, who prized this reptile for its valuable "skink oil," or to the relentless desertification of its natural habitat.
4. The Kawekaweau
The largest gecko that ever lived, the two-foot-long Kawekaweau (you may find it easier to refer to it by its alternate name, Delcourt's Giant Gecko) was native to New Zealand until human settlers drove it to extinction in the late 19th century. The last known Kawekaweau was killed by a Maori chieftain in 1870--he didn't bring the body back with him as evidence, but his detailed description of the reptile was enough to convince naturalists that he had made a genuine sighting. (The name Kawekaweau, by the way, refers to a mythical Maori forest lizard.)
5. The Rodrigues Giant Tortoise
The Rodrigues Giant Tortoise came in two varieties, both of which disappeared around the turn of the 18th century: the Domed Tortoise (which only weighed about 25 pounds, barely meriting the adjective "giant") and the Saddle-Backed Tortoise, which was substantially bigger. Both of these testudines lived on the island of Rodrigues, located about 350 miles east of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, and both were hunted to extinction by human settlers, who must have been amused by these turtles' social behavior (slow-moving herds of Saddle-Backs numbered in the thousands!)
6. The Martinique Giant Ameiva
The Giant Ameiva--known by the rather redundant genus and species name Ameiva ameiva--is a slender, 18-inch-long lizard characterized by its pointy head and forked, snakelike tongue. Ameivas can be found all over South and Central America as well as the Caribbean, but not on the island of Martinique, where the resident Ameiva subspecies went extinct a few hundred years ago. Unusually, there's some speculation that the Martinique Giant Ameiva may have been doomed not by human settlers, but by a giant hurricane that literally tore apart its natural habitat.
7. The Horned Turtle
Lord Howe Island Museum
The Horned Turtle, genus name Meiolania
, was a half-ton testudine that roamed the swamps of Australia until about 2,000 years ago, when it was presumably hunted to extinction by aboriginal settlers. (This seems rather odd, considering that Meiolania came equipped with a two horns over its eyes and a spiked tail reminiscent of Ankylosaurus
!) Meiolania, by the way, came by its Greek name ("little wanderer") by reference to another extinct reptile of Pleistocene Australia, the Giant Monitor Lizard, described below.
8. The Wonambi
Naracoort Caves National Park
One of the few prehistoric snakes
to be discovered in Australia, the Wonambi was an 18-foot-long, 100-pound predator capable of taking down (though perhaps not swallowing) a full-grown Giant Wombat
. Even at the height of its powers, though, the Wonambi was an evolutionary last gasp: the family of snakes from which it descended, the "madtsoiids," had a global distribution for tens of millions of years, but were restricted to Australia on the cusp of the modern era. The Wonambi went extinct about 40,000 years ago, slightly before (or coincident with) the arrival of the first aboriginal Australians.
9. The Giant Monitor Lizard
, the "giant wanderer"--not to be confused with Meiolania, the "little wanderer," described above--was a 25-foot-long, two-ton monitor lizard that would have given theropod dinosaurs a run for their money. Megalania was probably the apex predator of late Pleistocene Australia, preying on resident megafauna like the Giant Short-Faced Kangaroo
and capable of giving Thylacoleo
(the Marsupial Lion) a run for its money. Why did the Giant Monitor Lizard go extinct 40,000 years ago? No one knows for sure, but suspects include climate change or the disappearance of this reptile's usual prey.
10. The Quinkana
The Quinkana was far from the biggest crocodile that ever lived, but it made up for its relative lack of heft with its unusually long legs and sharp, curved, tyrannosaur-like teeth, which must have made it a true menace to the mammalian megafauna of late Pleistocene
Australia. Like its fellow reptiles from Down Under, the Wonambi and the Giant Monitor Lizard, the Quinkana went extinct about 40,000 years ago, either because of hunting by aboriginal settlers (who would much rather eat than get eaten themselves) or by the disappearance of its accustomed prey.