According to scientists, around five billion species have lived on Earth. Currently, only 8.7 million of them are extant, while the rest have gone extinct, and we do not seem to know much about them.
Scientists can identify extinct animals based on the information they get from examining their fossils. The more fossils and complete skeletons they find, the more accurately they can reimagine the animals.
Nowadays, for instance, we know so much about how dinosaurs survived on Earth, although they disappeared 65 million years ago. Likewise, we know much about many other now-extinct animals that lived in prehistoric times.
Yet, not all extinct animals disappeared millions or thousands of years ago. Many have gone extinct quite recently, like the dodo bird and the great auk, during the past 400 years. Those species are the ones we have discussed in our latest articles.
In this article, we will tackle two new types of animals that have disappeared quite recently too, the sea mink and the golden toad. We will learn about their lives, how they managed to survive for thousands of years, and what eventually pushed them toward extinction.
So let’s hop into it.
The mink is a cute little animal that looks like a weasel and an otter combined. However, it is a little different from both of them. Characterised by its medium size and dark colour, the mink is a semi-aquatic animal. That means it lived partially on land and partially in the sea, just like frogs.
And it is a predator too.
There are three different species of mink. Two of them, the American mink and the European mink, are still extant. The one we are concerned about here, the sea mink, has already gone extinct in 1890.
The sea mink was native to the eastern coast of North America, more precisely, the coasts of New England—New England is a large region in northeastern United States and comprises six states: Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine.
Because its habitat was on the coast, the sea mink was an aquatic animal. Like the otter, it used to spend most of its time in the water and partially fed on fish.
For so long, scientists believed the sea mink was a subspecies of the American mink because they had many traits in common.
Still, the main difference between both minks was the size. The sea mink was much larger than the American mink. And this proposed a debate over whether the size difference is enough to consider each mink as a separate species.
A group of scientists were in favour of this notion, while others were against it. A third group of scientists were so cool that they suggested classifying the large sea mink individuals as a separate species and the small ones as subspecies of American mink since they were close in size.
However, this suggestion could not be more impractical. That is because male sea minks were actually larger than females. Applying this notion means that male sea minks would be an independent species. At the same time, their female counterparts would be American minks!
It was not until 2007 that a study that compared the teeth of the American mink and the sea mink discovered that both animals had completely different dental structures. Such a difference qualified the sea mink to be classified as a separate species. And that is what scientists eventually announced.
Unfortunately, that happened already after the sea mink went extinct!
Fur traders were more familiar with the sea mink than scientists. They used to hunt it for its beautiful, red-coloured fur.
At first, they called it sea mink because they always found it near the coast. They also called it fisher because it was apparently feeding on fish. Various names that they used to refer to the sea mink included: water marten, red otter—because it looked so much like the otter but was red instead—and fisher cat because they somehow saw it resembled cats.
So what did this otter, cat, marten, or fisher look like?
As we will see later, the sea mink was hunted to extinction at the beginning of the 20th century. Hunting was mainly for its fur, so traders knew how to find the sea mink and did know a lot about it.
In fact, most of the information scientists know about the sea mink came from those traders and the Native American people who lived along the east coast of New England.
The rest of the information came from examining the remains of the sea mink as well as the descriptions of those naturalists and scientists who encountered this animal in the past.
Based on all that, scientists could conclude that the sea mink was the largest of all the mink species. They believe it had a heavily built body that was 91.4 cm long from head to tail. The tail itself was very long, measuring around 25.4 cm.
The sea mink’s entire body was covered with relatively long and tough fur with different hues of red, which used to fade the older the sea mink became. The tail was the darkest part of the body, and the back legs were too. The sea mink had a white patch between its forearms and a few other white spots on the left forearm.
The sea mink was territorial. That means it defined a particular area as its home where it lived and foraged. Like owls, the sea mink was a nocturnal mammal. During the day, it stayed in caves but went to look for food at night.
Interestingly, scientists believe the sea mink might have originally been a daylight animal, yet, it was forced to become nocturnal because it felt safe enough at night to go out and look for food. During the day, and as we will see in a bit, hunters were chasing the sea mink excessively.
Like the American mink, the sea mink basically fed on sea birds and their eggs. However, it is believed to have fed on fish and other sea animals too. This could explain the sea mink’s large size.
American minks used to live nearby the sea mink, and oftentimes their territories overlapped. And because male and female sea minks used to mate with several individuals simultaneously, scientists believe that they might have coupled with their relatives, the American minks, and therefore produced hybrids.
Like many other species, humans were the ones who pushed the sea mink over the verge of extinction.
Traders hunted the sea mink for its fur for a long time. And because the fur was much larger than that of the other minks that lived on land, there was high demand for it. So traders started feverishly hunting the poor mink to sell its fur at super high prices.
This led them to do everything they could to catch the sea minks. For instance, they made traps for them. They chased them with dogs. And if the sea minks tried to hide in holes under the ground, hunters would use shovels to dig the hole out and capture the sea minks. Sometimes, they even set the whole place on fire to suffocate the poor animals and catch them.
Such an awful practice became very excessive between 1860 and 1920. As a result, the sea mink’s numbers started dropping drastically.
The last sea mink is believed to have been killed in 1890. Over ten years after that, in 1903, many expeditions were set to look for any living individuals, but none of them made any sightings of the poor mink. Thirty years after the last individual was killed, in 1920, the sea mink was sadly announced extinct.
The golden toad is an animal that looked so much like the frog, had gorgeous golden orange skin, and was so small as well.
Native to Costa Rica, the golden toad was a complete mystery until 1966, when they were discovered by herpetologist Jay Savage. The last individual was seen in 1989. In 2004, the golden toad was classified as extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Scientists could only identify 1500 adults of the golden toad, so the population was tiny. They lived in a minimal area that was no bigger than eight square kilometres.
For the years during which the golden toad was known to humans, scientists reported that males were in much bigger numbers than females. In one year, there was only one female for every 10 males.
The golden toad belonged to a family called Bufonidae, consisting of 500 species. These creatures look so much like frogs, but they are not frogs. The male golden toad was orange. Yet, it was the female that had a lot of different colours, ranging from black and red to green and even white.
Both sexes had very smooth skin.
Another difference between males and females was the size. Unlike other animals, the female golden toad was much larger than the male. Females were 42 to 56 cm long, while males measured 39 to 48 cm. That said, males had longer legs and noses.
This could be one animal which humans are not directly responsible for its extinction.
Ever since the golden toad was discovered in 1966 and up until 1987, its numbers were relatively stable at around 1500 individuals. Only in the course of a year, from 1987 to 1988,, the population dropped to only 10 individuals. The last surviving golden toad was a solitary male that was seen on 15 May 1989. And no other golden toads have been sighted ever since.
A frantic search for any surviving individuals went off, yet it failed at localising any. In 2004, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the golden toad extinct.
That was very confusing to scientists because those frog-like creatures lived in a safe environment that was not prone to any dangers. There was nothing scientists could attribute the species’ extinction to.
What was even more bizarrely confounding is the fact that the golden toad used to breed pretty excessively. Couples used to come together for a period of six weeks. And in every week of those, they laid 300 eggs on average. So during the entire breeding season, every couple laid up to 1800 eggs on average.
So what possibly caused this sweet tiny little golden creature to die?
As we have just mentioned, scientists feverishly searched for any surviving golden toads after the last individual was seen in 1989. However, they could not find any, nor could they understand why this happened.
In situations like these, when no reasons are there to confirm or refute something, scientists suggest different hypotheses that may explain what happened and then examine them.
For the extinction of the golden toad, scientists and researchers thought of a few theories that may have eradicated this species. Unfortunately, it has taken scientists a long time to verify which of these theories was correct and which was not. Another point that made the theories’ examination hard was the fact that most of these them were already controversial and contradicted one another.
That said, one potential theory that explains why the golden toad went extinct is related to climate change.
For the golden toad to survive and for its eggs to hatch and bring out baby golden toads, their habitat must be, well, wet. But during the final years before the species disappeared, there had been a rise in temperatures and a big drop in the rainfall which caused drought.
As a result, the golden toad’s excellent wet habitat was highly disturbed. The population started to shrink. Even their excessive breeding could not keep up with the members they were losing to drought.
Besides, the pools where the couples used to lay their eggs dried out, killing most of them. For instance, in 1987, the temperature was really high, and drought had already hit the golden toad’s habitat. So out of the 43,500 eggs that were laid, only 29 of them survived.
Could you imagine the loss?
And here comes the end of today’s adventure, in which we explored the lives of two distinct yet recently extinct animals, the sea mink and the golden toad.
In the first section of this article, we discussed the sea mink. It was a medium-sized animal that resembled both the weasel and the otter. Native to the east coast of New England, USA, the sea mink mainly lived in water and fed on seabirds.
Because it was pretty similar to the American mink, the sea mink was classified as a subspecies of the former for quite some time. A debate occurred as to whether the size difference is enough to classify the sea mink as a separate species.
Yet, it was not until a study was made on the dental structures of both minks that announced the sea mink was a different species.
We then looked into the sea mink’s appearance and what kind of habitat it survived in. We also explored the factors that caused this beautiful creature to go extinct.
Moving on, we discussed the golden toad in the second section of the article. This was a tiny golden frog-like creature that was native to Costa Rica. Scientists discovered the golden toad in 1966. Only 23 years later, it went extinct, the thing which has been confusing scientists ever since.
Among many controversial and contradicting hypotheses on why the golden toad went extinct, it seems like the one about global warming provided an acceptable explanation.
We hope you found this article useful as much as we loved writing it for you. To learn more about nature, head to the World Around Us and STEM pages on our website, and you will find what blows your mind away.
If you enjoyed learning about this fascinating animal why not check out more fantastic facts about other animals: Koalas, Land Animals, Sharks, Raccoons, Moon and Sun Bears, Rats, Sheep, Chickens, Cats, Pandas, Monkeys and Whales.
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