17 Prehistoric Animals That Are Still Alive Today

All species on Earth today can be traced back to our earliest ancestors millions of years ago. However, you may be surprised to learn that there are also many animals that have remained almost completely unchanged for all that time. Here are 17 prehistoric animals that are still alive today.


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As noted by National Geographic, we originally believed coelacanths had been extinct for millions of years. However, they were then rediscovered in 1938, alive and well. These elusive and mysterious creatures have somehow survived several major extinction events while barely changing at all for over 360 million years.

Horseshoe Crab

Horseshoe crab
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The horseshoe crab’s history on Earth has been traced back a staggering 450 million years, meaning it was here many years before the dinosaurs were. This hardy sea creature is famous for its horseshoe-like carapace, spiky tail, and blue blood, which is commonly used in medical research and testing.


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At first glance, the tuatara may look like your average lizard, but they are actually an ancient species that have been around for over 200 million years. They’re also one of the longest-living vertebrates on Earth, with the potential to live for over 130 years in the right conditions.  


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The nautilus isn’t your standard ocean mollusk. These guys have been on Earth for an incredible 500 million years, making them one of the oldest species in the world. Their beautiful spiral shells allow them to control their buoyancy. But unfortunately, because so many people have taken a liking to their shells, they’re now at risk of extinction.  

Goblin Shark

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The goblin shark is a distinctive sea creature with protrusible jaws and a unique flattened snout. Many people refer to it as a “living fossil” because it has been swimming in our seas for an amazing 125 million years. However, most people will never get the chance to see them in the wild because they live deep below the ocean surface.

Komodo Dragon

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The Komodo dragon is a beautiful species of lizard that wouldn’t look out of place in a line-up of dinosaurs. They are the largest lizard species in the world and, as per Smithsonian’s National Zoo, first evolved about four million years ago. Unlike most other reptiles, they also use venom to hunt their prey.


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The aardvark is most famous for its distinctive long snout and long claws that help it dig into anthills. But did you know that these cute little guys may have been on Earth for over 20 million years? Their unique adaptations and physiology probably played an important role in allowing them to survive for so long.


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The okapi is a beautiful mammal with striped markings and a long neck that make it look like a cross between a giraffe and a zebra. Okapis share a common ancestor with giraffes and closely resemble ancient species that lived on Earth seven million years ago.


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The platypus is a very distinctive creature known for its strange combination of a duck-like bill, webbed feet, and egg-laying ability. They’re also one of the only mammals that lay eggs. According to Britannica, records indicate that the first platypus-like monotremes lived here over 110 million years ago.

Velvet Worm

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Velvet worms have been here much longer than most other species, dating back to the Cambrian Period about 530 million years ago. These elusive critters live in tropical forests and are rarely seen by humans. They are also known for their ability to catch prey with their sticky slime.


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The lungfish gets its name from its unique ability to breathe air through its ancient lungs, making it an evolutionary link connecting fish and amphibians. This ability also helps it to survive in dried mud through droughts, which has contributed to its impressive 300-million-year-long history on Earth.  

Elephant Shrew

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Elephant shrews are cute little mammals with a long nose and the ability to run surprisingly fast given their tiny size. Surprisingly, they share common ancestors with far bigger mammals like elephants, and they may have lived on Earth in their current form for over 50 million years.


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The gharial is a species of crocodile that has a uniquely long, narrow snout that’s specially adapted to catch fish. Records indicate that this reptile dates back to the Cretaceous period, millions of years ago. Sadly, they are now critically endangered, with fewer than 1,000 adults remaining in the wild.  

Giant Salamander

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True to its name, the giant salamander is pretty dang massive, growing up to six feet in length. According to the San Diego Zoo, this makes them the largest amphibian in the world. These incredible animals have remained largely unchanged for millions of years. Sadly, they’re now classified as critically endangered.

Alligator Snapping Turtle

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The alligator snapping turtle is famous for its incredible, powerful jaws and hardy armored shell. But did you know that these distinctive turtles have remained almost entirely unchanged since the age of the dinosaurs? Their unique ability to lure in prey with a worm-like appendage in their mouth has helped contribute to their survival.

Aldabra Giant Tortoise

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Aldabra giant tortoises are among the largest tortoise species in the world and can live for an impressive 100 years plus. Because it has so few natural predators in its habitat in the Aldabra Atoll, it has been able to survive largely unchanged for millions of years.  

Megamouth Shark

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The megamouth shark is an enigmatic creature known for being one of the rarest shark species in the world. While its rarity has made it difficult to study, its lineage has been traced back many millions of years. As its name suggests, it’s also famous for its huge mouth, which helps it feed on large quantities of plankton.

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