Extinct Animal Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Elizabeth Hance

Elizabeth has taught elementary and middle school special education, and has a master's degree in reading education.

You have probably heard stories and seen illustrations of the gigantic dinosaurs that once roamed our planet. However, you will never see a real dinosaur, because they are all extinct. In this lesson, you will learn when and why animals become extinct.

When Is an Animal Extinct?

Fossils are all that are left of dinosaurs
dinosaur fossil

An extinct animal no longer exists. It is completely gone and can no longer be found. It can be hard to tell exactly when a species, or specific type of animal, is extinct. Sometimes scientists think that an animal has disappeared, only to find another living one many years later. For example, the coelacanth is a fish that scientists believed had completely disappeared several millions of years ago. Then, in 1938, a researcher spotted one caught by a fisherman!

Still, hundreds of animals and plants that once lived and thrived on our planet are now completely gone. Some scientists even estimate that there are five billion species that have gone extinct. In other words, more animals have gone extinct than now live on earth.

Why Do Animals Become Extinct?

Extinction can happen for many different reasons. One of the least common but most well known causes is an event called a mass extinction. These are enormous events that wipe out almost all living species. Most scientists agree that dinosaurs were victims of a mass extinction that occurred millions of years ago.

Today, animals are more likely to be threatened by extinction because of factors caused by humans. The most common of these is habitat destruction. Humans may damage animals' natural homes by introducing toxic substances or destroying the physical spaces where they live. One of the worst examples of habitat destruction is the massive deforestation that has taken place in tropical rainforests. Animals that need trees cannot survive if their homes are chopped down.

The Dodo bird was last seen alive in the 1600s
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Competition and the introduction of new predators can also lead to the loss of a species. Human exploration can sometimes lead to species moving into habitats where they had never before lived. They may spread disease or threaten animals native to a certain area. For example, the Dodo bird is an animal that has now been extinct for several hundred years. Scientists believe that hunting by humans, the loss of its habitat, and the introduction of new predators all led to its extinction.

Stellers sea cow was a slow moving animal, mostly killed by hunters
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