Japan’s Amazing Living Fossils

Frilled Shark

Japan's frilled shark

The Frilled Shark is a truly ancient species that has changed very little since pre-historic times—fossil evidence of the shark dates back to 95 million years. The shark is rarely seen alive since its natural habitat is over 1600 feet (488 meters) below sea level. Specimens have been found scattered around the globe, but the majority of Frilled Sharks have been found in Japanese waters.The Frilled Shark resembles a giant eel more than a shark. However, the species possesses six gill slits, which identify it as a shark rather than an eel. The Frilled Shark has an upper jaw that is part of its skull, which is unique among living sharks. Most sharks living today have a hinged top jaw.The Frilled Shark gives birth to live young and remains pregnant for as long as 3 1/2 years—the longest gestation period of any vertebrate known on Earth.

Iriomote Wildcat

Iriomote wildcat sign in Japan

The Iriomote Cat, nearly unchanged from its primitive form, is a “living fossil” that lives exclusively on the Japanese Island of Iriomote. The wildcat is about the size of a domestic cat, with greyish brown fur, black spots, stripes, and a short bushy tail. The cat roamed the island for 200,000 years, but wasn’t discovered until 1967. The Iriomote Wildcat is one of the most endangered species of wildcat in the world. There are only about 60 cats left on the island.The classification of the Iriomote wildcat has been debated since it’s discovery. It was initially thought to be a separate species of wildcat for at least two million years. Recent DNA studies suggest that the cat is actually a subspecies of the Southeastern Asian leopard.Despite heavy conservation efforts to try and save the Iriomote Wildcat, the wildcat has continued to diminish in numbers. Getting hit by cars and rapid development due to the Island of Iriomote’s significant increase in tourists are among the greatest threats to the Iriomote cat.

Goblin Shark

Goblin shark photo from Japan

The Goblin Shark is a deep-sea creature that we know very little about. It is rarely ever found alive. It was first discovered in the waters around Japan by a fisherman in 1897. It is a “living fossil” that is closely related to sharks of ancient times. The shark has light pink skin with blue fins. The most recognizable feature of the shark is its long trowel-shaped snout.The globin shark has been found as deep in the ocean as 4265 feet and as shallow as 311 feet.The largest goblin shark ever recorded was 12.6 feet long.

Japanese Serow

Japanese serow photo

The Japanese Serow is a goat-like mammal that inhabits the dense forests of Honshu. The Japanese Serow is the most primitive species of cattle alive today. Both female and male Japanese antelopes possess two small horns, which they use to defend their territory.The Japanese Serow was once on the brink of extinction due to overhunting. They became so endangered that the Japanese government declared the Japanese Serow as a “national treasure”. Strict conservation efforts have been a huge success, to the point where Japan now suffers from overpopulation issues with the serows and often considers them as pests.

Amami Rabbit

Amami rabbit, Amami islands Japan

The Amami Rabbit, also known as the Ryukyu Rabbit, is found only on the Amami Islands of Japan. The Amami Rabbit is a living remnant of ancient rabbits and is often referred to as a “living fossil”. The Amami Rabbit is so unique and has been isolated from other rabbit species for so long, that they are scarcely even related.The Amami Rabbit has dark fur, short rounded ears, and no tail. It is nocturnal and dwells deep in forests. It is one of the few rabbits who makes calling noises.The Amami Rabbit is threatened with extinction, with only about 3,000 rabbits believed to remain on the islands. They were overhunted in the 19th century and today they are faced with further pressure from development.

Iriomote wildcat photo taken by theizumis under CC license. Photo of Japanese serow by world_waif under CC license.