"Lost species" De Winton's golden mole found after 86 years

A sand-swimming golden was located in South Africa after not being detected for a whopping 86 years. The adorable creature, called "De Winton's golden mole," was declared a "lost species" after having last been spotted way back in 1937, but a group of scientists from the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Stellenbosch University and the University of Pretoria, didn't give up hope that one day the it might be rediscovered. And they were right—in November 2023 they found one through a process of tracking environmental DNA. What a remarkable find!

The Conversation published an interesting and informative interview with a member of the mole-finding team, molecular biologist Dr. Samantha Mynhardt, which is definitely worth a read. In the piece she answers questions about how they found the mole, why they went looking in the first place, how many De Winton's golden moles still exist, and more. Here are a couple of excerpts from the interview:

How did this mole species stay 'lost' for so long?:

De Winton's golden mole has been severely affected by diamond and mineral mining activities on the South African west coast and we suspect that the population has declined substantially over the past century. The species was last detected in 1937 at the small harbour town of Port Nolloth on the north-western coast of South Africa. For the next 86 years, it eluded scientists, probably because of difficulties in locating and trapping it and because a similar looking mole, Grant's golden mole (Eremitalpa granti), was still present in the area.

How did you collect the mole's environmental DNA?

We collected over 100 soil samples from the insides of their underground tunnels. Animals shed their DNA into their environment, typically in the form of skin cells, hair, excretions and secretions. This environmental DNA (eDNA) is so tiny it is invisible to the human eye. We later extracted the eDNA from the soil in the lab, and barcode-sequenced it. The DNA sequence matched a De Winton's reference sequence, which had been generated in 2010 from a museum specimen housed at the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History.

I'm so glad they have rediscovered this fine beast—I hope their conservations efforts help create a more robust population, and that other lost species are soon found, as well!