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Extinct vs. Extant: What's the Difference?

By Harlon Moss & Aimie Carlson || Updated on May 28, 2024
Extinct means no longer in existence, typically referring to species that have died out. Extant means still in existence, referring to species, documents, or other entities that currently exist.

Key Differences

Extinct describes a state where a species, once present, no longer exists anywhere on Earth. This term is used in biological and ecological contexts to indicate that all members of a species have died out. Extant, in contrast, refers to species or entities that are still existing and surviving. It is used to describe living species or existing documents, artifacts, or structures that are currently known and observed.
Extinct species, such as the dodo or the woolly mammoth, are no longer found alive due to natural or anthropogenic causes. Extant species, like the African elephant or the bald eagle, are those that are currently alive and can be observed in their natural habitats.
Extinct implies a finality and a complete absence, while extant implies continuity and current presence. Both terms are essential in discussing biodiversity, conservation, and historical studies, helping to distinguish between what has been lost and what remains.

Comparison Chart


No longer in existence
Still in existence


Biological, ecological
Biological, historical, archival

Example Species

Dodo, woolly mammoth
African elephant, bald eagle


Complete disappearance
Ongoing survival


Refers to species that have died out
Refers to living species or existing entities

Temporal Aspect


Extinct and Extant Definitions


No longer existing as a living species.
The dodo bird is an extinct species that disappeared in the 17th century.


Referring to entities that are currently known and present.
Extant wildlife populations are monitored for conservation purposes.


Referring to something that has ended permanently.
Several volcanoes are considered extinct because they haven't erupted for thousands of years.


Currently existing and observable.
The extant manuscripts provide valuable insights into ancient cultures.


Completely eradicated or wiped out.
Efforts to conserve the species were unsuccessful, and it became extinct.


Existing at the present time.
The only extant copy of the document is held in the national archives.


No longer in use or operation.
Many ancient languages have become extinct over time.


Still in existence; surviving.
The giant panda is an extant species, though it is endangered.


No longer existing or living
An extinct species.


Not destroyed or lost; preserved.
Some of the earliest printed books are still extant in libraries today.


No longer burning or active
An extinct volcano.


Still in existence; not destroyed, lost, or extinct
Extant manuscripts.


No longer in use
An extinct custom.


(Archaic) Standing out; projecting.


(dated) Extinguished, no longer alight (of fire, candles etc.)
Poor Edward's cigarillo was already extinct.


Still in existence; not having disappeared.
Extant manuscripts of the Old Testament


No longer used; obsolete, discontinued.
The title became extinct when the last baron died.
Luckily, such ideas about race are extinct in current sociological theory.


Still alive; not extinct.
Extant birds


(of a group of organisms, as a species) No longer in existence; having died out.
The dinosaurs have been extinct for millions of years.


(obsolete) Standing out, or above the rest.


(geology) No longer active.
Most of the volcanos on this island are now extinct.
They found the sites of extinct geysers.


Standing out or above any surface; protruded.
That part of the teeth which is extant above the gums.
A body partly immersed in a fluid and partly extant.


(transitive) To make extinct; to extinguish or annihilate.


Still existing; not destroyed or lost; outstanding.
Writings that were extant at that time.
The extant portraits of this great man.


Extinguished; put out; quenched; as, a fire, a light, or a lamp, is extinct; an extinct volcano.
Light, the prime work of God, to me is extinct.


Publicly known; conspicuous.


Without a survivor; without force; dead; as, a family becomes extinct; an extinct feud or law.


Still in existence; not extinct or destroyed or lost;
Extant manuscripts
Specimens of graphic art found among extant barbaric folk


Once existing as a species but now having no living members; - used of species of living organisms, especially of animals and plants; as, dinosaurs are now extinct; the dodo bird is extinct.


To cause to be extinct.


No longer in existence; lost or especially having died out leaving no living representatives;
An extinct species of fish
An extinct royal family
Extinct laws and customs


Of e.g. volcanos; permanently inactive;
An extinct volcano
A dormant volcano


Of a fire; being out or having grown cold;
Threw his extinct cigarette into the stream
The fire is out


Having no living members; died out.
The passenger pigeon is now extinct due to overhunting.


What is an example of an extant species?

The African elephant is an example of an extant species.

What is an example of an extinct species?

The dodo bird is an example of an extinct species.

Can a species become extinct naturally?

Yes, species can become extinct naturally due to environmental changes, predation, or competition.

What does it mean when a volcano is described as extinct?

An extinct volcano is one that has not erupted for a very long time and is not expected to erupt again.

What does extinct mean?

Extinct means no longer in existence, especially referring to species that have died out completely.

Can extant refer to documents?

Yes, extant can describe documents or artifacts that are still existing and preserved.

Can a species be rediscovered after being declared extinct?

Yes, sometimes species thought to be extinct are rediscovered, known as "Lazarus taxa."

What does extant mean?

Extant means still in existence or surviving, referring to species, documents, or other entities that are currently known and observed.

How do scientists determine if a species is extinct?

Scientists use extensive surveys and historical data to determine if no individuals of a species are left alive.

What are the causes of extinction?

Causes include habitat loss, climate change, overhunting, pollution, and invasive species.

Are there degrees of being extinct?

Extinct is a binary state; a species is either extinct or not, though the process leading to extinction can have stages (e.g., critically endangered).

Is extant used only in biological contexts?

No, extant can be used in historical, archival, and other contexts to indicate existing entities.

What is the significance of extant documents?

Extant documents provide historical evidence and insights into past cultures, events, and practices.

Can extinct refer to non-biological entities?

Yes, extinct can refer to languages, cultures, or practices that are no longer in use.

Why is it important to distinguish between extinct and extant species?

Distinguishing helps in conservation efforts and understanding biodiversity and ecological balance.

What efforts are made to protect extant species?

Conservation efforts include habitat preservation, anti-poaching laws, breeding programs, and environmental regulations.

Are there more extinct or extant species known today?

There are many more known extinct species than extant, as the vast majority of species that have ever lived are now extinct.

How do extinct species impact modern science?

Studying extinct species helps scientists understand evolution, past climates, and ecosystems.

How is the term extant used in library science?

In library science, extant refers to books, manuscripts, and records that are still existing and accessible for study and preservation.

Can humans contribute to extinction?

Yes, human activities like deforestation, pollution, and hunting have significantly contributed to many species' extinction.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Co-written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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