"Lost World" Discovered in Remote Australia
A blue-tongued skink (a type of lizard) crosses red sand in the Northern Territory of Australia near Alice Springs. A gold-colored skink was among the new species discovered in Australia's Cape Melville mountain range.
Stuart V. Nielsen
The cocoa frog is one of six new frog species that were recently found in a rainforest-dominated mountainous region of southeastern Suriname. “At a time when so many frog species are declining and undergoing extinctions worldwide, it is particularly uplifting to discover so many new frogs in a single area,” Trond Larsen, a tropical ecologist and director of the Rapid Assessment Program at Conservation International, told Discovery News. He and his team found about 60 new species in the South American country.
The tiny Lilliputian beetle measures just 2.3 mm long and could be the smallest dung beetle in the entire Guiana Shield and among the smallest in the world. “Dung beetles act as a cleanup crew in the forest,” Larsen said. “By burying dung, they not only control parasites and disease, including those that affect people, but also disperse seeds and recycle nutrients that enable forest regeneration.”
Leeanne Alonso, director of Global Biodiversity Exploration for Global Wildlife Conservation, went on the expedition with Larsen. She thinks this beetle might be small and red to look like a seed stuck in poo, thereby fooling predators. “Dung beetles in forest areas are a good indicator of mammal diversity,” she added. Without mammals providing their food source, there would be few such insects.
Stuart V. Nielsen
The collection of new animals includes 11 species of fish that are probably new to science. “Small, brightly-colored tetras similar to this one are popular in the aquarium trade, and sustainable exports of wild species could provide financial support to local communities and incentives to conserve the species’ natural habitat,” Larsen said.
Alonso added that, as new species go, fish are relatively rare. “It’s amazing that so many were found in this region, which I believe has the world’s best and most beautiful and pristine forests in the world.” She loved it so much that she took her family there on a vacation after the research work ended.
Bats are another “good indicator of habitat quality,” Alonso said. She explained that, in this case, the bat thrives on fruit, so the region must support plenty of healthy fruit-producing trees.
Genuine coral snakes are highly venomous, but this false coral snake’s name is itself somewhat misleading, as the researchers found out the hard way. Alonso said that a helicopter pilot transporting the scientists was bitten by one. “His arm really swelled up,” she said, explaining that all such snakes have sharp teeth and venom, just not as poisonous as the “real” coral snake this species resembles.
This extraordinary new insect displays waxy fronds at the end of its body that was built for jumping among plants. “Maybe the fronds are meant to resemble anthers of a flower, helping with camouflage?” Alonso said, admitting that nature sometimes works in still-mysterious ways. She continued, “So little is known about insects from this region, so this was a real find.”
Top-level predatory big cats, such as this margay, are yet another sign of healthy habitat. More of them generally means there are more prey animals to feast upon. “Margays love to sleep and hide in caves at the site,” Alonso added.
Six new katydids, including this one, were discovered. Larsen described it as a “gangly species with oversized, spiny hind legs.” The newly discovered katydids "are indicative of the pristine, healthy forests of the Upper Palumeu Watershed," Larsen said, "and the forests in turn help to ensure continued flows of clean, plentiful water used by people throughout the rest of the country.”
“Despite their generally diminutive size, water beetles can be useful indicators of water quality, and also help to filter and keep water clean,” Larsen said. “Many of the 26 new water beetle species discovered on this survey are probably restricted to isolated habitats, especially in the mountains of southeastern Suriname, and may occur nowhere else.”
Sandra J. Raredon
Eleven new fish species were found in the region, dubbed a "tropical Eden" by the researchers. Larsen said, “This new sucker-mouthed armored catfish was rare, and only encountered in the narrow, upper reaches of the Palumeu River.
“This delicate slender opossum is really cute,” Alonso said. “It’s hard to find small mammals like this, which are indicative of primary forest.”
is the largest of all South American dung beetles, Larsen shares. Despite its name, this species feeds more frequently on dead animals than on dung. A highly unusual case in the Animal Kingdom, both males and females of this species possess a long horn on their head, which they use during intense battles with other individuals of the same sex. The vast difference in adult body size seen here is primarily determined by how much food was available to the developing larva. This species is capable of rapidly burying large animal carcasses, providing an important ecological service that sustains rain forest health.
“Given the beautiful coloration, high visibility and popularity of frogs in the poison dart frog family (Dendrobatidae), most species in this group are relatively well known,” Larsen said. “Therefore, the discovery of this species potentially new to science is particularly exciting. The toxic secretions of poison dart frogs hold great potential to yield new medicines that could greatly benefit the world -- yet with frogs declining globally, their protection in the wild is essential.”
The researchers could have just scratched the new species surface in southeastern Suriname, given that other animals, fish, insects and more unknown to science could be found there. The region’s human population is currently small -- only about 500,000 -- but it’s growing and there is a threat of future habitat-destroying activities, such as mining and logging. Alonso hopes that the wilderness can be protected, with money-generating activities such as ecotourism allowing both humans and amimals to thrive there.
An expedition to a remote part of northern Australia has uncovered three new vertebrate species isolated for millions of years, with scientists Monday calling the area a "lost world."
Conrad Hoskin from James Cook University and a National Geographic film crew were dropped by helicopter onto the rugged Cape Melville mountain range on Cape York Peninsula earlier this year and were amazed at what they found.
It included a bizarre looking leaf-tail gecko, a gold-coloured skink -- a type of lizard -- and a brown-spotted, yellow boulder-dwelling frog, none of them ever seen before.
"The top of Cape Melville is a lost world. Finding these new species up there is the discovery of a lifetime -- I'm still amazed and buzzing from it," said Hoskin, a tropical biologist from the Queensland-based university.
"Finding three new, obviously distinct vertebrates would be surprising enough in somewhere poorly explored like New Guinea, let alone in Australia, a country we think we've explored pretty well."
The virtually impassable mountain range is home to millions of black granite boulders the size of cars and houses piled hundreds of metres high, eroded in places after being thrust up through the earth millions of years ago.
While surveys had previously been conducted in the boulder-fields around the base of Cape Melville, a plateau of boulder-strewn rainforest on top, identified by satellite imagery, had remained largely unexplored, fortressed by massive boulder walls.
Within days of arriving, the team had discovered the three new species as well as a host of other interesting finds that Hoskins said may also be new to science.
The highlight was the leaf-tailed gecko, a "primitive-looking" 20 centimetre-long (7.9 inches) creature that is an ancient relic from a time when rainforest was more widespread in Australia.
The Cape Melville Leaf-tailed Gecko, which has huge eyes and a long, slender body, is highly distinct from its relatives and has been named Saltuarius eximius, Hoskin said, with the findings detailed in the latest edition of the international journal Zootaxa.
"The second I saw the gecko I knew it was a new species. Everything about it was obviously distinct," he said.
Highly camouflaged, the geckos sit motionless, head-down, waiting to ambush passing insects and spiders.
The Cape Melville Shade Skink is also restricted to moist rocky rainforest on the plateau, and is highly distinct from its relatives, which are found in rainforests to the south.
A blue-tongued skink (a type of lizard) crosses red sand in the Northern Territory of Australia near Alice Springs. A gold-colored skink was among the new species discovered in Australia's Cape Melville mountain range.Theo Allofs/Corbis
Also discovered was a small boulder-dwelling frog, the Blotched Boulder-frog, which during the dry season lives deep in the labyrinth of the boulder-field where conditions are cool and moist, allowing female frogs to lay their eggs in wet cracks in the rocks.
In the absence of water, the tadpole develops within the egg and a fully formed frog hatches out.
Once the summer wet season begins the frogs emerge on the surface of the rocks to feed and breed in the rain.
Tim Laman, a National Geographic photographer and Harvard University researcher who joined Hoskin on the expedition, said he was stunned to know such undiscovered places remained.
"What's really exciting about this expedition is that in a place like Australia, which people think is fairly well explored, there are still places like Cape Melville where there are all these species to discover," he said.
"There's still a big world out there to explore."
According to National Geographic, the team plans to return to Cape Melville within months to search for more new species, including snails, spiders, and perhaps even small mammals.
"All the animals from Cape Melville are incredible just for their ability to persist for millions of years in the same area and not go extinct. It's just mind-blowing," Hoskin said.