AUSTRALIA — A recent expedition to the previously unexplored territory dubbed the “Lost World” of Australia has already unveiled three new species believed to be one million years old.
The journey was made by a team of researchers, scientists, filmmakers, and photographers, all of whom were united by an innate curiosity to delve into the unknown. It was a collaborative effort made between James Cook University and National Geographic.
The area called the “Lost World” is actually “Cape Melville,” a stretch of a small mountain range on a northeastern Australian peninsula called Cape York. The isolated rainforest that makes up the ecosystem of the “Lost World” sits atop massive rugged boulders—and when I say massive, I mean massive.
The millions of black granite boulders strewn across Cape Melville are said to be as big as cars and even houses, towering hundreds of meters into the sky.
Just getting to the territory was a struggle. The team had to previously map out the area using Google Earth, and flew in by helicopter.
“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 Conrad Hoskin, a tropical biologist from the Queensland-based university.
The team didn’t have to wait long for action. After an eventful day of bush-whacking and traversing the unfamiliar habitat, a stunningly beautiful reptile came “running and jumping across the mossy boulders.”
The skink, a type of reptile, was titled the Cape Melville shade skink, Saproscincus saltus. This particular creature is longer-limbed than most skinks, and has a golden-brown tint. The animal can only be found on the rain forest plateau, constantly in search of insects to munch on.
Not long after the first discovery, the team stumbled across the blotched boulder frog, Cophixalus petrophilus. A small, brown-spotted, yellow amphibian, the frog has cleverly adapted to life among the boulders. During dry season, the frog lives deep in the crevices between the rocks, where conditions are moist and cool, allowing the proper conditions in which females can lay their eggs. During the wet summer, the frog emerges to feed and breed.
The blotched boulder frog also has extremely large, bulging eyes, which enables thm to see more clearly in the dark conditions which they call home for half the year.
The tadpoles have also acquired unique adaptations to the difficult terrain—they develop without the presence of water, emerging from the egg as a fully grown frog.
Late that same night, the excited team spotted yet another fascinating find—the leaf-tailed gecko, Saltuarius eximius.
“I ran up through the rocks and this beautiful, strange-looking gecko was sitting on the tree looking at me. I was utterly blown away by the gecko and remember holding it in disbelief,“ Hoskin said.
Since changes of finding a leaf-tailed gecko in the limited size of the mountain range was slim, the team was doubly excited in stumbling across such a lucky surprise.
Leaf-tailed geckos, generally about 8 inches (20 centimeters) long, are particularly interesting to science because they are a primitive species and relics from an earlier time.
The Cape Melville Leaf-tailed Gecko’s long legs makes the animals distinct from their relatives. A theory suggests the need for longer legs to climb the achingly tall boulders.
“In the animal world, long legs do seem to be adaptations to climbing around on boulders, and these fantastic newly described species are great demonstrations of this,” Jodi Rowley, an amphibian biologist at the Australian Museum Research Institute and a National Geographic explorer who wasn’t involved in the new studies, noted by email.
Extremely camouflaged, the gecko sits motionless, using the element of surprise to catch their prey among the mossy rocks.
“The Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko is the strangest new species to come across my desk in 26 years working as a professional herpetologist,” Patrick Couper, from the Queensland Museum, said to the International Business Times. “I doubt that another new reptile of this size and distinctiveness will be found in a hurry, if ever again, in Australia.”
The team was ecstatic about the promising nature of what Hoskin calls “a magical little place.”
Intrigued by the proven ability of these species to persist in such harsh conditions for millions of years, the team plans to return to Cape Melville within a few months to further explore the area in hopes of discovering even more unidentified species of animals.
Photographer Tim Laman added, “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.
There’s still a big world out there to explore.“
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