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‘Lost world’ in Australia yields new species

AFP-JIJI

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 golden skink and a boulder-dwelling frog, none of them ever seen before.

The mountain range is home to black granite boulders piled hundreds of meters high. The plateau of boulder-strewn rain forest on top of the range had remained largely unexplored, a fortress of massive boulder walls.

Within days of arriving, the team had discovered the three new species as well as a host of other interesting species that may also be new to science.

The highlight was the leaf-tailed gecko, a “primitive-looking” 20-cm-long creature that is an ancient relic from a time when rain forests were 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, Hoskins said, with the findings detailed in 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 with its head down, waiting to ambush passing insects and spiders.

The Cape Melville shade skink is also restricted to moist rocky rain forests on the plateau, and is highly distinct from its relatives.

Also discovered was the blotched boulder-frog, which during the dry season lives deep in the labyrinth of the boulder field, where conditions are cool and moist. In the summer wet season, it emerges on the surface rocks to feed and breed.