Australia's 'Lost World' Comes Alive With Three New Animal Species
October 28, 2013

Australia’s ‘Lost World’ Comes Alive With Three New Animal Species

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Scientists who embarked on a James Cook University-National Geographic expedition to a "lost world" at Cape York Peninsula have discovered three vertebrate species all new to science.

Researchers trekking through the rugged mountain range of Cape Melville discovered a new gecko, a skink and a boulder-dwelling frog that likely have never been scientifically observed prior to this. Surveys in the black granite boulders in this mountain range had been conducted in the past at the base of Cape Melville, but this was the first expedition to the top of the plateau.

The upland of Cape Melville is an isolated boulder-strewn rainforest that sits in a “sea” of hot, dry forest. The species identified have been completely isolated from the rest of the world for millions of years.

“These species are restricted to the upland rainforest and boulder-fields of Cape Melville. They’ve been isolated there for millennia, evolving into distinct species in their unique rocky environment”, Dr Conrad Hoskin, from James Cook University, said in a statement.

The Cape Melville Leaf-tailed gecko is being considered the highlight of the new species. Leaf-tailed geckos are very primitive-looking lizards that are relics from a time when rainforests were more widespread in Australia. Scientists say the new gecko is unusual and very distinct.

“The second I saw the gecko I knew it was a new species. Everything about it was obviously distinct”, Dr Hoskin, who named the new species, which has been published in the journal Zootaxa.

This highly-camouflaged gecko is hidden in the boulders during the day, but emerges at night to hunt. The lizard sits motionless, with its head-down, waiting to ambush insects and spiders. The Cape Melville Leaf-tailed gecko has huge eyes and an incredibly long and slender body.

“The Cape Melville Leaf-tailed Gecko is the strangest new species to come across my desk in 26 years working as a professional herpetologist. I doubt that another new reptile of this size and distinctiveness will be found in a hurry, if ever again, in Australia,” Patrick Couper, Curator of Reptiles and Frogs at the Queensland Museum, and collaborator on the gecko’s description, said in a statement.

The Cape Melville Shade Skink is golden-colored and restricted to the moist rocky rainforest on the plateau. The skin has long-limbs and runs and jumps across the mossy boulders to hunt insects. The team said this species is highly distinct from its relatives.

The Blotched Boulder-frog lives down deep in the labyrinth of the boulder-field during the dry season, where conditions are kept cool and moist. During the summer wet season, the frog emerges on the surface rocks to feed and breed in the rain.

“You might wonder how a frog’s tadpoles can live in a ‘hollow’ boulder-field with no water sitting around.” Dr Hoskin said. “The answer is that the eggs are laid in moist rock cracks and the tadpoles develop within the eggs, guarded by the male, until fully-formed froglets hatch out. As for the gecko, its eyes are very large – once again an adaptation for life in the dimly lit boulder-piles.”

Scientists on the expedition were able to make these discoveries within just several days of being on the plateau. The team believes Cape Melville may hold even more secrets for future expeditions.

“The top of Cape Melville is a lost world. Finding these new species up there is the discovery of a life time - I'm still amazed and buzzing from it.” said Dr Hoskin.


Images Below: (Left) The shade skink. (Right) A blotched boulder frog. Credit: Photos By Conrad Hoskin