BY REBECCA JASULEVICZ
SC Web Editor
Earlier this year, three new species were discovered in the rainforest plateau atop the Melville Range, a nine-mile-long mountain range, in Cape Melville, Australia. These species include the Cape Melville Leaf-Tailed Gecko, the Cape Melville Shade Skink, and the Blotched Boulder Frog.
The expedition was conducted in March by Dr. Conrad Hoskin of James Cook University and Dr. Tim Laman of National Geographic and Harvard University, though the findings were only recently released to the public, as the species had to be confirmed as entirely distinct from any known species.
“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,” Hoskin said.
The Cape Melville Leaf-Tailed Gecko (Saltuarius eximius) was found to be about eight inches long with a slender body and limbs and relatively large eyes. The gecko uses its natural camouflage to sit motionless on the rainforest’s house-sized boulders during the night, awaiting passing insects and arachnids so that it can ambush once they are close.
“The Cape Melville Leaf-Tailed Gecko is the strangest new species to come across my desk in 26 years working as a professional herpetologist,” said Patrick Couper, the curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Queensland Museum in South Brisbane, Australia.
Couper continued, “I doubt that another new reptile of this size and distinctiveness will be found in a hurry, if ever again, in Australia.”
The Cape Melville Shade Skink (Saproscincus saltus), the second new species, is a golden-colored skink that is also only found in the rainforest plateau of Cape Melville.
This species is active during the day, using its elongated frame to leap over the plateau’s numerous boulders in order to hunt its insect prey.
“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,” said Jodi Rowley, an amphibian biologist at the Australian Museum Research Institute and a National Geographic explorer.
As for the Blotched Boulder Frog (Cophixalus petrophilus), its summers are spent on the surface of wet rocks, feeding and breeding in the rain. During the dry season, the frogs will remain within the boulder fields, where the environment is cool and moist. The female frog was observed laying its eggs after heavy rains within the cracks of the moist rocks, where the male then watched over the eggs until they hatched.
Not much is known about these newly discovered animals. Future expeditions are being planned in order to search for more new species in the relatively unexplored rainforest in Cape Melville. The team hopes to find snails, arachnids, and small mammals on their next excursion.
According to Hoskin, “The top of Cape Melville is a lost world. Finding these new species up there is the discovery of a lifetime.”
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