What do you find when you travel deep into a remote area of Australia? Three animal species new to science — a gecko, a skink and a frog — plus a host of “other interesting species” and millions of black granite boulders, some the size of cars and houses.
That’s what scientist Conrad Hoskin, a postdoctoral fellow at James Cook University in Queensland, discovered when he went trekking with National Geographic photographer Tim Laman (who also happens to be a Harvard University researcher) this past March.
“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,” Hoskin said in a news release. Hoskin named the three new animals, an account of which will appear in the October issue of the peer-reviewed journal Zootaxa.
The new frog species discovered by scientists in a remote part of Australia. (Tim Laman/National Geographic)
For Hoskin, the highlight was the leaf-tailed gecko, which he named Saltuarius eximius. This creature hides in the area’s giant boulders by day. By night, it hunts, waiting silently to pounce on unsuspecting insects and spiders. It has huge eyes (likely adapted to help it see in and around the boulders) and a longer body and limbs than the six other geckos in its genus, according to the Zootaxa article about the species.
The frog, called the Blotched Boulder-frog (Cophixalus petrophilus), lives only in the boulder fields of Cape Melville, staying tucked away in the cool, dark boulders until it rains. Then it comes to the surface to eat and breed. “You might wonder how a frog’s tadpoles can live in a ‘hollow’ boulder-field with no water sitting around,” 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.”
The third species, a skink — a secretive type of ground-dwelling lizard — called Saproscincussaltushas unique color patterns and longer limbs and digits than the 11 other previously described skink species, according to the Zootaxa article.
“The top of Cape Melville is a lost world,” Hoskin said. “Finding these new species up there is the discovery of a lifetime. I’m still amazed and buzzing from it.”
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