Scientists have discovered a mini eco-system full of strange creatures in a remote territory of Australia. The 'lost world', as scientists are calling it, is believed to have remained undisturbed for millions of years.
The discovery was made by Dr. Conrad Hoskin, of James Cook University, and Dr. Tim Laman, from Harvard University, who led a four-day expedition to the Cape Melville area of Australia, a region that he had been aware of for a decade but had previously only viewed from above. Their destination was a remote place situated on top of a high plateau measuring 1.8miles (2.9km) by 1.8 miles, and forms part of a larger range of mountains which extends for about nine miles (14.4km) and is around 3 miles (4.8km) across.
The secret forest sits atop a gigantic pile of massive boulders and is totally inaccessible; the team were only able to reach it via helicopter. Dr. Hoskin said that their first impression of the new world was a magical combination of "incredible rainforest, good earth and clear, flowing streams".
The lush paradise began to reveal its mysteries on the second day, when three brand new species of reptile were discovered: a "bizarre-looking" leaf-tailed gecko, a boulder-dwelling frog, and a golden-coloured skink that hunts insects by leaping boldly from rock to rock, unlike its mainstream relatives back in civilisation who have evolved to hide away in leaf litter, presumably to avoid detection from man and other predators.
"We're talking about animals that are ancient — they would have been around in the rainforest of Gondwana... rainforest that's been there for all time," said Dr Hoskin. "I was just walking around along the ridge line and there was this small lizard, a skink, that was something completely new," he said.
The next gift from the rainforest arrived later that day in the form of "beautiful blotched frogs with orange in their legs", as Dr. Hoskin described them. Initial observations revealed that the new frog -christened the "Blotched Boulder-Frog" - does not need to live near water, but instead lays its eggs in moist rock cavities during the rainy season, where its tadpoles grow into tiny froglets before hatching.
A new type of reptile was hailed to be the most exciting discovery for the team, however: "Coming back by night, we saw an incredible leaf-tailed gecko. This thing was mind-blowing, completely bizarre. It's really big, around eight inches with long spindly legs and huge eyes." Dr. Hoskin believes that its odd appearance has evolved to allow it to see in dark crevices and navigate easily around the rocky terrain.
Patrick Couper, Curator of Reptiles and Frogs at the Queensland Museum, and collaborator on the gecko’s description, shared the team's enthusiasm for the new creature, commenting that the Cape Melville Leaf-tailed Gecko was the "strangest new species to come across my desk in 26 years working as a professional herpetologist".
“That this gecko was hidden away in a small patch of rainforest on top of Cape Melville is truly remarkable. What makes it even more remarkable is that two other totally new vertebrates were found at the same time,” he said.
Dr. Hoskin's team plan to return to the area for a longer period, as in the four days they were there it was only possible to explore a fraction of the 'lost world', and he believes that it may yield even more exciting finds, such as birds, mammals and plants.
"If anything's likely to harbour something amazing, it would be there. If we find a mammal that would be incredible," he said."We think in Australia that we know what's out there pretty well. But to be able to walk into a new mountain range and find several new animals immediately shows that there must be very many more out there."
One can't help but wonder what the future now holds for the tiny paradise, and whether its discovery has introduced a risk from external influences, maybe harmful bacteria, into the delicately preserved eco-system which has remained perfectly balanced for millions of years. Man's impact of man on the rest of the planet has not generally been a positive one in natural terms but, in the interests of 'science', researchers must inevitably return to classify and observe the new discoveries.
It is very exciting to think that there may be many other, as yet undiscovered, species living a secret existence in the far corners of the earth.
In the words of Tim Laman: "There's still a big world out there to explore."
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