'Lost world' of Australian rainforest yields up three new species
Author: Thuy Ong
Scientists have discovered three new species of animals in a rainforest 'lost world' in Australia, protected for millions of years by almost impenetrable stacks of granite boulders.
The new animals are a leaf-tail gecko, a golden-colored skink and a boulder-dwelling frog living in the unique rocky rainforest in Cape Melville, some 1,500 km (900 miles) north west of Brisbane, Australia's third most populous city.
"They just look completely distinct, so as soon as you see them you think 'Wow, that thing is definitely new'," Conrad Hoskin of James Cook University, who led the expedition with the U.S. National Geographic Society, told Reuters by telephone.
The Melville range is rugged and precipitous, and almost unreachable as millions of granite boulders the size of 'cars and houses' are piled hundreds of meters high, with a boulder-strewn rainforest on its plateau.
All three new species hide among the labyrinth of the rocky rainforest with the leaf-tail gecko, which is 20 cm (8 inches) long, emerging at night to hunt on rocks and trees.
The Cape Melville shade skink is active during the day, chasing insects across the mossy boulders, while the blotched boulder frog lives in the cool, moist crevasses of the boulder fields during the dry season.
The frog only emerges during the summer wet season to breed in the rain and feed on insects among the surface rocks.
"We tend to think of Australia as pretty well explored," Dr Hoskin said. "This discovery just shows there's truly remote, unexplored areas in Australia, so it's very exciting."
Hoskin and his team flew in to the rainforest plateau by helicopter, and plan to return in a few months to continue the search for new species, including snails, spiders and small mammals.
The far-flung rainforest is a unique ecosystem, able to keep away fire and lock moisture between the boulders, helping rare rainforest species to survive for millions of years.
(Reporting by Thuy Ong; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)