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Having inhabited the earth for hundreds of thousands of years, one would think that we have explored every nook and cranny and found every possible species. Turns out that such is not the case! A team of scientists recently stumbled upon a magical 'lost world' complete with its own unique ecosystem and species.
Located in a remote part of Northern Australia amongst the peaks of the rugged Cape Melville, the hitherto unexplored region measures 1.8 mile by 1.8 mile and sits on a wall of millions of giant boulders making it accessible only by helicopter. While Dr. Conrad Hoskin from James Cook University who led the the expedition had been aware of its existence, his curiosity was aroused after he saw the satellite images captured on Google Earth.
So earlier this year, he along with Tim Laman a National Geographic photographer and Harvard researcher, decided to explore the region. While Hoskin expected it to be pristine, nothing he says could have prepared him for the 'incredible rainforest' with 'good earth' and 'clear, flowing streams' that he encountered. The icing on the cake was the fascinating creatures the team was able to discover, within a day after landing in this newly discovered paradise.
Among the highlights was a primitive looking lizard that Hoskin immediately dubbed Saltuarius eximius, which means exceptional or exquisite - That's because with its big eyes and lithe body, the eight-inch long Gecko truly fit the description. The scientists believe that the reptile's long legs are an evolutionary adaptation to enable it to move rapidly across its rocky environment and its large eyes, a result of the dimly lit areas that it has to navigate through. The Cape Melville leaf-tailed Gecko spends its days hiding in the boulders and nights, cleverly camouflaged on rocks and in trees with its head down awaiting the unsuspecting insects and spiders that are trying to make their way across.
Then there is the Blotched Boulder Frog. Found deep inside the moist and cool areas of the labyrinth of rocks in the Cape Melville's boulder fields, it was aptly given the scientific name of Cophixalus petrophilus, which translates to 'rock loving'. The amphibian only emerges from its dark home during the wet summer season to mate and feed. Due to the lack of still water pools, the frog has adapted to laying its eggs inside the crevices of the moist rocks. What is amazing is that the tadpoles develop within the eggs which are guarded by the male frogs. That means that when they hatch, they emerge as fully formed froglets!
Another fun species discovered was the Cape Melville Shade Skink - A slender lizard with a beautiful golden hue that hunts during the day and unlike its evolutionary cousins that slither inside leaves, can be found hopping from one mossy boulder to the next, in search of tiny insects. It is no wonder that the scientists have decided to call it Saproscincus 'saltus' (leaping).
The best part is that the three newly discovered vertebrae that will be featured in this month's issue of Zootaxa, may be just the tip of the iceberg. Having explored only a tenth of the area during their four-day excursion, the scientists are hoping to return soon to uncover all the other secrets that this 'lost world' has to reveal.
Resources: telegraph.co.uk, news.yahoo.com,cnn,com