May 17, 2010
-- A pristine New Guinea wilderness nicknamed "The Lost World" has just yielded multiple new animal species that seem more cartoon fantasy than flesh and blood reality. The newly found animals, announced today by Conservation International, include a "Pinocchio" frog with a protuberance on the nose of males that points upward during energetic calls, but deflates and points downward when the males are less excited. Other animals include a gargoyle-faced gecko, the world's smallest member of the kangaroo family, a huge, yet tame, woolly rat, a colorful pigeon, and dozens of other new species. All were found in Indonesia's remote Foja Mountains on the island of New Guinea, an area that scientists first explored five years ago. The latest finds add to the dozens of new species already noted during that first trip.
Bruce Beehler, a senior research scientist at CI and a participant on both expeditions, told Discovery News that "to be able to return to this marvelous and pristine corner of the Pacific is a dream come true for field naturalists. After our 2005 visit, we knew there were more new species lurking in those mountain forests." "Now that we can show how many unique forms live only there," he added, "it is easier for us to make the case that the world at large needs to take note and make absolutely certain that these superb forests are conserved for the wellbeing of the local forest peoples as well as the world at large." No roads lead to the interior of the Foja Mountains, which rise over 3,281 feet and require a helicopter to access. Paul Oliver, a University of Adelaide herpetologist who also went on the expedition, calls the new "Pinocchio" frog "one of the most remarkable frog discoveries" from the region "and clearly the most distinctive." He said it was found "on a bag of rice in the campsite during torrential rain." He and his colleagues aren't sure what the function is of the frog's "bizarre nose."
Oliver said the gecko is a new, large, bent-toed species that "could be found at night by its distinctive bright red eyeshine." Since the species often spends time high in the woodland canopy, it required "some rather risky acrobatics" to study. He and his colleagues hope to publish a formal description of it by late 2010 or early next year.
Kristofer Helgen, curator of mammals at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, described four other animals found in the Foja Mountains. He said the smallest member of the kangaroo family is a "diminutive dark-furred forest wallaby." Helgen added that it's "a gentle inhabitant of the mountain forests of this isolated mountain range." Unlike most mammals there, the wallaby is active during the day. As a result, many members of the expedition team reported seeing it as they went about their work.
Woolly Rat Helgen said the new woolly rat weighs more than 3 pounds. Despite its formidable size, it "was rather tame," spending much of its time foraging at night on the forest floor.
Delicate Tree Mouse
Helgen described the new tree mouse as being a "delicate herbivorous mouse" that "scurries along tree branches and vines during the night in search of its favorite foods."
Helgen also described a new blossom bat, a tiny species "that feeds on nectar at the flowers of rainforest trees."
Ornithologist Neville Kemp helped to document the "strange pigeon," with rust, white and gray feathers. He spotted a pair of these new birds as they were "being entirely distracted by the courtship display and mating of Foja's endemic golden fronted bowerbird that was taking place before their eyes." Were it not for this bit of bird voyeurism, Kemp might not have made the discovery. Other species recently found in the Foja Mountains include a new flowering shrub, a new black-and-white butterfly related to the monarch, and at least 11 other new insects. Beehler and his colleagues hope their work will encourage the government of Indonesia to bolster long-term protection of the area, which is today classified as a national wildlife sanctuary. "Places like these represent a healthy future for the Earth," he said.