Six months ago, biologist Conrad Hoskin of James Cook University and Harvard University researcher Tim Laman led a National Geographic film crew into the Cape Melville mountains located on Australia’s Cape York Peninsula. Now, the team of explorers claim they have discovered a ‘lost world’ teeming with previously undiscovered flora and fauna.
The nine-mile range is impassable, thanks to a large number of massive granite boulders that effectively shield the area from incoming vehicles. Scientists figured there was little to explore until satellite imagery detected a small rainforest near the apex of a large rock outcropping. When the images were received, many hypothesized the ecosystem was home to plant and animal species that did not exist anywhere on the planet.
As the crew led by Hoskin and Laman learned within days of reaching the isolated rainforest, this educated guess was absolutely spot-on. By the time the expedition had concluded, three invertebrate species had been discovered; scientists estimate each one is at least one million years old.
Described as “primitive-looking” by eyewitnesses, the slender Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko measures roughly eight centimeters in length. The curious creature is outfitted with a comically large pair of eyes, a pair of long legs proficient for rock climbing, and a distinctive skin pattern that presumably aids with camouflage. Hoskin called the gecko “spectacular”, while Patrick Crouper of the Queensland Museum had this to say:
“The Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko is the strangest new species to come across my desk in 26 years working as a professional herpetologist. I doubt that another new reptile of this size and distinctiveness will be found in a hurry, if ever again, in Australia.”
The second lizard species discovered by the team has been dubbed the Cape Melville skink. Expedition members caught sight of this slender, golden-scaled critter on their first day in the rainforest as it scurried and leapt across the boulder surfaces. The journal Zootaxa, which profiled the Cape Melville skink last month, noted that its limbs are much longer than fellow skinks who inhabit less rocky areas of the world.
Hoskin told The Australian that, despite the harsh environs, the granite boulders effectively preserve the ecosystem by protecting it from outside threats. “[The boulders] keep fire out and moisture in,” he said, “which is quite conducive to hanging on to some really interesting rainforest creatures through time.”
He also says the team will take part in future expeditions of the Cape Melville Range, adding, “There’ll be more new species to find, for sure.”