Scientists Uncover ‘Lost World’ in Northeastern Australia

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.”