'Lost World' Found In Australia: 'Strangest New Species' Discovered In Remote Cape Melville Mountains

By Josh Lieberman on October 28, 2013 7:03 PM EDT

leaf tailed gecko
The Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko is the strangest of three new species discovered in the "lost world" of Australia's Cape York Peninsula. (Photo: Conrad Hoskin)

A jaunt into the mountains of northern Australia earlier this year resulted in the discovery of a "lost world," as expedition leader Conrad Hoskin termed it. Hoskin, a researcher from Australia's James Cook University, discovered three new animal species while searching the remote Cape Melville mountain range of Cape York peninsula. The new animals are a gold-colored skink (a type of lizard), a boulder-dwelling frog, and a truly bonkers-looking leaf-tailed gecko.

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"Finding three new, obviously distinct vertebrates would be surprising enough in somewhere poorly explored like New Guinea, let alone in Australia, a country we think we've explored pretty well," said Hoskin. 

The leaf-tailed gecko -- the highlight of the three new species discovered -- is large for a gecko, measuring about eight inches. The highly camouflaged, big-eyed gecko hides in boulders during the day and comes out at night to hunt insects and spiders. The primitive-looking creature is distinct from all other geckos -- so distinct, in fact, that Hoskin said that "the second I saw the gecko I knew it was a new species. Everything about it was obviously distinct."

Patrick Couper, the Curator of Reptiles and Frogs at the Queensland Museum, collaborated on the scientific description of the gecko and was as amazed as Hoskin by the animal. 

"The Cape Melville Leaf-tailed Gecko is the strangest new species to come across my desk in 26 years working as a professional herpetologist," said Couper. "I doubt that another new reptile of this size and distinctiveness will be found in a hurry, if ever again, in Australia."

The boulder-dwelling frog discovered during the expedition lives under (you guessed it) boulders during the dry season, emerging in the wet summer to breed in the rain. The interesting about this fellow is that it doesn't require a pond to breed. Instead, the tiny frog lays eggs in the cracks of rocks, where tadpoles then develop into froglets and hatch.

The Cape Melville shade skink seems to be the least remarkable of the three; the most noteworthy thing about it seems to be that its completely distinct from its relatives in other Australian rainforests. But it is pretty cool looking.  

The three "lost world" species managed to hide from human eyes for so long because their habitat at the top of the Cape Melville mountain range is so difficult to get to. Hoskin's team, which included a National Geographic film crew, was dropped into Cape Melville by helicopter. The mountain range consists of massive boulders as big as a house. Previous surveys have been conducted around the base of Cape Melville, but the top of Cape Melville, a rainforest filled with boulders, has mostly been explored through satellite images.

"We think in Australia that we know what's out there pretty well," Hoskin told the Telegraph. "But to be able to walk into a new mountain range and find several new animals immediately shows that there must be very many more out there."

Hoskin said he is planning another trip to Cape Melville (this trip was only four days). With Hoskin able to find the three new species after just two days of searching, he imagines he'll certainly find more new species during another trip. Finding a new mammal, Hoskin said, "would be incredible."

But could it possibly be as incredible as finding everyone's favorite new mammal, the olinguito?

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