Expedition finds ‘lost’ mammal and tree-dwelling shrimp | ET REALITY


A scientific expedition to a treacherous mountain range on the island of New Guinea has collected the first photographic evidence confirming the survival of a rare egg-laying mammal. The team also found dozens of undescribed insect species, as well as arachnids, amphibians and even a tree-dwelling shrimp.

This rediscovered mammal, known as the Attenborough long-beaked echidna and named after Sir David, has “the quills of a hedgehog, the snout of an anteater and the paws of a mole,” he said. James Kempton, a biologist at the University of Oxford who led the exploration to the Cyclops Mountains, in the Indonesian province of Papua. Most details about the life history of this critically endangered mammal, which is slightly smaller than a domestic cat, remain a complete mystery.

For years it was feared that the echidna was extinct. The only previous scientific record of the species was a specimen collected in 1961. “So it’s really valuable to understand that it still occurs in the Cyclops Mountains,” he said. Kristofer Helgen, a mammologist and director of the Australian Museum Research Institute who was not involved in the expedition. “To me, these are some of the most special animals on Earth.”

This species is one of five living monotremes, a rare group of primitive mammals that includes the platypus and three other echidna species. Monotremes diverged from the common ancestors of other mammals about 200 million years ago. All five species lay eggs and nurse their young with milk through the pores of the skin, since they lack nipples and have snouts that detect the movements and electrical currents of their prey.

In an area of ​​forest towards the top of the Cyclops Mountains, the researchers also found an unusual type of shrimp, slightly larger than grains of rice. These crustaceans were everywhere, including in trees, moss, rotting logs and even under rocks, she said. Leonidas Romanos Davranoglouthe expedition’s lead entomologist who works at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

“It’s a very strange creature,” Dr. Davranoglou said, adding that it is capable of jumping three or four feet in the air to escape predators. “We were quite amazed, really.”

There are about nine other species of land shrimp, all of which live on the coast and are known as beach hoppers. “Our species definitely jumps, but it doesn’t live near a beach,” Dr. Davranoglou joked.

Almost constant rain and steep terrain make the Cyclops Mountains difficult to explore. The same goes for poisonous snakes and tree-dwelling leeches. Dr. Davranoglou said that he had broken his hand coming down from a mountain.

Researchers placed 80 camera traps at various elevations in June and July and ultimately collected 14 photographs and four videos of echidnas. And it was not until the last day of the expedition that they discovered that they had seen the echidna. The results were uploaded to the bioRxiv website before being submitted to a journal for peer review.

Around the world there are more than 2,000 “lost species” of plants and animals that have not been scientifically recorded for more than a decade. It is vital to know whether those species still exist, as human activity accelerates species extinction, Dr Kempton said.

This is especially true with evolutionarily distinct species like monotremes, he added.

“These five species are the sole guardians of 200 million years of evolutionary history,” Dr. Kempton said. “Protecting that unique and fragile evolutionary history is extremely important.”

Scientists found another of these “lost species” toward the top of the mountains when they spotted a pair of Mayr’s honeycreepers, lively birds with curved beaks and long tails that have not been documented for 15 years.

Local residents of Yongsu Sapari village on the northern side of the mountains, including two guides, Zacharias and Samuel Sorondanya, were crucial in finding the species and properly placing the camera traps, they said. Madeleine Foote, a member of the expedition and a social scientist at the University of Oxford. Local students also received training on biodiversity studies from researchers during the walk.

The team plans to name the new species for students and local collaborators.

During a climb, a researcher fell into a moss-covered hole that turned out to be an unknown cave system. Inside it, the team found spiders and blind crickets, and a large whip scorpion, all new to science, Dr. Davranoglou said. The team also found at least three new amphibian species in the surrounding forest.

Much of the Cyclops Mountains is a nature reserve, but the surrounding rainforests face threats such as clearing for agriculture, logging and mining. Iain Kobak, co-founder of Yappenda, a Papua-based research and conservation foundation that helped organize the expedition, said such explorations would help protect the area’s flora and fauna.

“I really hope and believe that this will become a catalyst for strong conservation of the Cyclops Range,” he said.

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