Three new vertebrate species, isolated for millions of years, have been discovered on Australia’s Cape York Peninsula

Conrad Hoskin

Dr Conrad Hoskin from James Cook University and National Geographic photographer/Harvard University researcher Dr Tim Laman went on an expedition earlier this year to explore a remote mountain range on Cape York Peninsula in north-east Australia. Though surveys had been conducted in the boulder-fields around the base of Cape Melville, the plateau of rainforest on top had been largely unexplored.

The three newly discovered species are new to science and include a leaf-tail gecko, a golden-coloured skink and a boulder-dwelling frog. They and the other rainforest-associated inhabitants have been completely isolated for million of years.  As they were so isolated, they evolved into distinct species in the unique environment.

The three new species have been named, and the descriptions appear in Zootaxa. The leaf-tailed gecko was a highlight for the authors.

Cape Melville Leaf-tailed Gecko

The gecko are large at around 20cm long, and are ‘primitive-looking’ Gondwanan relics from a time millions of years ago when rainforest was more widespread in Australia. This leaf-tailed gecko has been named Saltuarius eximius, a name that translates as ‘exceptional’, ‘extraordinary’ or ‘exquisite’.

The gecko hides in the boulders during the day and comes out at night to hunt its prey on rocks and trees. The gecko is highly camouflaged and sit motionless and with their head down, waiting to ambush unsuspecting insects and spiders. The gecko has huge eyes, and also a very long and slender body and limbs, all are likely adaptations from living in the dimly lit boulder fields.

Cape Melville Shade Skink

Saproscincus saltus was discovered along with the Cape Melville Leaf-Tailed Gecko. This skink is a golden colour and is also restricted to the moist and rocky rainforest atop the plateau. It is long-limbed, but unlike the gecko it is active during the day. The species name ‘saltus’, means ‘leaping’, referring to its tendency to run and jump while hunting prey. The species is quite different from its relative in the southern rainforests.

Blotched Boulder-frog

This frog is completely restricted to the boulder-fields of Cape Melville, and its species name means ‘rock-loving’. The frog lives within the boulder-field during the dry season, as the conditions are cool and moist. In summer during the wet season, the frog comes out onto the surface rocks to feed and to breed in the rain. The frog’s eggs are laid within cracks in the moist rocks and while the tadpoles are developing within, the male frog watches over them until froglets hatch out.

Further photos of the new species are available here

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