The Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko is so remote and so well camouflaged it was only discovered and named by science last year, but Saltuarius eximius is now standing out from the crowd in a big way – it’s just been named one of the world’s top ten new species for 2014.
Discovered last year by James Cook University’s Dr Conrad Hoskin, the leaf-tailed gecko has exotic company on the top ten list, including a bright orange fungus and a new mammal in the racoon family from the Andes.
“They are all fascinating finds, and it’s great that an Australian species has made it to this list, out of the approximately 18,000 new species that were named during the past year,” Dr Hoskin said.
The top ten are selected by an international panel of experts and the list is published by the International Institute for Species Exploration to highlight the number and range of species still being discovered.
The list is released each year on the birthday of Carl Linnaeus, the 18th century Swedish botanist who created the two-part Latin system still used by scientists to name and classify organisms.
The gecko, along with a previously unknown golden-coloured lizard and a boulder-dwelling frog, was found on what became know as ‘the lost world expedition’. Dr Hoskin and National Geographic photographer Dr Tim Laman flew in by helicopter to explore the rugged uplands of Cape Melville, on Cape York Peninsula.
“The new gecko is restricted to the uplands of Cape Melville and has a minute distribution,” Dr Hoskin said.
“Cape Melville is an amazing place – a small upland plateau that is fortressed all around by massive boulder fields. It has been isolated from other rainforest areas for millions of years.
“Finding three new species was exciting, especially in a country that we think of as pretty well explored, but the gecko was definitely the highlight.
“I knew, the second I saw it, that it was a new species. It was incredibly exciting. It is bizarrely skinny with long, spindly legs and – compared to its relatives – the eyes are huge.”
The species name eximius means exceptional, extraordinary, or exquisite.
The Cape Melville leaf-tailed gecko grows to about 20 cm long. It hides among boulders by day, emerging to hunt at night. Highly camouflaged, it sits motionless and head-down, waiting to ambush passing insects and spiders.
“It’s a relic from ancient times, when rainforest was more widespread, and it’s highly adapted to life in the boulder fields.”
Dr Hoskin said the release of the list of new discoveries was a time to reflect on the work needed to understand and conserve the Earth’s biodiversity.
“This list is just a tiny fraction of the new species discovered in the last year,” he said.
“Species form the fundamental unit of our knowledge of the natural world. They're how we monitor how the world around us is changing.
“For me, biodiversity is intrinsically interesting and beautiful, but it’s also essential in countless ways – from our reliance on healthy ecosystems for water and air, to the discovery of natural compounds and processes we use.
“We still know so little about our own planet. The current rate of extinction is tragic. We’re losing species that we never knew existed.”
The full list of 2014’s top ten new species can be found at: http://www.esf.edu/top10/
Issued: May 22, 2014
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