Scientists awed by new species

National, Normal

The National – Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A FROG with fangs, a blind snake and a round-headed dolphin are among more than 1,000 new species that have been recently found in Papua New Guinea, the environment group WWF said on Monday.
Scientists made the astounding discoveries, which included a river shark and dozens of butterflies, at a rate of two a week from 1998 to 2008, WWF said in a report on the island’s natural habitat.
“This report shows that New Guinea’s forests and rivers are among the richest and most biodiverse in the world,” WWF Western Melanesia programme representative Neil Stronach said.
PNG’s rainforests are the third-biggest in the world after the Amazon and the Congo, and, while the island covers just 0.5% of Earth’s land mass, it contains up to 8% of the world’s species, according to WWF.
The 1,060 species confirmed by scientists as new discoveries between 1998 and 2008 are believed to have only scratched the surface of PNG’s dazzling ecosystems.
“Such is the extent of New Guinea’s biodiversity that new discoveries are commonplace even today,” WWF said in its report, titled Final Frontier: Newly Discovered Species of New Guinea.
One of the most notable finds documented in the WWF report was a round-headed and snub-finned dolphin, which swims in protected, shallow coastal waters near rivers and creek mouths.
Discovered in 2005 in PNG, it was the first new dolphin species recorded anywhere in the world in three decades, and is now known to exist in Australia, WWF said.
Another of the 12 mammals found over the decade was an anteater named in honour of British naturalist David Attenborough, Sir David’s long-beaked echidna or, scientifically, Zaglossus attenboroughi.
One of the 134 frogs discovered was dubbed Litoria sauroni because its striking red and black spotted eyes reminded scientists of the evil character Sauron in the Lord of the Rings movies.
Another new frog was notable because of its size – just 1cm in length – and one had vampire-like fangs.
Nine snail species were among the 580 new invertebrates discovered.
Among the other new invertebrates was a brightly coloured apricot crayfish, part of the yabby family, which was 9-12cm long.
Discoveries of new fish totalled 71, with a kaleidoscope of colours, including one in the coral reefs of Milne Bay that thrilled scientists with its dazzling blue hue.
WWF said the most extraordinary freshwater discovery was a 2.5m river shark found in PNG that has since been located in northern Australia.
Of the 43 reptiles discovered, one could claim to be the most innocuous snake in the world.
It was just 12-14cm long, could not bite, had no venom and had scales over its eyes so it could not see.
But WWF said the excitement of all the new discoveries had been tempered by the fact that, as in the Amazon and Borneo rainforests, human actions were destroying Papua New Guinea’s natural habitat at an “alarming rate”. – AFP