In the rugged, remote reaches of Papua New Guinea live a multitude of strange species that scientists are just starting to catalogue. A recent initiative, the results of which were announced October 5, reports some 26 potentially new animal species, nine previously undescribed plants and some 200 likely new bug species.
In two months of surveying, researchers descended on the country's Muller and Nakanai mountain ranges via helicopter, plane, dinghy or by foot last year to hunt for new species.
"The discoveries we made in both surveys are incredibly significant for both the large numbers of new species recorded and the new genera identified," Leeanne Alonso, director of Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program, said in a prepared statement. The searches uncovered at least four potentially new genera (describing a mouse, an ant and new katydids).
One of the new genera is represented by a mouse that was found in the Nakanai range at about 1,590 meters above sea level in April 2009. The rare rodent has narrow feet and looks somewhat like known prehensile-tailed species in New Guinea. But its long, half-white tail is one of the striking features that distinguishes it from others in the region.
Other researchers spent time collecting some 42 leaf katydid specimens (of the Phaneropterinae subfamily), nearly half of which (about 20) look to be new species. One of them has large pepto-pink eyes and likely eats flowers from trees where it was collected in the Muller range forests.
None of the plants or animals have been formally described or named yet, but many of the proposed species have been submitted for publication, according to Conservation International spokesperson Kim McCabe.
The effort was a collaboration between the ongoing Rapid Assessment Program run by Conservation International, a U.S.-based nonprofit, and A Rocha International, a U.K.-based Christian conservation group. The organizations joined forces with Papua New Guinea's Institute for Biological Research to involve local scientists and community members.
In addition to highlighting new biodiversity, researchers involved in the project say that the finds are also a call to action. The newly discovered organisms "should serve as a cautionary message about how much we still don't know," Alonso said, adding that "coordinated, long-term management" will be necessary to protect many of these rare species into the future.
Image of mouse courtesy of Stephen Richards; image of katydid courtesy of Piotr Naskrecki/LCP