By Karl Malakunas - NationalPost
MANILA — A frog with fangs, a blind snake and a round-headed dolphin are among more than 1,000 new species recently found on the incredible Melanesian island of New Guinea.
Scientists made the astounding discoveries, which also included a river shark and dozens of butterflies, on New Guinea at a rate of two a week from 1998 to 2008, WWF said in a new 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,” said Neil Stronach, the group’s Western Melanesia program representative.
New Guinea, divided between Indonesia in the west and Papua New Guinea to the east, has one of the world’s least spoilt and most stunning ecosystems.
Its rainforests are the third biggest in the world after the Amazon and the Congo, and, while the island covers just 0.5% of the Earth’s landmass, it contains up to 8% of the world’s species, the WWF says.
What was previously known about New Guinea’s biodiversity was already breathtaking, such as the world’s biggest butterfly with a 30-centimetre wingspan — and giant rats that can grow up to a metre long.
Scientists believe that one square kilometre of the island’s lowland rainforest may contain as many as 150 bird species.
The 1,060 species confirmed by researchers as new discoveries in 1998-2008 are believed to have only scratched the surface of the island’s dazzling ecosystems.
“Such is the extent of New Guinea’s biodiversity that new discoveries are commonplace even today,” WWF said in its report, Final Frontier: Newly Discovered Species of New Guinea.
One of its most notable finds is a round-headed, snub-finned dolphin, which swims in protected, shallow coastal waters near rivers and creek mouths.
Discovered in 2005 in Papua New Guinea, it was the first new dolphin species recorded anywhere in the world in three decades, and is now known to also exist in Australia, WWF said.
Another of the 12 mammals was an anteater named in honour of British naturalist Sir David Attenborough, Sir David’s Long-beaked Echinda 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 tiny size — just one centimetre in length — while one had vampire-like fangs.
Nine snail species, some so colourful as to be almost unrecognizable from the backyard-garden-type variety, were among the 580 new invertebrates discovered.
One of the snails was bright yellow, while another was green and yellow.
Among the other new invertebrates was a apricot-coloured crayfish, part of the family of creatures called “yabbies” in Australia and some other parts of the world.
WWF said the most extraordinary freshwater discovery was a 2.5-metre-long river shark found in Papua New Guinea that has since also 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 12-14 centimetres long, had scales over its eyes so it could not see, could not bite and had no venom.