Cyclops Mountains Expedition Makes Amazing Finds

Team captured first images of a platypus relative long feared extinct
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 19, 2023 7:33 AM CST

The Cyclops Mountains in a remote part of Indonesia are not an easy place to explore—but braving the rugged terrain—and leeches that drop from trees—was worth it, expedition members say. An expedition led by Oxford University researchers found dozen of creatures new to science and one that was only known from a flattened specimen collected by a Dutch researcher in 1961, the BBC reports. A camera trap captured video clips of Sir David Attenborough's long-beaked echidna, one of five surviving species of egg-laying mammals known as monotremes. The other four include the platypus and three other echidna species.

Researchers had feared that the echidna, which is around the size of a cat, was extinct. The team spent a month in the mountains and found evidence of the shy, nocturnal creature on the last day, NPR reports. "It was the very last images, from the final camera that we collected, on the final day of the last ascent of the expedition," biologist James Kempton says. "It was intense relief initially because we spent so much effort—and then euphoria." The spiny, furry species was identified and named after British biologist Attenborough in 1998 when X-rays of the decades-old specimen determined that it was a previously unknown species, not a juvenile of another echidna species.

The expedition into rainforest more than 6,000 feet above sea level in Indonesia's Papua province also found two new species of frogs, including one they dubbed the goblin-nosed frog, dozens of previously unknown insect species, and a species of tree-dwelling shrimp. New species of blind spiders and crickets were found after a researcher fell into a hole that turned out to be part of a cave system, the New York Times reports. The researchers explored steep, treacherous terrain and experienced two earthquakes during the expedition. "You're slipping all over the place. You're being scratched and cut," Kempton tells the BBC. "There are venomous animals around you, deadly snakes like the death adder," he says.

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Kempton describes the landscape as "magical, at once enchanting and dangerous, like something out of a Tolkien book." The researchers say they worked closely with members of the Yongsu Sapari community, who consider the mountains sacred. Elders cited by the university said there was a tradition of resolving conflicts by telling one party to search the mountains for an echidna and the other to search the ocean for a marlin, reports Reuters. "That can sometimes take decades," says expedition member Madeleine Foote. "Meaning it closes the conflict for the community and symbolizes peace." (More endangered species stories.)

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