New Critters in New Guinea

A tree frog and a tiny wallaby are just a few of the new animals discovered in Indonesia

May 19, 2010 | By Vickie An

In 2008, an international team of researchers was camping in the Foja Mountains of Indonesia when they spied a visitor. A tiny frog had hopped into the campsite. It had a trunk-like nose that inflated and pointed upward when it called out. When the frog grew quiet, its nose deflated and drooped downward.

"We were sitting around eating lunch," recalled Chris Milensky, a scientist with the Smithsonian. That's when another researcher in the group, Paul Oliver, "looked down and there's this little frog on a rice sack, and he managed to grab the thing," Milensky said.

The campsite crasher, nicknamed Pinocchio by the scientists, turned out to be a previously unknown species of long-nosed tree frog. And it wasn't the only new critter the team discovered on the expedition. On May 16, the researchers announced the results of their 2008 survey. Among the new species on the list: a tiny wallaby, a bent-toed gecko, a giant woolly rat, and more.

The Lost World

The Foja Mountains are located on the western part of the Indonesian island of New Guinea. Not many scientists have explored the region's remote tropical rainforest. Researchers from the environmental group Conservation International led the 2008 expedition. The outing was part of Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program, which sends scientists to specific sites to conduct a census of the wildlife. This helps in giving lawmakers the information they need to protect the land.

Smithsonian scientist Milensky says the four-week trek was far from easy. The team covered an area that ranged from the foot of the Foja Mountains to peaks that rise 7,200 feet high. They faced heavy rainstorms daily and regular flooding that threatened to wash away the camp. It was extremely wet," Milensky remembers. "The camp just turned into a complete mud bog." But the team kept going.

Good News for Animals

Kristofer M. Helgen oversees the mammal exhibit at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. He says one of the most amazing animals the team observed was the extremely rare golden-mantled tree kangaroo. Different from its cousin in Australia, this kangaroo has adapted to forest life. "It can jump into a tree and scurry right up it," Helgen said. "But on the ground it hops around like any kangaroo."

The group also discovered a dwarf wallaby that they believe could be the smallest known member of the kangaroo family. Other interesting finds included a pair of imperial pigeons with white, gray and rust-colored feathers, and a black-and-white butterfly.

"The discovery of these absolutely incredible forms of life is much needed positive news," said Bruce Beehler, who took part in the Foja expedition. "Places like these represent a healthy future for all of us and show that it is not too late to stop the current species extinction crisis."