A scientific expedition in a treacherous mountain range on the island of New Guinea has collected the first-ever photographic evidence confirming the survival of a bizarre, egg-laying mammal.

The team also found dozens of undescribed species of insects, as well as newfound arachnids, amphibians and even a shrimp that dwells in trees.

This rediscovered mammal, known as Attenborough's long-beaked echidna [ named for Sir David Attenborough], has '' the quills of a hedgehog, the snout of a anteater and the feet of a mole,'' said James Kempton, a biologist at the University of Oxford [ who led the expedition to the Cyclops Mountains in the Indonesia of Papua] .

Most details about the life history of this critically endangered mammal, which is slightly smaller than a house cat, remain a total mystery.

For years, it was feared to be extinct. The only prior scientific record of the species was a specimen collected in 1961.

'' So it is really valuable to understand that it still occurs in the Cyclops Mountains,'' Kristofer Helgen, a mammalogist and director of the Australian Museum Research Institute who wasn't involved in the expedition.

'' To me, these are some of the most special animals on Earth. ''

The species is one of the five living monotremes, a strange group of primitive mammals that includes the platypus and three other echidna species Monotremes diverged from the common ancestors of other mammals about 200 million years ago.

The five species lay eggs and nurse their young with milk that oozes through pores in their skin, as they lack nipples ; they have snouts that sense movements and electrical currents in prey.

In a patch of forest towards the top of Cyclops Mountains, the researchers found  an unusual type of shrimp.

These crustaceans, slightly larger than grains of rice, were all over the place - in trees, moss and rotting logs and even under rocks, said Leonidas-Romanos Davranoglou, the expedition's lead entomologist, who works at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

'' It's a very weird creature,'' Dr. Davranoglu said, noting that it's able to leap three or four feet in the air [ more than a meter ] to escape predators.

There are about nine other species of terrestrial shrimp, all of which live by the shore and are known as beach hoppers.

'' Our species definitely hops, but it lives nowhere near a beach,'' Dr. Davranoglou quipped.

The World Students Society thanks Douglas Main.


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