Saturday, 5 January 2013

Egg-Laying Mammal: Scientists Discover That for Australia the Long-Beaked Echidna May Not Be a Thing of the Past


Jan. 2, 2013 — The western long-beaked echidna, one of the world's five egg-laying species of mammal, became extinct in Australia thousands of years ago…or did it? Smithsonian scientists and colleagues have found evidence suggesting that not only did these animals survive in Australia far longer than previously thought, but that they may very well still exist in parts of the country today.

The team's findings are published in the Dec. 28, 2012 issue of the journal ZooKeys.

With a small and declining population confined to the Indonesian portion of the island of New Guinea, the western long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijnii) is listed as "Critically Endangered" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. It is also considered extinct in Australia, where fossil remains from the Pleistocene epoch demonstrate that it did occur there tens of thousands of years ago. Ancient Aboriginal rock art also supports the species' former presence in Australia. However, no modern record from Australia was known to exist until scientists took a closer look at one particular specimen stored in cabinets in the collections of the Natural History Museum in London. Previously overlooked, the specimen's information showed that it was collected from the wild in northwestern Australia in 1901―thousands of years after they were thought to have gone extinct there.


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