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Uncharted Territory: Scientists Discover New and Incredible Species

June 6, 2013

By Bridget Conneely - It’s every scientist’s dream to travel to a remote, unexplored place looking for as many new and interesting species as they can find. This was a dream come true for the 15 Mozambican and international scientists, led by Piotr Naskrecki, who spent 3 weeks in the Cheringoma Plateau of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. There couldn’t have been a more adventurous setting for this expedition than the sheer limestone cliffs, studded with deep caves, cascading down to the lush riverine forest and rushing streams of the gorges below. The scientists’ mission was to collect and record information on the species of this region to help park managers understand and protect Gorongosa’s biodiversity. 


A portrait of Tree frog (Leptopeles flavomaculatus), one of 33 species of frogs recorded on the Cheringoma Plateau (Piotr Naskrecki)


In total, the team recorded over 1,200 species (and counting) including 182 bird species, 54 mammal species, 47 reptile species, 33 frog species, over 100 ant species, and 320 plant species. Some of the notable finds on the survey were the “Chewbacca Bat”, named after the Star Wars character; a strange, cave-dwelling frog that is possibly new to science; an ant that is incapable of walking on flat surfaces; a bombardier beetle that defends itself by producing small explosions from its abdomen; and several katydids that are new to science. 


A portrait of the “Chewbacca bat” (Triaenops persicus) recorded during the survey of the Cheringoma Plateau. (Piotr Naskrecki)


Tumbling ant (Melissotarsus emeryi) is the world’s only ant incapable of walking on flat surfaces. This species spends its live inside narrow passage deep in the wood of trees and can only move by pushing its short legs below and above the body at the same time. (Piotr Naskrecki)


Bombardier beetle (Cerapterus lacerates) produces small, audible explosions by expelling volatile, highly reactive chemicals from its abdomen (Piotr Naskrecki)


The scientists used a variety of methods on the survey including pitfall traps, mist nets, pheromone traps, remote cameras, and ultrasonic sound detectors. They explored uncharted territory in Gorongosa, descending into caves in deep limestone gorges, and ascending the tall canopies of trees using advanced tree climbing and repelling techniques. 


Nhagutua, an unexplored limestone gorge in the northern part of the Cheringoma plateau (Piotr Naskrecki)


This was the first comprehensive biodiversity survey in the history of this 4,000sqkm  protected area, and its results will help guide the restoration effort to reverse biodiversity losses suffered by the park during the armed conflicts that devastated Mozambique from 1975 until 1992. By understanding what species exist in Gorongosa, park management can make better decisions about how to protect the park’s biodiversity and its rare and threatened species. 


Scientist Jennifer Guyton releasing bats caught during the survey after having taken their body measurements. (Piotr Naskrecki)


The Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory, in honor of E.O. Wilson’s support, is a modern science laboratory scheduled to open in Gorongosa soon. Specimens collected during the survey will form the foundation of a biological research collection that will be housed in the lab. And information collected by the survey’s scientists will contribute to the park’s biodiversity database, a tool that helps manage and protect its natural resources.


Sylvan katydid (Acauloplax exigua), a species found for the first time in over 100 years since it was originally described (Piotr Naskrecki)


Flap-necked chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis) from the Cheringoma Plateau (Piotr Naskrecki)


A portrait of a slender praying mantis (Idolomorpha dentifrons) from the Cheringoma Plateau. (Piotr Naskrecki)