This week, a team of vertebrate specialists from the Museum—Brett Benz, Chris Raxworthy, Paul Sweet, and Neil Duncan—are heading out to one of the most remote areas in the world in search of new species and specimens on the Explore21 Papua New Guinea expedition.
They are following in the footsteps of biologist Ernst Mayr, who made the first trip to New Guinea on behalf of the Museum in 1927. The Pacific island, which today consists of Indonesian provinces in the west and the country of Papua New Guinea in the east, has a disproportionately rich flora and fauna: about 7 percent of the world’s species live in an area that is only approximately 0.5 percent of the Earth’s land mass.
Assuming his laptop survives the rain and humidity, team member Paul Sweet will be blogging intrepidly from the field—and finding his way from underneath dense canopy cover to send back posts over a satellite phone. Sweet answered a few questions on the eve of the team’s departure.
Why Papua New Guinea? What do you hope to find?
We’re undertaking intensive biodiversity surveys in one of the most remote and least studied regions of the globe: the Strickland-Lagaip Divide in Papua New Guinea. We will be collecting birds, mammals, herps [reptiles and amphibians], as well as their parasites and viruses. We’re anticipating discovering new species of reptiles and amphibians, parasites, and viruses. Current estimates are that less than half of the amphibian species in Papua New Guinea have been discovered.
What are some of the more unusual animals you expect to see on this trip?
Perhaps the strangest mammal we may encounter is the long-beaked echidna, a spiny monotreme— a mammal that lays eggs. We may also see some of the many diverse marsupials such as tree kangaroos, bandicoots, quolls, and dunnarts. The fruit bats known as flying foxes that occur in New Guinea are some of the world’s largest.
Read the complete interview on the Museum blog.