Thursday, January 3, 2013

[Mammalogy • 2013] 20th century occurrence of the Long-Beaked Echidna Zaglossus bruijnii in the Kimberley region of Australia


Figure 2. Australian rock art of Zaglossus. Photograph of an Aboriginal rock art illustration from Arnhem Land depicting the characteristic long and down-curved beak (and whitish head of some specimens) of Zaglossus (see Murray and Chaloupka 1984). Photograph by G. Chaloupka.

The Western Long-Beaked Echidna Zaglossus bruijnii, one of the world's five egg-laying species of mammal, was thought to be extinct in Australia. However scientists have found evidence that it may still roam the country's north-western region. Credit: Tim Laman

Abstract 
The monotreme genus Zaglossus, the largest egg-laying mammal, comprises several endangered taxa today known only from New Guinea. Zaglossus is considered to be extinct in Australia, where its apparent occurrence (in addition to the large echidna genus Megalibgwilia) is recorded by Pleistocene fossil remains, as well as from convincing representations in Aboriginal rock art from Arnhem Land (Northern Territory). Here we report on the existence and history of a well documented but previously overlooked museum specimen (skin and skull) of the Western Long-Beaked Echidna (Zaglossus bruijnii) collected by John T. Tunney at Mount Anderson in the West Kimberley region of northern Western Australia in 1901, now deposited in the Natural History Museum, London. Possible accounts from living memory of Zaglossus are provided by Aboriginal inhabitants from Kununurra in the East Kimberley. We conclude that, like Tachyglossus, Zaglossus is part of the modern fauna of the Kimberley region of Western Australia, where it apparently survived as a rare element into the twentieth century, and may still survive. 

Keywords: Extinction, Kimberley, monotreme, Pleistocene survival, rock art, Zaglossus

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Figure 2. Australian rock art of Zaglossus. Photograph of an Aboriginal rock art illustration from Arnhem Land depicting the characteristic long and down-curved beak (and whitish head of some specimens) of Zaglossus (see Murray and Chaloupka 1984). Photograph by G. Chaloupka.


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.

Scientists discover that for Australia the long-beaked echidna may not be a thing of the past phys.org/news/2013-01-scientists-australia-long-beaked-echidna.html

Helgen KM, Miguez RP, Kohen JL, Helgen LE. 2012. Twentieth century occurrence of the Long-Beaked Echidna Zaglossus bruijnii in the Kimberley region of Australia. ZooKeys 255: 103–132. doi: dx.doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.255.3774

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