"This could be the rarest animal in the world," says biologist Peter Ward, who first found the creature in 1984. Papua New Guinea wildlife represents almost 7 percent of the world's biodiversity; it is home to more than 200 species of mammals and 700 species of birds, and about 21,000 species of plants, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
A rare species of nautilus has been spotted off the coast of Papau New Guinea for the first time in over thirty years. Located about 100 miles north of Australia, Papua New Guinea (PNG) occupies half of the world’s second largest island. Its wildlife represents almost 7 percent of the world’s biodiversity, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. It is also home to more than 200 species of mammals, and 700 species of birds, and about 21,000 species of plants.
A small, distant cousin of squid and cuttlefish, the nautilus belongs to an ancient group that appeared in the late Cambrian period, several million years before the first primitive fish began swimming in the ocean. It is often referred to as a “living fossil” because its distinctive shell appears in the fossil record over a 500 million year period.
Biologists studying the re-discovered nautilus (formally known as Allonautilus scobiculatus) have found that it is unique from its closest nautilus relatives. Its gills, jaws, shell shape and male reproductive system differ structurally from its closest relatives.
Also, the elusive creature differs in a very obvious way: “It has this thick, hairy, slimy covering on its shell,” said biologist Peter Ward of the University of Washington, who made the recent sighting. “When we first saw that, we were astounded.”
Papua New Guinea’s diverse climate conditions combined with its geographic isolation over millions of years to produce an ideal environment for many rare flora and fauna to flourish. In addition to interesting sea creatures, there are more than 40 species of bird of paradise, most found only in New Guinea. The males exhibit dramatic, vibrant plumage and a wide array of physical displays—including bewildering “dances” that help them attract mates.
Unfortunately, inadequate environmental protections have pushed many of these animals to the point of extinction.
“This could be the rarest animal in the world,” says Professor Ward. “We need to know if Allonautilus is anywhere else, and we won’t know until we go out there and look.”