There are phenomenal jungles all over the world. Most people have heard of the rainforests in South America and India, but there are many more that have their own unique characteristics and animals. One of these little-known jungles is on the island of New Guinea.
New Guinea is the world’s second-largest island, situated a bit north of Australia. Politically, it is split into two parts. The western half is composed of Papua and West Papua, which are provinces of Indonesia, and the eastern half, called Papua New Guinea, is an independent nation. In Papua New Guinea, there are 832 different languages spoken and Papua New Guinean Sign Language is their fourth official language. Much of the jungle in Papua New Guinea is community-owned by indigenous groups who view humans as an integral part of nature and treat the land with the respect it deserves. Unfortunately, as it grows, the indigenous people are being pushed aside and parts of the jungle are being destroyed.
Approximately 65% of the island is rainforest and, although small compared to many other jungles in the world, this jungle contains somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of the total species on earth. Scientists estimate that there are more than 200,000 species of insect, 11,000 plant species, and 650 bird species which have still not been discovered in New Guinea. It also has the distinction of a large area of coral life, containing 1,200 species of fish with more than 600 species of reef-building coral.
Somehow, this island contains many species which hold the world record for being the largest, smallest, or most dangerous of their kind. The world’s largest pigeon, longest lizard, tallest tropical tree, largest butterfly, and smallest parrot all make their home in New Guinea.
Raggiana Bird of Paradise
This beautiful bird is the national bird of the eastern half of the island, Papua New Guinea, and their flag shows the silhouette of a male in flight. In contrast to their parents’ beautiful colors, babies are dark brown when they are born, and it takes 7 years to fully acquire adult plumage. An adult’s body is about a foot long, and the male’s tail feathers can add another two feet. The tail feathers are a prominent feature when males perform spectacular, and extremely noisy, courtship displays.
Banded Sea Krait
The banded sea krait lives on land and in the ocean. These snakes drink fresh water, nest, shed their skin, and rest on land. Paddle-like tails and the ability to hold their breath for 15 to 30 minutes helps them spend a lot of time in the ocean. The coral reefs are their hunting grounds, where they excel at hunting eels. Although banded sea kraits have a potent venom which paralyzes their prey, they are docile and usually will not bite humans even when provoked.
There are six species of white-lipped python, and five of these are native to New Guinea. This snake displays a beautiful rainbow hue in the right lighting and averages from seven to nine feet long. Although they are not venomous, white-lipped pythons are more aggressive than most snakes.
Echidnas are an interesting type of animal which is classified as a mammal but is also a monotreme. A monotreme has fur and their young drink milk from the mother like all mammals, but they lay eggs instead of giving birth to live babies. The eggs incubate in a pouch where they also hatch. Once they hatch, the baby is called a puggle. Once grown, they weigh between 10 and 20 pounds, their fur is mixed with spines like a hedgehog, and they have a beak instead of teeth.
Depending on the species, their beaks can be short or long. There are three species of long-beaked echidna and all three are only found on the island of New Guinea. Sadly, two of the long-beaked species are critically endangered. The beaks are amazing because they have electro-receptors which detect tiny electrical fields produced by the underground worms and insects it eats.
Southern Crowned Pigeon
Although they don’t look much like our grey pigeon, this beautiful bird is actually the largest pigeon species in the world! It averages 28 inches long and weighs 5 pounds. Even in the wild they act very tame and like to eat seeds, berries, and fruit. They are intelligent birds and like to stay in pairs or small groups because they get lonely when separated from the others.
Queen Alexandra Birdwing Butterfly
This may look like your average beautiful butterfly, but it is the largest butterfly in the world. A female’s body is about three inches long and her wingspan is almost 10 inches across! The females are usually different shades of brown, white, and yellow. Although the males are slightly smaller than the females, they get to show brilliant shades of turquoise, green, yellow, black and brown.
Cute little bats are fun to watch fly around at dusk but imagine if their wingspan reached over three feet and they weighed almost two pounds! That is exactly what it would be like to see a black flying fox, which is just one species of flying fox found in New Guinea. Like all bats, they sleep during the day and roost in groups that may contain tens of thousands of individuals. Unlike most other bats, they have good eyesight and do not use echolocation.
Although they may seem creepy, flying foxes do not care about people and eat pollen, nectar, and fruits. Like humans, flying foxes have incisors, canine teeth, premolars, and molars with a set of primary teeth which fall out and are replaced with permanent teeth.
The Cassowary holds the Guinness World Record for being the most dangerous bird. As tall as the average man, cassowaries cannot fly, but they are great swimmers, can jump 7 feet into the air, and run 31 miles an hour. Their powerful feet each have three toes and a claw that can be 4 inches long. When threatened, they may leap up and deliver a devastatingly powerful kick which can injure or kill whatever threatened them. Although cassowaries possess all these skills, they are not aggressive and prefer to run away unless they or their young are being threatened.
Salvadore's Monitor Lizard
Reaching 8 feet long, Salvadore's Monitor Lizards are the longest lizard in the world. Given their size, it is not surprising that other names for them are crocodile monitor or tree crocodile. Native tribespeople use Salvadore’s monitor lizards’ skin to make drums but also believe they are an evil spirit who “climbs trees, walks upright, breathes fire, and kills men.” Crocodile monitors do climb trees, but the other three claims are mere superstitions.
Monitor lizards are the only reptile beside snakes that have forked tongues, which are used to scent prey. Unlike other monitor species which have blunt peg-like teeth, crocodile monitors have long, fang-like upper teeth which help them catch birds, bats, rodents, and small mammals. Their specialized teeth also help them hold prey in their mouth while climbing up or down trees. Sharp claws help them climb, and their long tails help these giant lizards balance while climbing.
Tree kangaroos are similar to the larger land-dwelling kangaroo, but they spend most of their lives in treetops. Like kangaroos, they have one baby at a time, called a joey, which lives in its mother’s pouch until it can survive on its own. They are also expert jumpers and can jump almost 60 feet down to the ground without being hurt! Although they are omnivores, tree kangaroos prefer to eat leaves and fruit.
This little bird doesn’t look like much compared to the other colorful, amazing animals seen in the jungle. So how did it make the list? It is one of three types of birds in New Guinea that are poisonous! They eat poisonous melyrid beetles and, instead of getting sick or dying from the poison, it gets sequestered in their skin and feathers. If anything tries to eat a little shrike-thrush the poison delivers a nasty surprise. What a great defense mechanism!
New Guinea is one of the few places on earth where indigenous communities still live in harmony with nature. Although much is still unknown about the jungles on this island, the information we have gathered is fascinating. Many of the animals have unique characteristics that stand out from the rest of the world. We hope you learned something interesting about these phenomenal animals and look forward to seeing you at your next dental or orthodontic appointment with us at Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry and Orthodontics!
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