Hunters presented Kris Helgen with other treasures: a tiny wallaby—"It could be the world's smallest true kangaroo," he said of the cottontail-size animal—and a rare, bizarre, long-beaked echidna. This monotreme, an egg-laying mammal related to the platypus, possesses a snout with electroreceptors that help it locate earthworms, which it spears with a harpoon-like, barbed tongue and slurps into its toothless mouth like strands of spaghetti. "This thing is the weirdest mammal in the world," Helgen said, acknowledging, among other attributes, the echidna's muscular body, its sharp spines formed from modified hairs, the female's production of milk through mammary patches (there are no nipples), and the male's four-pronged penis. "It's my favorite mammal," he added—a fact surely not unrelated to the animal's surpassing strangeness and to the challenge of studying it. No one—no scientist, no known New Guinea tribesperson—has ever seen a baby long-beaked echidna.
Daily life in camp came with costs beyond the work of collecting and preparing specimens. Leeches left bloody welts on everyone's legs; nettles caused painful rashes. One night, figuratively at least, it rained maggots inside Helgen's tent. Flies had laid hundreds of eggs on the mesh tent top, and the larvae had hatched, wriggling and hungry. Another night one of the local men ruined the team's entire supply of kerosene when he mistook it for water, poured it into a pot, and added rice to cook dinner. Still, no one stayed discouraged for long at Bog Camp.
Daylight began with birdsong—especially that of the loud and ubiquitous lesser ground-robin, whose notes recall the first two bars of Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer." The daily routine was punctuated by the harsh screeching of flocks of small parrots called lorikeets, which zoomed overhead like red-and-green bullets; the constant hooing of white-breasted fruit-doves, which magically stayed hidden in the treetops despite brilliant green-and-yellow plumage; and the literally end-less drip of water on tent tops. At day's end came the deafening calls of cicadas—the 5:30 type sounding like car alarms, the 6:00 type resembling police sirens. Then night fell, and frogs chimed in, peeping and beeping like a forest full of 1950s sci-fi robots gone insane.
Each day brought discovery and surprise, from the rare, indeed near-mythic, golden-mantled tree kangaroo (its scientific name is Dendrolagus pulcherrimus, which means "most beautiful tree hare") to the bounty of moths that Brother Henk collected every night, seeming to comprise every possible combination of shape and color.