Scientists have searched far and wide for decades for the elusive Liberian Greenbul, only to discover it may have never existed in the first place.
As we recently reported, scientists have just determined that an extremely rare songbird called the Liberian Greenbul may have never existed at all, but it’s the truly bizarre way that this bird was conjured into existence by scientists, touching off a decades-long search, that makes this story unique.
The scene was 1981, and the setting was the West African country of Liberia. A strange bird was spotted that looked quite a bit like the Icterine Greenbul, a common bird in the area, but it had strange white spots on the wings. Scientists were sure that they had a new species on their hands, and the bird was spotted nine times up until 1984 – researchers even managed to get a specimen.
Phyllastrephus leucolepis, as it was called scientifically, became an obsession for many ornithologists looking for a challenge, but in the 33 years since it had last been sighted, still no one had seen it. Had they been looking in the wrong places? Had it gone extinct? A new study claims that, in fact, Phyllastrephus leucolepis never existed.
What scientists had been searching for for the last three decades was right under their noses the whole time. It was just an Icterine Greenbul with an unusual plumage variation. They figure that out by testing the DNA of the specimen they captured all those years ago. All of the searching was for naught, as it turns out. It’s unfortunate they weren’t able to make the discovery sooner.
“One of the world’s most elusive species of songbird may be so hard to spot because it never existed in the first place, according to new research from the University of Aberdeen,” reads the statement from the University of Aberdeen. “The Liberian Greenbul (Phyllastrephus leucolepis) has eluded experts for decades after it was spotted in a forest in the West African country in the early 1980s. The only specimen that exists differs from the commonly found Icterine Greenbul by the distinctive white spots on its feathers. The Liberian Greenbul has long been one of the world’s most poorly known bird species and was listed as Critically Endangered up until 2016. Now DNA analysis by experts at the University of Aberdeen has concluded that the Liberian Greenbul is most likely an unusual plumage variant of the Icterine Greenbul, possibly caused by nutritional deficiency while the feathers were growing.”