Scientists have determined that a very rare songbird may have never existed at all, and the story of how they came to this conclusion is fascinating.
Scientists have been searching far and wide for the elusive songbird known as the Liberian Greenbul, but they may have been chasing nothing after all. New research indicates that this songbird species thought to live in West Africa may have never existed at all.
The bird, Phyllastrephus leucolepis, has been sought ever since it was supposedly discovered in the 1980s in the forest of a West African country. Since then it was spotted about nine times between 1981 and 1984 in eastern Liberia and was thought to be a new species based on one that was captured in 1984, but scientists had been unsuccessful in finding it since.
But after analyzing their only specimen – which differs from a common relative, the Icterine Greenbul, by way of its white spots on its feathers – they determined that there was no significant genetic difference between the two species, and that this bird was most likely simply a variant of the Icterine Greenbul with a different feather pattern.
“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. “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.”