Scientists have discovered that a songbird in West Africa they've been chasing for years may have never existed at all.
A remarkable new study claims that a super-rare songbird in Africa that scientists have been trying to find for many years may have never existed. Researchers had been searching high and low for the Liberian Greenbul since the 1980s, but it seems that what they were looking for was simply a common bird in the area with a slight variation on plumage.
Phyllastrephus leucolepis, as the bird is called in the scientific world, was first spotted in the early 1980s in Liberia, and it was seen a total of nine times between 1981 and 1984. Scientists thought it was a new species, and even managed to capture a specimen in 1984, but were unsuccessful in locating the bird in the years since.
But when scientists went back and analyzed the specimen they had, they found that its DNA was not significantly different from the Icterine Greenbul, a common species of bird in the area. Its only difference are some white spots on its feathers, which could be explained as simply a slight variation in plumage from the typical Icterine Greenbul.
“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,” the university statement reads. “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.”