OCT 05, 2017 3:12 PM PDT

Did the Liberian Greenbul Ever Actually Exist?

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

In the 1980’s, researchers from West Africa discovered a distinctive songbird dubbed the Liberian Greenbul (Phyllastrephus leucolepis) in the Cavalla Forest. It was purportedly spotted nine different times between 1981 and 1984, but it was never seen in the wild again after researchers collected the first specimen for science.

The "Liberian Greenbul" may never have existed at all, a new study concludes.

Image Credit: Till Toepfer via University of Aberdeen

The mystery continues to elude animal conservationists to this day, and because no one has found another over 30 years later, the circumstances are raising some pressing questions about the species.

In fact, for a group of researchers led by Prof. Martin Collinson from the University of Aberdeen, the circumstances were pertinent enough to call the species’ existence into question entirely. They underscore their concerns in a new study published in the Journal of Ornithology.

One of the only cosmetic variations between the Liberian Greenbul and the common Icterine Greenbul are some white patches that appear in the bird’s plumage. Apart from that, you’d be hard-pressed to spot any others.

Nevertheless, looks alone can be deceiving.

The researchers went a step further and used genetic analyses to compare the Liberian Greenbul specimen's DNA with that of the Icterine Greenbul and other greenbul variants.

Related: Do songbirds get their songs from their genes?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, they discovered similar genetics between the Liberian and Icterine Greenbuls. On the other hand, there were significant genetic differences when compared to other Greenbul species. The implications of these findings cannot be ignored.

“The Liberian Greenbul has gained almost ‘mythical’ status since it was sighted in the ‘80s,” said Professor Collinson.

“We can’t say definitively that the Liberian Greenbul is the same bird as the Icterine Greenbul, but we have presented enough evidence that makes any other explanation seem highly unlikely. The genetic work was performed independently by scientists here in Aberdeen and in Dresden to make sure there could be no error – we both came to the same conclusion.”

Related: Is climate change is killing desert songbirds?

As it would seem from the analysis results, there’s justifiable cause to consider that the Liberian Greenbul never actually existed. What's more is that the specimen scientists are holding right this moment could instead be an Icterine Greenbul.

So why the distinct white patches then? According to the researchers, it might have been related to a nutritional deficiency during feather development. Still, this is just a theory and has yet to be confirmed.

Because we know so little about the Liberian Greenbul and the ecosystem where experts found it, this is a complicated mystery to crack. No one can be entirely sure that the Liberian Greenbul never existed, but there’s substantial scientific evidence to insinuate it.

Source: University of Aberdeen

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
DEC 27, 2019
Cannabis Sciences
DEC 27, 2019
USDA Approves First State Hemp Growing Plans
Hemp can be cultivated for use as fiber, building materials, CBD oil and more. This plant and its derivatives were legalized federally under the 2018 Farm...
JAN 19, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 19, 2020
Why aren't we meeting our forest restoration goals?
A new paper published recently in Conservation Letters hopes to encourage more support for countries aiming to meet their ambitious forest restoration goal...
JAN 21, 2020
Earth & The Environment
JAN 21, 2020
Scientists Assess GHG Emissions Related to Palm Oil Land Conversion
Palm oil production remains problematic in several ways, and a new study from researchers at the University of Nottingham has quantified one of these probl...
FEB 10, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
FEB 10, 2020
The Broken Genes of the Last Woolly Mammoths
Wooly mammoths are thought to have died out around 4,000 years ago in a remote area off the Siberian coast, called Wrangel Island....
FEB 16, 2020
Plants & Animals
FEB 16, 2020
These Jellyfish Deliver Stings Without Touching You
Most people are accustomed to thinking that if you avoid a jellyfish’s tentacles while swimming in the ocean, then you won’t be stung. For the...
FEB 18, 2020
Plants & Animals
FEB 18, 2020
This Wasp Turns Cockroaches Into Zombies for its Larvae
We can’t think of anyone that likes cockroaches, but one insect in particular seems to scout them out specifically for its own bizarre reasons. The e...
Loading Comments...