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The Rare Bird That Never Existed

The Liberian Greenbul was an exceptionally rare songbird. So rare, indeed, that there was just one deceased specimen for scientists to study. The bird was first spotted in a West African forest 25 years ago. It exhibited distinctive white spots across its plumage that distinguished it from its common cousin, the Icterine Greenbul.

Greenbul Mystery

The absence of any further examples of this bird had experts wondering whether the species had become extinct. Now, science has unravelled the mystery of this incredibly illusive bird. It transpires that there is no such thing as a Liberian Greenbul. DNA analysis of the only available specimen has revealed that the bird is actually just an Icterine Greenbul with unusual plumage. The Liberian Greenbul has proved hard to find because it doesn’t exist.

How Many Species Don’t Really Exist?

Variants in coats and plumage could explain many similar mysteries. One wonders just how many species are not separate species at all but rather interesting individuals who just happen to look a little different to the rest of the family! It is likely that advances in DNA analysis will continue to enlighten us all.

Rare Penguin

The Liberian Greenbul isn’t the only bird which is now known never to have existed. The Hunter Island Penguin has also turned out to be a myth. This bird was thought to have lived around Tasmania but to have become extinct. But DNA testing has now shown that the bones from which the species was identified are actually a mixture of remains from other penguins including the Fiordland crested, the Snares crested, and the little fairy.

Chimeras and Unicorns

If you dig up what you believe to be a chimera it must be very disappointing to discover that your find is actually just an animal lover who was buried with their pet chimpanzee! One wonders if similar mish-mashes of bones could explain the legend of the unicorn. Palaeontology is particularly plagued by issues with identification. It is estimated that as many as a third of all species of dinosaur which have been identified may never have existed as separates species.

Oxen and Cougars

Birds are not the only animals which are being examined. In 2006 the kouprey, an endangered Cambodian ox with huge horns, was found to be a feral hybrid of common wild oxen. The eastern cougar, native to New Brunswick, is almost certainly just a regular cougar according to local zoologists.

Things aren’t always what they appear to be in the natural world. DNA testing should prove invaluable in identifying exactly which creatures are separate species and which are merely quirky looking specimens of more common creatures. As human beings, we should know all about quirky looking specimens!


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