Asian Bird Is a True Loner
© Per Alström

ScienceShot: Asian Bird Is a True Loner

A small, nondescript bird that spends most of its life heard but not seen is the sole member of a newly recognized group of perching birds. The spotted wren-babbler, formerly known as Spelaeornis formosus (shown), lives in Southeast Asia and spends much of its time flitting through dense undergrowth. At first glance, the drab creature—about the same size and shape as North America’s winter wren—looks, behaves, and inhabits the same sort of ecosystems as many other species in a particularly vocal group of warblerlike songbirds called babblers. But its high-pitched, multisyllabic song (listen above) is markedly different from those of other babblers, researchers note, and now they know why: Analyses reported online today in Biology Letters reveal that the bird is the lone species in a genetically distinct group of songbirds. As of now, it’s unclear when this bird’s lineage first evolved or whether other closely related species have died out, the researchers say. Because the genetic makeup of the spotted wren-babbler (based on two segments of mitochondrial DNA and five segments of nuclear DNA) is so different from that of other perching birds, the researchers suggest placing the bird in its own family and changing its Latin name to Elachura formosa.

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