UF scientists discover new genus of frogmouth bird in Solomon Islands

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: UF scientists discover new genus of frogmouth bird in Solomon Islands
From: L&L Knight <>
Date: Sat, 21 Apr 2007 12:39:58 +1000
One for the Oceanic twitchers and taxonomists  ...

UF scientists discover new genus of frogmouth bird in Solomon Islands
Filed under Research, Natural History ,Sciences on Thursday, April 19, 2007.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Your bird field guide may be out of date now that University of Florida scientists discovered a new genus of frogmouth
bird on a South Pacific island.

New genera of living birds are rare discoveries — fewer than one per year is announced globally. David Steadman and Andrew Kratter , ornithologists at the Florida Museum of Natural History , turned up the surprising new discovery on a collecting expedition in the Solomon Islands. Theirs is the first frogmouth from these islands to be caught by scientists in more than 100 years. They immediately recognized it
was something different.

Kratter and Steadman are co-authors to a study analyzing the
frogmouth’s morphology, or physical form, and DNA in comparison to two other living genera of frogmouths. The findings are published in the
April print edition of Ibis: The International Journal of Avian
Science, in a paper that describes the bird as a new genus and species, now named Rigidipenna inexpectata.

“This discovery underscores that birds on remote Pacific islands are still poorly known, scientifically speaking,” Steadman said. “Without the help of local hunters, we probably would have overlooked the

Originally, the bird was misclassified as a subspecies of the
Australian Marbled Frogmouth, Podargus ocellatus. The blunder went
undetected for decades, until a collecting trip led by Kratter in 1998 turned up a specimen on Isabel, a 1,500-square-mile island in the
Solomons. Today, the only museum specimen of this bird in the world,
with an associated skin and skeleton, is housed at the Florida Museum.

Frogmouths are predatory birds named for their strikingly wide, strong beak that resembles a frog’s mouth; but their beak also sports a small, sharp hook more like an owl’s. Steadman said their beaks are like no other bird’s in the world. They eat insects, rodents, small birds — and
yes, even frogs.
For perspective on the scale of evolutionary difference between genera, consider that modern humans and Neanderthals are different species
within the same genus (Homo), while chimpanzees are our living
relatives from a closely related genus (Pan), but that we share the
same taxonomic family (Hominidae) with our chimp cousins.

The Solomon Islands Frogmouth differs from other frogmouths in a number of significant ways. First, it is probably not as accomplished of a flier because its eight tail-feathers, instead of the typical 10 to 12 on other frogmouths, curtail its lift potential, and its much coarser
feathers reduce maneuverability.

“These are island adaptations that work to keep the bird on the
island,” Steadman said.

Second, it has distinct barring on the primary wing feathers and tail
feathers, where other frogmouths are more uniform. Its speckles are
larger, and the white spots on its breast and underbelly are more
pronounced than on other frogmouths.

Two other genera of frogmouths exist: one in southeast Asia and the
other in Australia and New Guinea. The Solomon Islands Frogmouth is
known to inhabit three islands: Isabel, Bougainville and Guadalcanal.

Van Remsen, curator of birds at the Louisiana State University Museum
of Natural Science , said that this new frogmouth genus serves as a
poignant reminder that birds of the tropics, particularly from
southeast Asia to Melanesia, have been paid scant attention by science.

“They’ve barely been studied, much of what we know comes from
antiquated or casual observations,” Remsen said. “The biology of birds
in these regions is, to a great extent, obscured by stale, hand-me-down classifications from an earlier era. A combination of detailed
morphological and genetic analyses reveal that this frogmouth —
formerly dismissed as just a race of an existing species — actually
cannot be placed confidently in any existing genus, and so the data
demand naming a new one.”

Storrs Olson, a senior zoologist with the Smithsonian Institution ,
said that frogmouths are an enigmatic group of birds to begin with.

“That this should prove to be such a distinctive new genus, which it unquestionably is, has profound biogeographical implications and represents a real breakthrough in elucidating the evolutionary history of the family,” Olson said.

Nigel Cleere of the The Natural History Museum in the United Kingdom is the lead author for the paper and additional co-authors include:
Michael Braun and Christopher Huddleston of the Smithsonian
Institution, Christopher Filardi of the University of Washington’s
Burke Museum and Guy Dutson.

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