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Inti tanager: the new species and genus of bird discovered in Peru

Lima, November 11, 2021Updated 11/11/2021 04:06 pm

San Diego State University ornithologist Kevin Burns has discovered in Peru a new species and genus of bird, Heliothraupis oneilli, not previously described in any field guide.

The common name of the bird, You are a tanner, owes its name to the word sun in Quechua, the indigenous language of the tropical mountainous area that it inhabits, in keeping with its vivid yellow feathers and its tendency to sing at noon. It is described in an article published in Ornithology.

Burns’ colleagues from Louisiana State University first saw the bird while leading a birding tour more than twenty years ago, in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in Peru. But they were not able to collect enough genetic material to analyze until 2011 when they found more specimens breeding in the vicinity of Bolivia during the rainy season.

Then Burns and his graduate students were able to analyze nearly 5,000 genes to understand how this bird fit into the puzzle of more than 300 species of this class of birds, the second most diverse family of birds.

When comparing the You are a tanner With the species sharing the most genetic similarities, only some had a yellow coloration and none had a bright orange-pink bill. It is also very unusual for them to migrate between tropical regions. The genetic analysis combined with the unique appearance and behaviors led to the decision to propose it not only as a new species but also as a new genus.

When asked why a new genus and species of birds is important, Burns replied: “If we want to maintain ecosystems, we have to know all the players.”

He compared it to a mechanic trying to start a car without knowing all the parts of a car and what they do. “We should be concerned about biodiversity for many reasons: philosophical, aesthetic, but also practical reasons”, Burns said in a statement. “All those creatures, birds or insects, have been evolving for millions of years and have been solving problems for millions of years that we might need to solve.”

Other unidentified species of flora and fauna may contain chemical compounds useful for treating disease or have special adaptations that can guide engineers in building more efficient machines based on evolution.


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