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UF scientists discover new genus of frogmouth bird in Solomon Islands

Your bird field guide may be out of date now that University of Florida scientists discovered a new genus of frogmouth bird on a South Pacific island.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

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,
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Source:University of Florida


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