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Scientists Discover New Species of Tapaculo Hidden in a Museum Drawer for 70 Years

First Posted: Mar 13, 2015 07:44 PM EDT

Scientists may have discovered an entirely new species that was hidden in a museum drawer for more than 70 years. Researchers have uncovered a new species of tropical bird that was misidentified when it was first discovered.

The new species is called the Perija Tapaculo. Tapaculos are a family of mostly small black or brown songbirds that live in South and Central America. These birds forage for insects in grasslands and forest undergrowth.

In 1941 and 1942, an ornithologist journeyed to the western slope of the Serrania de Perija mountain range on the Columbian-Venezuelan border, where he collected 27 tapaculo specimens. At the time, these specimens were misidentified and then eventually forgotten.

In 2008 and 2009, though, a new set of specimens and sound recordings was collected in the same region. After conducting a genetic analysis and analyzing the birds' appearance and calls, the scientists realized that they had discovered a new species. The species has a buffy belly, grey back and brown nape. Its song and calls are also distinctly different from other tapaculos.

"While it was known that two species occurred in the Perija mountains, it was a distinct surprise that the upper elevational form differs as much as 8 to 9 percent from its closest relatives," said Niels Krabbe, a tapaculo expert, in a news release. "This emphasizes the importance of the Perija mountains as an evolutionary center, and calls for further studies of its flora and fauna."

That said, the region is already in trouble. The Colombian slop is not protected by a national park, and the newly discovered species' habitat is not protected. The scientists actually recommend that a new national park be established in an effort to protect this and other species in the area.

The findings are published in the journal The Auk: Ornithological Advances.

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