A group of researchers found a hummingbird with bright golden feathers on its throat in Peru’s Cordillera Azul National Park, they thought it was a newly discovered species.
The park, part of an outer ridge on the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains, it is an isolated place, the perfect place to find a genetically distinct species.
“I looked at the bird and said to myself: ‘This thing doesn’t look like any other.’ The first thing I thought was that it was a new species”John Bates, curator of birds at Chicago’s Field Museum, said in a statement.
After concluding their fieldwork in Peru and returning to the Field Museum for DNA analysis of the bird, the researchers made a startling discovery.
The bird had never been documented before, but it was a hybrid that resulted from two related hummingbird species: the rosy-throated glossy hummingbird, Heliodoxa gularis, and the rufous webbed glossy hummingbird, Heliodoxa branickii.
Both hummingbird species are known to have distinctly pink throat feathers, leading researchers to wonder how pink mixed with pink could result in golden feathers.
“We thought it would be genetically differentbut it matched Heliodoxa branickii in some markers, one of the rosy-throated hummingbirds from that general area of Peru,” Bates said.
Initial DNA analysis focused on mitochondrial DNA, which is transmitted from the mother’s side, and coincided with Heliodoxa branickii.
The researchers then looked at nuclear DNA, the result of genetic contributions from both parents of the bird, revealing aspects of Heliodoxa branickii and Heliodoxa gularis.
However, the golden-throated hummingbird was not the result of an even genetic split. One of its ancestors was probably an even mix of the two species, while later generations appeared to have mated with branickii hummingbirds.
A study that details published findings Wednesday in the Royal Society Open Science journal. Since it is rare for hummingbirds of the same species to have such different throat feathers, the researchers delved into the mystery of golden feathers in hybrid species.
“It’s a bit like cooking: If you mix salt and water, you know what you’re going to get, but mixing two complex recipes could give you more unpredictable results,” said study co-author Chad Eliason, a senior at the Field Museum. research scientist, in a statement. “This hybrid is a mix of two complex recipes for a feather from its two parent species.”