Introducing the Inti Tanager! – a genus and species of bird new to science from the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. The world “Inti” is the Quechua word for Sun, reflecting the bright yellow color of the bird. The bird was spotted back in 2000 by Dan Lane from Louisiana State University. However, it took many years of study for a careful description to be written and finally published. Dan is the lead author of the paper, with several co-authors including Burns lab members. Our lab’s contribution was working on the genetics. The bird is so unusual, it was hard to even figure out to which family the bird belonged just based on its appearance. The most likely candidate family seemed to be tanagers. Tanagers are the largest family of songbirds and the group of birds the Burns lab has been working on for many years. Through analysis of its DNA sequences, we were able to show it is indeed a tanager, and also we were able to pinpoint where exactly within the tanager family the bird belongs. Turns out it’s most closely related to the Black-goggled Tanager and the Gray-head Tanager. Although it clearly belongs with the tanagers, the bird was so different in appearance and DNA from other tanagers, we gave the bird a new genus name. This is noteworthy since only about 10 new genera have been described in the last 50 years. The genus name we chose is Heliothraupis which comes from Greek words that roughly translate to “Sun Tanager”. Thus, the genus name reflects the common name of the bird. The DNA work in our lab was done in two stages. Former Burns lab student Luke Klicka (now a professor at Peru State College) sequenced several mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Several years later, another Burns lab student, Rosalyn Price-Waldman (now a PhD candidate at Princeton), sequenced thousands of genetic loci known as Ultraconserved elements. Together, the data showed where this bird fit within the avian evolutionary tree, and we are excited to finally be able to share this amazing bird with the rest of the world!
The paper can be downloaded here: https://doi.org/10.1093/ornithology/ukab059