Elachuridae: Ornithologists Describe New Family of Passerine Birds

Elachuridae: Ornithologists Describe New Family of Passerine Birds

A group of ornithologists led by Dr Trevor Price of the University of Chicago has described a new family of birds that is represented by just one species, the Spotted wren-babbler. The Spotted wren-babbler is a small perching bird found in China, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.




Spotted Elachura (Elachura formosa) near Hornbill Camp, Namdapha, Arunachal Pradesh, India

This bird measures about 10 cm in length and has a short tail. It is brown above, white below, with rufous wings. It also has white speckles all over its body. Previously, the spotted wren-babbler was included in the genus Spelaeornis as Spelaeornis formosus along with eight other species of wren-babblers.

But a new study of bird DNA has uncovered a big surprise.

Based on analysis of one of the most comprehensive datasets to date of Passerida, the largest passerine bird group, Dr Price and his colleagues identified nine primary lineages (Sylvioidea, Muscicapoidea, Certhioidea, Passeroidea, the bombycillids, Paridae/Remizidae, Stenostiridae, Hyliotidae, Regulidae), and a relict lineage represented by the Spotted wren-babbler.

“The Spotted wren-babbler represents a relict basal lineage within Passerida with no close extant relatives,” Dr Price and his co-authors wrote in a paper published in the journal Biology Letters.

The Spotted wren-babbler (Elachura formosa), a painting by John Gerrard Keulemans, 1892.

The ornithologists also suggested that the bird should now be referred to as Elachura formosa.

“Our results support the placement of the Spotted wren-babbler in a separate genus, Elachura,” they wrote. “Moreover, based on its phylogenetic distinctness, we recommend that it be placed in a monotypic family, for which we propose a new family name – Elachuridae.”


Per Alström et al. 2014. Discovery of a relict lineage and monotypic family of passerine birds. Biology Letters, vol. 10, no. 3; doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2013.1067

This article was written by Sergio Prostak for Sci-News.com


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