Every once in a while, a genetic anomaly will occur in the animal world that blows scientists’ minds. Take, for example, the exotic bird in the image below. It’s “gynandromorphic,” which means a specimen containing both female and male characteristics that can sometimes be seen in physical traits on the body.
Meet the rose-breasted grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus), which displays an even split down the middle between male and female feather coloring. The bird’s right side shows red plumage (male), while and its left shows golden yellow feathers (female), according to scientists from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Powdermill Nature Reserve in Pennsylvania, who recently discovered it.
The scientists were “very excited to see such a rarity up close, and are riding the high of this once-in-a-lifetime experience,” they said in a press release. Annie Lindsay, bird banding program manager at Powdermill, said one researcher referred to the experience as “seeing a unicorn,” while another described the discovery as an adrenaline rush, because it was “so remarkable.”
Here’s why: Powdermill has been banding and studying several different species since 1962—approximately 13,000 birds annually—and out of the several hundred thousand birds ornithologists have seen at the site, just fewer than 10 have been gynandromorphs like the rose-breasted grosbeak. The last time Powdermill saw a gynandromorph was in 2005, when the team found a grosbeak that looked very similar to this one.
Science Alert says the bird is “the product of a genetic anomaly,” but nothing is definitive without either a blood test or autopsy.
Despite the bird’s rare bona fides, however, the grosbeak is perfectly healthy. “Bilateral gynandromorphism, while very uncommon, is normal and provides an excellent example of a fascinating genetic process that few people ever encounter,” Lindsay said.
Picture: Carnegie museum of natural history / Annie Lindsay