Document Detail

Polyphyletic origin of toxic Pitohui birds suggests widespread occurrence of toxicity in corvoid birds.
MedLine Citation:
PMID:  18055416     Owner:  NLM     Status:  MEDLINE    
Pitohui birds from New Guinea have been found to contain a toxin otherwise only found in neotropical poison arrow frogs. Pitohuis have been considered to be monophyletic and thus toxicity is thought to have evolved once in birds. Here, we show that Pitohuis, rather than being a tight-knit group, are polyphyletic and represent several lineages among the corvoid families of passerine birds. This finding demonstrates that the ability to be toxic is widespread among corvoid birds and suggests that additional members of this radiation, comprising more than 700 species, could prove to be toxic. It is postulated that toxic birds ingest the toxin through their insect diet and excrete it through the uropygial gland, from where it is applied to the skin and feathers. Thus, the ability to become toxic is most likely an ancestral condition but variation in diet determines the extent to which toxicity is expressed among corvoid birds. Variability in toxicity levels further suggests that the main function of the toxin is that of a deterrent against ectoparasites and bacterial infection rather than being a defence against predators as initially proposed.
Knud A Jønsson; Rauri C K Bowie; Janette A Norman; Les Christidis; Jon Fjeldså
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Publication Detail:
Type:  Journal Article; Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't    
Journal Detail:
Title:  Biology letters     Volume:  4     ISSN:  1744-9561     ISO Abbreviation:  Biol. Lett.     Publication Date:  2008 Feb 
Date Detail:
Created Date:  2008-01-09     Completed Date:  2008-03-21     Revised Date:  2013-06-06    
Medline Journal Info:
Nlm Unique ID:  101247722     Medline TA:  Biol Lett     Country:  England    
Other Details:
Languages:  eng     Pagination:  71-4     Citation Subset:  IM    
Vertebrate Department, Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, 2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark.
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MeSH Terms
New Guinea
Passeriformes / genetics*,  metabolism*
Toxins, Biological / metabolism*
Reg. No./Substance:
0/Toxins, Biological

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