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The bird voice box is one of a kind in the animal kingdom

This male spotted bluethroat bursts into song by activating an organ deep in its throat. Hans Glader/Minden Pictures

The melodious call of many birds comes from a mysterious organ buried deep within their chests: a one-of-a-kind voice box called a syrinx. Now, scientists have concluded that this voice box evolved only once, and that it represents a rare example of a true evolutionary novelty.

“It’s something that comes out of nothing,” says Denis Duboule, a geneticist at the University of Geneva in Switzerland who was not involved with the work. “There is nothing that looks like a syrinx in any related animal groups in vertebrates. This is very bizarre.”

Science, Oct. 5, 2018

Featuring: Julia Clarke, John A. Wilson Professor in Vertebrate Paleontology, Department of Geological Sciences, Jackson School of Geosciences