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Help concerning outdated scientific names

Discussion in 'Zoo Cafe' started by Junklekitteb, 9 Feb 2021.

  1. Junklekitteb

    Junklekitteb Well-Known Member

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    The main argument in support of technical names is of course their stability compared to common names, but this is often overly exaggerated by books on natural history. In reality, splits, lumps and preference can make old and trusted names invalid. I was recently looking through some documents, posted on this very site, which were from 1883 and obviously had many names invalid today. The vast majority were quickly resolved using ITIS, GBIF, Wikipedia’s synonym lists and similar, but a few escape my attempts to identify them. Many have very confusing common names as well, making identification harder.
    Here they are:
    ‘Himalayan Black-bird, Merula bulbul
    Cacatuacristata, the greater White-crested Cockatoo’
    Treron viridis, Parrot fruit-pigeon’
    ‘the small cat from Java, Felis javanica, which is a miniature representation of the fishing cat of Bengal’

    as well as a reference to a ‘black-backed goose’ with no scientific name given (Canada geese are given later, but ‘black-backed’?).

    I am particularly intrigued by ‘Felis javanica’ as it could be a reference to the Javan fishing cat, which was supposedly only described in 1936 according to Wikipedia, but online search brings up nothing.

    In all honestly, this is probably too trivial a question to create an entire thread, so if anyone faces similar problems in the future feel free to use this as a place to put your questions.
     
  2. Gondwana

    Gondwana Well-Known Member

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    I think these are the species being referred to by these names:

    Merula bulbul = Red-vented bulbul (currently Pycnonotus cafer)
    Cacatua cristata = Umbrella Cockatoo (Cacatua alba)
    Treron viridis = Pink-necked Green Pigeon (Treron vernans)
    Felis javanica = Sunda Leopard Cat (Prionailurus javanensis)
    "Black-backed goose" is tougher without more info on the context of its use. The Branta species are known as black geese, though. Black Brants and Red-breasted geese have especially black backs.
     
    Last edited: 9 Feb 2021
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  3. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    Gondwana has most correct, but Merula bulbul is the Grey-winged Blackbird Turdus boulboul.

    The main point you are missing there is that a scientific name belongs to just one species. It doesn't matter if there are splits or lumps or name-changes, that scientific name still only refers to that animal and no other, and it can usually be easily traced back to it, whereas common names (e.g. your "black-backed goose") can refer to anything when there is no context.
     
  4. MikeG

    MikeG Well-Known Member

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    Regarding the 'Black-backed goose', this name was occasionally used for the species we now know as the Knob-billed Duck (Sarkidiornis melanotos): melanotos meaning 'black-backed'.
     
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  5. Andrew Swales

    Andrew Swales Well-Known Member

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    Was the Andean Goose (Chloephaga melanoptera) not referred to as the Black-backed Goose in older references...?
    - even though a literal translation would be better as -'black-winged'...
     
  6. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    I’ve seen Comb Duck listed as Black-backed Goose, possibly in Rose Hubbard’s book. Might see if I can find it.....
     
  7. Andrew Swales

    Andrew Swales Well-Known Member

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    Comb Ducks seem to have changed into Knob-billed Ducks, whilst I wasnt watching, along with the African Hunting Dogs, Spectacled Bears, Manchurian Cranes and all the rest.
    Must be getting old...!
     
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  8. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    I’ve seen Comb Ducks listed in an old work as Comb Sheldrakes. I think they’ve always been Knobnosed in South Africa. I certainly said something along those lines when an old drake bit me. ‘Red-crowned Cranes’ really gets me, as lots of cranes have a red top to the head and they’re nothing to do with Crowned Cranes either:).
    Edwards’ Pheasants are of course now Vietnam Pheasants.
     
  9. The Cassowary

    The Cassowary Well-Known Member

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    Comb ducks didn’t change their name, they got split. The South American Sarkidiornis sylvicola is the comb duck, and the African Sarkidiornis melanotos is the knob-billed duck.
     
  10. MikeG

    MikeG Well-Known Member

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    You can find an example of the Knob-billed Duck being called the Black-backed Goose in:
    List of the Vertebrated Animals now or lately living in the Gardens of the Zoological Society of London 9th edition, 1896
    The same list refers to the Andean Goose as...the Andean Goose :)
     
  11. Andrew Swales

    Andrew Swales Well-Known Member

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    I have never seen that source, so could not have remembered the use of the name for the goose.
    Cant remember where it was used though.
     
  12. Andrew Swales

    Andrew Swales Well-Known Member

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    Both were called Comb Ducks - the New World CD and the Old World CD. They are practically identical save for the colouring, so were classed as sub-species. So much seems tobe split these days, along with the re-naming....
     
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  13. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    Yep. We’ve got old generic names like Mareca and Spatula re-emerging, and Canada Goose split in two. If this is based on DNA, one can’t argue with it, but it comes a bit hard for us old ‘uns:)
     
  14. Andrew Swales

    Andrew Swales Well-Known Member

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    Mmmm...
    The Comb Duck split is quite strange, as the two 'races' are so similar. I remember collections which kept both having to strictly separate them, and be hyper careful when incubating odd eggs (which was common as they often egg dumped in other birds nests) because if you reared a single female there was no way of telling its (sub)species unless you had its brother, as the females were indistinguishable.
     
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  15. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    They behave like colour morphs of the same species. I reared a brood of twelve from a well known collection that turned out to be intermediates, or at least the two males in the group did! Looking at the parent stock later, I realised why they were happy to part with eggs:)
     
  16. Chlidonias

    Chlidonias Moderator Staff Member

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    Regarding the splitting of Sarkidiornis (I've always called it Knob-billed Goose rather than Comb Duck), it didn't have anything to do with DNA. It had been split in the past (e.g. in the 19th century, which was a splitting phase) but otherwise almost every modern authority regarded it as one species with two subspecies. The currently-accepted split is from the Tobias Criteria, which is a method where a point system is assigned based on morphology (mostly colour and size) and differences in call in some cases. Once past a certain number of points it is treated as a new species. DNA is entirely ignored in the Tobias Criteria.

    The HBW uses a version of the Tobias Criteria, but also including DNA studies where they consider them applicable; and the IUCN now uses the HBW as their new taxonomy. And then all the checklists and websites follow on from that.

    The split of the Sarkidiornis taxa is solely because of colour and apparently a size difference (the South American one is said to be smaller, although I'm not sure that is notable). There are no DNA studies at all for it. It's a pretty rubbish split I think, at least as it is now, but because it is used by the HBW and IUCN it is now the one everyone follows.
     
  17. Junklekitteb

    Junklekitteb Well-Known Member

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    Thanks a lot for the help.

    I’m sorry if I came across as ‘putting down’ the usefulness of scientific names, I didn’t mean to and I try to be an advocate of them when I can. However I feel saying a name ‘belongs to just one species’ is not really the case. Unaware taxonomists have been known to give a preoccupied name to a species, only for it to become more frequently used than the ‘pre-occupier’ (I’m afraid I don’t know the technical term for this). For example, Diceratops was originally given as a generic name for a member of Syzeuctus, and later synonymised (not sure when). However, I am sure that most people are familiar with the name as a synonym for Nedoceratops instead. Although this doesn’t take away from the usefulness of scientific names, especially since now with the internet even a random person with no technical knowledge like me it is easy to quickly look this up. I just feel that ‘popular science media’ like books should be more clear that nomenclature is changing, but importantly much more formal and well-recorded than common names.
     
  18. birdsandbats

    birdsandbats Well-Known Member

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    Surprisingly, eBird/Clements accepts the split as well.
     
  19. FBBird

    FBBird Well-Known Member

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    If the Sarkidionis split ISN’T based on DNA, then I suggest it’s highly suspect.