ARTICLE: On Temminck’s tailless Ceylon Junglefowl, and how Darwin denied their existence

In the current issue of the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club (Dec. 2017):

On Temminck’s tailless Ceylon Junglefowl, and how Darwin denied their existence

Hein van Grouw, Wim Dekkers, and Kees Rookmaaker

Abstract Ceylon Junglefowl was described in 1807 by the Dutch ornithologist
Coenraad Jacob Temminck. The specimens he examined were tailless (‘rumpless’)
and therefore he named them Gallus ecaudatus. In 1831 the French naturalist René
Primevère Lesson described a Ceylon Junglefowl with a tail as Gallus lafayetii (=
lafayetii), apparently unaware of Temminck’s ecaudatus. Subsequently, ecaudatus
and lafayetii were realised to be the same species, of which G. stanleyi and G.
lineatus are junior synonyms. However, Charles Darwin tried to disprove the
existence of wild tailless junglefowl on Ceylon in favour of his theory on the origin
of the domestic chicken.

Thank you to the second author for bringing this article – which is freely available as a PDF here – to my attention. Enjoy!


BOOK: Spare the Birds! George Bird Grinnell and the First Audubon Society

As a lover of history and nature, my eye was immediately attracted to the cover of this new book of environmental history. Where was I when I saw it? In the nature store at the Audubon Society of Portland. Of course. I look forward to learning about Grinnell and the first Audubon Society.


Carolyn Merchant, Spare the Birds! George Bird Grinnell and the First Audubon Society (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), 344 pp. 

Publisher’s description In 1887, a year after founding the Audubon Society, explorer and conservationist George Bird Grinnell launched Audubon Magazine. The magazine constituted one of the first efforts to preserve bird species decimated by the women’s hat trade, hunting, and loss of habitat. Within two years, however, for practical reasons, Grinnell dissolved both the magazine and the society. Remarkably, Grinnell’s mission was soon revived by women and men who believed in it, and the work continues today. In this, the only comprehensive history of the first Audubon Society (1886–1889), Carolyn Merchant presents the exceptional story of George Bird Grinnell and his writings and legacy. The book features Grinnell’s biographies of ornithologists John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson and his editorials and descriptions of Audubon’s bird paintings. This primary documentation combined with Carolyn Merchant’s insightful analysis casts new light on Grinnell, the origins of the first Audubon Society, and the conservation of avifauna.

BOOK: Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin

This new title is an absolutely beautiful book:

Tim Birkhead, Jo Wimpenny, and Bob Montgomerie, Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014), 544 pp.

Ten Thousand Birds provides a thoroughly engaging and authoritative history of modern ornithology, tracing how the study of birds has been shaped by a succession of visionary and often-controversial personalities, and by the unique social and scientific contexts in which these extraordinary individuals worked. This beautifully illustrated book opens in the middle of the nineteenth century when ornithology was a museum-based discipline focused almost exclusively on the anatomy, taxonomy, and classification of dead birds. It describes how in the early 1900s pioneering individuals such as Erwin Stresemann, Ernst Mayr, and Julian Huxley recognized the importance of studying live birds in the field, and how this shift thrust ornithology into the mainstream of the biological sciences. The book tells the stories of eccentrics like Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, a pathological liar who stole specimens from museums and quite likely murdered his wife, and describes the breathtaking insights and discoveries of ambitious and influential figures such as David Lack, Niko Tinbergen, Robert MacArthur, and others who through their studies of birds transformed entire fields of biology.

Ten Thousand Birds brings this history vividly to life through the work and achievements of those who advanced the field. Drawing on a wealth of archival material and in-depth interviews, this fascinating book reveals how research on birds has contributed more to our understanding of animal biology than the study of just about any other group of organisms.

ARTICLE: Darwin and His Pigeons. The Analogy Between Artificial and Natural Selection Revisited

From the Journal of the History of Biology:

Darwin and His Pigeons. The Analogy Between Artificial and Natural Selection Revisited

Bert Theunissen

Abstract The analogy between artificial selection of domestic varieties and natural selection in nature was a vital element of Darwin’s argument in his Origin of Species. Ever since, the image of breeders creating new varieties by artificial selection has served as a convincing illustration of how the theory works. In this paper I argue that we need to reconsider our understanding of Darwin’s analogy. Contrary to what is often assumed, nineteenth-century animal breeding practices constituted a highly controversial field that was fraught with difficulties. It was only with considerable effort that Darwin forged his analogy, and he only succeeded by downplaying the importance of two other breeding techniques – crossing of varieties and inbreeding – that many breeders deemed essential to obtain new varieties. Part of the explanation for Darwin’s gloss on breeding practices, I shall argue, was that the methods of his main informants, the breeders of fancy pigeons, were not representative of what went on in the breeding world at large. Darwin seems to have been eager to take the pigeon fanciers at their word, however, as it was only their methods that provided him with the perfect analogy with natural selection. Thus while his studies of domestic varieties were important for the development of the concept of natural selection, the reverse was also true: Darwin’s comprehension of breeding practices was moulded by his understanding of the working of natural selection in nature. Historical studies of domestic breeding practices in the eighteenth and nineteenth century confirm that, besides selection, the techniques of inbreeding and crossing were much more important than Darwin’s interpretation allowed for. And they still are today. This calls for a reconsideration of the pedagogic use of Darwin’s analogy too.

The Darwin Lecture 2011: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Birds of Paradise given by Sir David Attenborough


The Darwin Lecture 2011: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Birds of Paradise given by Sir David Attenborough
Wednesday 2 November 2011
Venue: Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, LONDON, W1G 0AE
The third annual Darwin Lecture on Science and Medicine will be given by Sir David Attenborough on the subject of Alfred Russel Wallace and the Birds of Paradise

A.R. Wallace spent eight years travelling in search of birds of paradise and became the first European naturalist to see them in display. In the course of his explorations, he wrote a paper that, together with another by Charles Darwin, announced the theory of evolution by natural selection. But it was the birds of paradise that preoccupied him throughout his journeys in Indonesia.

This lecture is organised in association with The Linnean Society of London

Registration is currently unavailable

Registration Details:
Member – Linnean Society: Free of charge
RSM Retired Fellow: Free of charge
RSM Student: Free of charge
RSM Trainee: Free of charge
RSM Associate: Free of charge
RSM Fellow: Free of charge
Public: Free of charge

6.00 pm
Registration with tea and coffee

6.30 pm
The 3rd Annual Darwin Lecture on Science and Medicine: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Birds of Paradise
Sir David Attenborough

7.30 pm
Close of meeting followed by a drinks reception
Meeting ref: PEC01
CPD (Applied for)

Olivia’s Birds

Olivia did a small event on Monday night at Powell’s bookstore in Beaverton, OR (near Portland). It is wonderful to meet a young person with not only a tremendous passion for nature, but the motivation to do something positive with it. We are happy to have a signed copy of Olivia’s Birds: Saving the Gulf in our collection. Patrick was rather shy with her, though:

Myself, Catherine, and Patrick with Olivia and her Pileated Woodpecker puppet

Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective

Cover Figure

The Geological Society, London has published a volume of papers on the history of dinosaur (or phylogenetically-related) paleontology, Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective, edited by R.T.J. Moody, E. Buffetaut, D. Naish (blog), and D.M. Martill:

The discovery of dinosaurs and other large extinct ‘saurians’—a term under which the Victorians commonly lumped ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, pterosaurs and their kin—makes exciting reading and has caught the attention of palaeontologists, historians of science and the general public alike. The papers in this collection go beyond the familiar tales about famous ‘fossil hunters’ and focus on relatively little-known episodes in the discovery and interpretation (from both a scientific and an artistic point of view) of dinosaurs and other inhabitants of the Mesozoic world. They cover a long time span, from the beginnings of ‘modern’ scientific palaeontology in the 1700s to the present, and deal with many parts of the world, from the Yorkshire coast to Central India, from Bavaria to the Sahara. The characters in these stories include professional palaeontologists and geologists (some of them well-known, others quite obscure), explorers, amateur fossil collectors, and artists, linked together by their interest in Mesozoic creatures.

And the papers:

About this title – Dinosaurs and Other Extinct Saurians: A Historical Perspective [Abstract] [PDF] FREE

Richard T. J. Moody, Eric Buffetaut, Darren Naish and David M. Martill, Dinosaurs and other extinct saurians: a historical perspective – introduction [Extract] [Full Text] [PDF] FREE

Mark Evans, The roles played by museums, collections and collectors in the early history of reptile palaeontology [Abstract]

H. S. Torrens, William Perceval Hunter (1812–1878), forgotten English student of dinosaurs-to-be and of Wealden rocks [Abstract]

Leslie F. Noè, Jeff J. Liston and Sandra D. Chapman, ‘Old bones, dry subject’: the dinosaurs and pterosaur collected by Alfred Nicholson Leeds of Peterborough, England [Abstract]

Federico Fanti, Life and ideas of Giovanni Capellini (1833–1922): a palaeontological revolution in Italy [Abstract]

Richard T. J. Moody and Darren Naish, Alan Jack Charig (1927–1997): an overview of his academic accomplishments and role in the world of fossil reptile research [Abstract]

Susan Turner, Cynthia V. Burek and Richard T. J. Moody, Forgotten women in an extinct saurian (man’s) world [Abstract]

Xabier Pereda Suberbiola, José-Ignacio Ruiz-Omeñaca, Nathalie Bardet, Laura Piñuela and José-Carlos García-Ramos, Wilhelm (Guillermo) Schulz and the earliest discoveries of dinosaurs and marine reptiles in Spain [Abstract]

Matthew T. Carrano, Jeffrey A. Wilson and Paul M. Barrett, The history of dinosaur collecting in central India, 1828–1947 [Abstract]

Eric Buffetaut, Spinosaurs before Stromer: early finds of spinosaurid dinosaurs and their interpretations [Abstract]

Martin A. Whyte, Mike Romano and Will Watts, Yorkshire dinosaurs: a history in two parts [Abstract]

A. J. Bowden, G. R. Tresise and W. Simkiss, Chirotherium, the Liverpool footprint hunters and their interpretation of the Middle Trias environment [Abstract]

Darren Naish, Pneumaticity, the early years: Wealden Supergroup dinosaurs and the hypothesis of saurischian pneumaticity [Abstract]

Peter Wellnhofer, A short history of research on Archaeopteryx and its relationship with dinosaurs [Abstract]

Brian Switek (congrats to Laelaps!), Thomas Henry Huxley and the reptile to bird transition [Abstract]

Kasper Lykke Hansen, A history of digit identification in the manus of theropods (including Aves) [Abstract]

Attila Osi, Edina Prondvai and Barnabás Géczy, The history of Late Jurassic pterosaurs housed in Hungarian collections and the revision of the holotype of Pterodactylus micronyx Meyer 1856 (a ‘Pester Exemplar’) [Abstract]

David M. Martill, The early history of pterosaur discovery in Great Britain [Abstract]

Mark P. Witton, Pteranodon and beyond: the history of giant pterosaurs from 1870 onwards [Abstract]

Jean Le Loeuff, Art and palaeontology in German-occupied France: Les Diplodocus by Mathurin Méheut (1943) [Abstract]

J. J. Liston, 2000 A.D. and the new ‘Flesh’: first to report the dinosaur renaissance in ‘moving’ pictures [Abstract]

Michael P. Taylor, Sauropod dinosaur research: a historical review [Abstract]