Re: Taxonomy & Lyrebirds

To: Murray Lord <>, <>
Subject: Re: Taxonomy & Lyrebirds
From: Syd Curtis <>
Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2008 11:01:33 +1000
> From: "Murray Lord" <>
> Date: Wed, 30 Jan 2008 22:29:30 +1100
> To: <>
> Subject: [Birding-Aus] Re: Taxonomy & Lyrebirds

Thank you very much Murray, for your very helpful reply to my query about
lyrebird names.

You wrote (in part) re superba v. novaehollandiae:
> Apparently it all turns on uncertainty when Latham's publication was actually
> published; whether it was 1801 or 1802.  So it's unclear which name was in
> fact published first.  A ruling has been sought to clarify things.

You are probably aware of Chisholm's take on this, but as I'm sending this
to birding-aus I'll quote him to save anyone interested who hasn't the book,
from having to chase it up in a library.

 In "Romance of the Lyrebird" (Angus & Robertson, 1960) Chisholm has one
chapter headed "The Battle of Names".  He tells how -

    "Latham, a medical man who practised ornithology in a very zealous but
somewhat slipshod fashion, at first adopted Davies' name of the new bird by
terming it (in English) the "Sup[erb Menura"; but soon afterwards in another
publication, he played a tawdry trick on his military friend - while
retaining the name Menura he discarded superba and wrote instead: "M. N.
Hollandiae, New Holland Menura", at the same time giving the impression that
this was the name that he had used earlier."

Chisholm (in 1960) continues: "The drab result of Latham's action is that
the name Menura superba, after being in use for more than a century, has in
recent years been "officially" discarded in favour of the usurping name -
with its abbreviation amended.  This change was instituted by G. M.
Matthews, who claimed that the Latham name was published in 1801, a year
before that of Davies."

But it seems that 1801 is probably wrong.   Chisholm explains:

    "The truth is, although some few copies of the volume introducing "M.N.
Hollandiae" were dated 1801, the work did not appear until 1802, and
probably late in that year.  Thus, it quotes a portion of the same author's
"General Synopsis of Birds" (the work in which he referred to the "Superb
Menura"), and as that particular volume was not published until 1802 it
could scarcely be cited in a work issued in 1801."

    "Also significant is the fact that Dr George Shaw of the British Museum,
when giving the "New South Wales Bird of Paradise", early in 1803 a name of
his own devising, quoted three references of 1802 - the scientific name
bestowed by Davies, the vernacular equivalent given by Latham ("Superb
Menura"), and the field-notes published by Collins - but did NOT quote
Latham's "M.N. Hollandiae", a circumstance indicating clearly that the name
was not available at the time of writing."

Chisholm also points out, "that in the matter of illustration - itself the
equivalent of a printed description - Davies had two years' priority, his
plate of Menura superba being dated 1799 and that of Latham 1801.  The point
here is, if a date in advance of the year of issue can be accepted as the
actual publication-date of a book, then the same principle should obtain
with a published illustration."

So, with respect, perhaps not so "Simple really ;-)".

But if Chisholm's research is correct, surely on balance "superba" should
win out?

Chisholm was not a taxonomist, but he was a noted ornithologist, author and
historian.  And he was a stickler for accuracy, as so well befitted his role
as Editor-in-Chief for the ten volume Angus & Robertson Australian
Encyclopaedia, on which he worked for most of the 1950s - that is, prior to
writing the material above.

I hope our current taxonomists are taking all that into account in dealing
with the superba/novaehollandiae question.



[BTW, ironic is it not, that there should also be a "stuff-up" in the naming
of the other species of lyrebird, with the application the Code of
Zoological Nomenclature (as distinct from common sense!), requiring that the
name "alberti" be attributed to the wrong author.  But that's another


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