Schlagwort-Archive: Merops adansonii

Adanson’s – and Latreille’s Bee-eaters

Here I want to write a bit about two enigmatic birds that allegedly both were collected in Africa at the beginning of the 19th century; these are Adanson’s Bee-eater and Latreille’s Bee-eater.

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Adanson’s Bee-eater (Merops adansonii)

Depictions from: „François Le Vaillant: Histoire naturelle des promerops, et des guêpiers: faisant suite à celle des oiseaux de paradis par la même. A Paris, chez denné le jeune, Libraire, Rue Vivienne, N° 10. 1807“ 
(public domain)

Adanson’s Bee-eater is an enigmatic bird known only from a single specimen which is commonly thought to have been an artificially specimen, assembled from several bird parts, a practice that was rather common in these olden days when collectors were keen to have in their collections the most rare exhibition pieces.

The following French texts are all from François Le Vaillant, they describe this ’species‘ and give us some additional information about its wehereabouts. [1]

Ce guêpier à queue en flèche ayant été méconnu par Buffon qui l’a, donné comme une simple variété de climat de son guêpier marron et bleu, ou de l’Isle-de-France, espèce que nous avons décrite dans notre précédent n°, sous la dénomination de guêpier Latreille, nous avons dû encore lui donner un nom distinctif, et nous ne pouvions à cet égard mieux faire, je pense, que de choisir celui du célebre voyageur qui l’ayant rapporté du Sénégal, l’a le premier fait connoître en Europe. Il suffira, je pense, de comparer les figures exactes que nous avons publiées de ces deux oiseaux, pour être d’abord et du premier coup-d’œil convaincu de la méprise de Buffon à leur égard, et être persuadé enfin qu’ils forment deux espèces très distinctes, bien loin de n’être l’un qu’une variété de l’autre; on ne conçoit même pas, en voyant les figures qui représentent dans les planches enluminées de Buffon ces deux oiseaux, l’un sous le nom de guêpier de l’Isle-de-France, n° 252, et l’autre, n° 314, sous celui de guêpier à longue queue du Sénégal, comment il a été possible de commettre cette erreur, et encore moins qu’elle ait été perpétuée par tous les ornithologistes qui ont écrit sur les oiseaux depuis Buffon. On conçoit en effet d’autant moins cette méprise, que ces deux figures, d’ailleurs très mauvaises , different bien plus l’une de l’autre encore, que ne différent réellement ces deux oiseaux eux-mêmes entre eux, mais assez cependant pour être bien sûr qu’ils ne peuvent être confondus ensemble comme appartenant à une seule et même espèce.

translation:

This spiny-tailed bee-eater was ignored by Buffon who gave it as a simple climate variety of its brown and blue bee-eater, or Isle-de-France [bee-eater], a species that we described in our previous issue. Under the denomination of Latreille, we have had to give it a distinctive name, and we could not, in this respect, have done better, I suppose, than the guide of the traveler who brought it back from Senegal, the first to make it known in Europe. It will suffice, I think, to compare the exact figures which we have published of these two birds, to be first and for the first glance convinced of Buffon’s mistake with regard to them, and to be finally persuaded that they form two very distinct species, far from being one variety of the other; it is not even conceivable, seeing the figures which represent, in the bright plates of Buffon, these two birds, one under the name of the Isle-de-France bee-eater, No. 252, and the other, No. 314, under that of long-tailed bee-eater from Senegal, how it was possible to make this mistake, let alone that it has been perpetuated by all the ornithologists who have written about birds since Buffon. This misunderstanding is all the less so conceived, that these two figures, which are, moreover, very bad, differ much more from one another than the two birds themselves really differ from one another, but enough, however, to be sure that they can not be confused as belonging to one and the same species.

So, in short, these two birds were originally thought to be specifically identical, what they of course are not.

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Le guêpier Adanson est d’un tiers au moins plus fort que le guêpier Latreille, ainsi qu’on peut le voir d’ailleurs, en comparant les portraits de grandeur naturelle que nous en avons donné: il a le front ceint d’un large bandeau bleu qui, se prolongeant au-dessus des yeux, couvre les joues, les côtés et tout le devant du cou, la poitrine, et enfin tout le dessous du corps, en y comprenant les couvertures siqjéricures et inférieures de la queue, et le croupion; mais ce bleu s’affoiblit toujours davantage à mesure qu’il approche du bas-ventre; le dessus de la tête, à partir du bleu du front, ainsi que le derrière du cou, le manteau, les scapulaires, toutes les couvertures des ailes, et même les pennes de ces dernières, ainsi que toutes celles de la queue, sont couleur marron; seulement la partie excédante des deux pennes prolongées de la queue, ainsi que le bout des premières pennes des ailes, sont noirâtres; et les dernières plumes des ailes, proche le dos, sont en partie du même bleu que celui du dessous du corps; le bec est noir; les pieds sont bruns rougeàtres. Nous ignorons la couleur des yeux, n’ayant vu que la dépouille de cet oiseau, que je n’ai rencontré dans aucune des parties de l’Afrique dans laquelle j’ai pénétré; je n’ai même vu de cette espèce que le seul individu qu’en avoit rapporté Adanson du Sénégal, où il l’avoit recueilli durant ses voyages.

translation:

The Adanson bee-eater is at least a third stronger than the Latreille bee-eater, as can be seen elsewhere, by comparing the life-size portraits we have given: it has at its forehead a blue band which, extending above the eyes, covers the cheeks, the sides and all the front of the neck, the chest, and finally the whole underbody, including the undertail coverts of the tail, and the rump; but this blue becomes more and more feeble as it approaches the lower abdomen; the top of the head, from the blue of the forehead, as well as the back of the neck, the mantle, the scapulars, all the coverts of the wings, and even the feathers of these, as well as those of the tail, are colored brown; only the exceeding part of the two elongated feathers of the tail, as well as the end of the first primaries of the wings, are blackish; and the last feathers of the wings, near the back, are partly of the same blue as that of the underbody; the bill is black; the feet are reddish brown. We are ignorant of the color of the eyes, having seen only the remains of this bird, which I have not met in any part of Africa into which I have penetrated; I have not even seen of this species the only individual who had been brought back from Adanson of Senegal, where he had collected it during his travels.

The author clearly states here that he did only see remains of this bird, but also that he did not see it at all, that is somewhat irritating to me.

But what was Adanson’s Bee-eater actually?

Well, the bird’s upper side looks almost exactly like that of the Southern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicoides Des Mus & Pucheran) or the Northern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicus Gmelin), the underside and forepart of the hea, however, come from another bird that, since the original specimen is now lost, will forever be unidentifiable.

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Latreille’s Bee-eater (Merops latreillei)

Depictions from: „François Le Vaillant: Histoire naturelle des promerops, et des guêpiers: faisant suite à celle des oiseaux de paradis par la même. A Paris, chez denné le jeune, Libraire, Rue Vivienne, N° 10. 1807“ 
(public domain)

Latreille’s Bee-eater, of which I won’t give any text because it isn’t really necessary, is said in its description to come from the Isle-de-France, known today as Mauritius but being far more widespread all over Africa. This ’species‘ might actually have been a Rufous-crowned Bee-eater (Merops americanus Statius Müller) or a Blue-throated Bee-eater (Merops viridis L.), both exclusively from Asia by the way. Again, the colors won’t fit completely, so again some parts of other birds might have been added to the depicted specimen. That was apparently a quite common practice in former times, the more rare and unique a specimen was the higher was its price …. 

My personal conclusion is that both these ’species‘ never have existed.

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References:

[1] François Le Vaillant: Histoire naturelle des promerops, et des guêpiers: faisant suite à celle des oiseaux de paradis par la même. A Paris, chez denné le jeune, Libraire, Rue Vivienne, N° 10. 1807

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edited: 05.11.2019