Proposal (152) to South American Classification Committee


Change English Name of Chamaeza meruloides to "Cryptic Antthrush"


Effect on South American Check-list: This proposal is the first of three that will attempt to stabilize the English names of three species of Chamaeza antthrushes that share an intertwined taxonomic and nomenclatural history. This proposal would change the English name of a species on our list, Chamaeza meruloides, from "Such's Antthrush", to "Cryptic Antthrush".


BackgroundChamaeza meruloides has a convoluted taxonomic history. Endemic to middle elevations of the Atlantic Forest of eastern Brazil, it was completely overlooked until 1971, when Paul Schwartz tape-recorded two distinctly different song types from what was presumably a single taxon, Chamaeza ruficauda ruficauda. He noted that one of these song types resembled that of the highly disjunct Venezuelan population of C. r. chionogaster (Willis 1992). Helmut Sick (1985) noted that although there were only two recognized species of Chamaeza inhabiting the Atlantic Forest of Brazil (C. ruficauda, C. campanisona), there were three different song types to be found there. Ed Willis sorted out the confusion by showing that there were in fact, three species-level taxa of Chamaeza that replaced one another elevationally in eastern Brazil: C. campanisona of the lowlands and foothills; an unrecognized, mid-elevation population whose song resembled that of Venezuelan C. r. chionogaster (and of Colombian C. r. turdina); and nominate C. ruficauda of the highlands (Willis 1992). Willis showed that the unrecognized, mid-elevation form was locally sympatric with both C. campanisona and C. ruficauda, and was vocally and morphologically distinct from both, and therefore deserving of separate species status. Although he noted the vocal similarity of this population to Venezuelan C. r. chionogaster and Colombian C. r. turdina, he argued that plumage differences, coupled with a hugely disjunct distribution, were ample reason for not treating these three forms as conspecific. Willis further argued that nominate ruficauda of southeast Brazil and northern Argentina was vocally and morphologically distinct from chionogaster and turdina of Venezuela and Colombia, and should be treated as a separate species.


Willis proposed splitting off Colombian C. r. turdina and Venezuelan C. r. chionogaster (turdina has priority) from Brazilian/Argentine nominate C. ruficauda. He suggested the English name of "Schwartz's Antthrush" for C. turdina. This left C. ruficauda as a monotypic species endemic to the Atlantic Forest. Willis did not propose a change in the English name of nominate ruficauda, presumably with the intention of leaving it as "Rufous-tailed Antthrush". These names are the ones employed by Krabbe and Schulenberg (2003) in HBW, and by the SACC in our current list. Hilty (2003) also uses "Schwartz's Antthrush" for turdina, as does Clements (2000) and Ridgely & Tudor (1994) use "Rufous-tailed Antthrush" for ruficauda. Conversely, Ridgely & Tudor (1994) and Sibley & Monroe (1990) used "Scalloped Antthrush" for turdina, and Sibley & Monroe (1990), Sick (1993) and Clements (2000) employed "Brazilian Antthrush" for nominate ruficauda.


Naming the previously unrecognized mid-elevation population proved difficult, and the process of stabilizing an English name has been equally contentious. The earliest available name that Willis could find was Chamaeza meruloides Vigors 1825, based on two specimens collected in Brazil by George Such. Unfortunately, the two specimens were sold at an auction in 1886, and have not been reported since. This left the original description, plus a subsequent more detailed published description and color plate for Willis to anchor his C. meruloides to (Willis 1992). Willis proposed the English name "Such's Antthrush" for C. meruloides, to honor the original collector. Ridgely & Tudor (1994) had this to say regarding the English name for the (then) recently recognized C. meruloides:


"Although we would normally endorse such a proposed patronym [= Such's Antthrush] with enthusiasm, in English the name "Such's" seems so likely to be misunderstood that we hesitate to employ it. We thus highlight the species' highly cryptic nature; it was long confused with not just one but two species!"


Accordingly, the English name employed for C. meruloides by Ridgely & Tudor (1994) was "Cryptic Antthrush". Krabbe and Schulenberg (2003) in HBW also use this name. Howard & Moore (and by extension, the SACC) and Clements (2000) have stuck with "Such's Antthrush". Sick (1993) still did not recognize meruloides as a separate species, no doubt because the text for that volume was written largely prior to the description of meruloides in 1992. The latest edition of Ornitologia Brasileira (Sick and Pacheco 1997) does recognize meruloides, but does not employ English names.


Analysis: Although the published vocal analysis upon which Willis based his split of these antthrushes was weak, subsequent work has confirmed his conclusions regarding the relationships of the Atlantic Forest populations to one another.  C. campanisona, C. ruficauda, and C. meruloides clearly behave as good biological species that largely replace one another altitudinally, but with some overlap. They are vocally and morphologically distinct from one another. Nominate ruficauda is also clearly distinct from C. turdina of Colombia/Venezuela, differing markedly in morphological characters and having a dramatically different song and calls. There is less documented justification for the separation of meruloides from turdina, which have somewhat similar songs, but I think that Willis's conclusions regarding the morphological differences and huge range disjunction are correct, and that maintaining all of these as separate species is the proper course. The species-level taxonomic changes proposed by Willis have been universally adopted.


Conversely, the application of English names has been a free-for-all. I will make arguments regarding the English names of turdina and ruficauda in subsequent proposals. This proposal will focus on C. meruloides. One the one hand, we have "Such's Antthrush" which has the dual advantage of honoring the original collector (we think!), and, of being the name suggested by the person that worked this whole mess out (Willis). On the other hand, we have "Cryptic Antthrush", which is a clever name that conveys something of the nomenclatural and taxonomic confusion surrounding the history of the species, while being easier to say and more pleasing to the ear.


Recommendation: Although I generally do not like to go against the describer of a species on name choices, and I have nothing against patronyms (and actually find them preferable to hair-splitting "descriptive" names), I have to cast my lot with Ridgely's "Cryptic Antthrush". I agree with Bob that the English translation of "Such's" is exceedingly awkward (perhaps one step behind trying to say "Sick's Swift" for Chaetura meruloides ­ what is it about birds named meruloides? ­ and not having to explain yourself), and (I could easily be wrong on this) my understanding is that the correct pronunciation of "Such's" comes out sounding more like "Suck's" or "Suke's", either of which would be a disaster (similar to the problem with the English pronunciation of "Fokker"). For those who would argue against meddling with established names no matter how bad, I would suggest that "Such's Antthrush" never got established, given that the species description appeared in 1992, and Ridgely & Tudor, with a much wider audience, introduced the name "Cryptic Antthrush" in 1994. By the time that most of the world was even aware of meruloides, the name "Cryptic Antthrush" was already out there. Besides being easier on the tongue, "Cryptic Antthrush" is a clever name that invites people to delve into the interesting taxonomic mystery resolved so nicely by Willis. I would also submit that "Cryptic Antthrush" has firmly taken hold among the birding community, something that is unlikely to change given that HBW is also using the name. Accordingly, I recommend a "YES" vote on changing the English name of Chamaeza meruloides from "Such's Antthrush" to "Cryptic Antthrush".


Literature Cited

CLEMENTS, J. F. 2000. Birds of the world: a checklist. Fifth Edition. Ibis Publishing Company, Vista, California.

HILTY, S. L. 2003. Birds of Venezuela. Second Edition. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

KRABBE, N. K., AND T. S. SCHULENBERG. 2003. Family Formicariidae (Ground Antbirds). In DEL HOYO, J., A. ELLIOTT AND D. CHRISTIE (eds.). Handbook of Birds of the World: Volume 8. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

RIDGELY, R. S., AND G. TUDOR. 1994. Birds of South America, Volume II: the suboscine passerines. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.

SIBLEY, C. G., AND B. L. MONROE, JR. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

SICK, H. 1985. Ornitologia Brasileira, uma introdçao. Editora Univ. Brasília, Brasília.

SICK, H. 1993. Birds in Brazil. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.

SICK, H., AND J. F. PACHECO. 1997. Ornitologia Brasileira. Editora Nova Fronteira, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

WILLIS, E. 1992. Three Chamaeza Antthrushes in eastern Brazil (Formicariidae). Condor 94:110-116.


Kevin J. Zimmer, December 2004




Comments from Robbins: "YES. I fully concur with Ridgely and Tudor's suggestion of using Cryptic Antthrush for Chamaeza meruloides. Kevin does a good job of summarizing the convoluted taxonomic issues and why "Such's Antthrush" is less appropriate."


Comments from Jaramillo: "YES. What a mess! I agree that the original name, well, sucks, and that it did not have a well-entrenched use. The new name, Cryptic Antthrush, is in wider use and could be said to be the status quo right now. I say we go with Cryptic, and pay our apologies to poor ol' Such."


Comments from Stiles: "YES. Given the chaotic state of affairs and the fact that the species went unrecognized until recently in spite of having specimens available for many years, "Cryptic" seems appropriate; its use in standard sources like HBW gives it a status at least equal to the uneuphonious (to say the least) "Such's"."


Comments from Nores: "SI; las razones dadas por Zimmer son muy convincente."


Comments from Remsen: "NO. Whether someone's last name is difficult or awkward to pronounce should not be a deciding factor, in my opinion. Maybe it will force us all to learn something. [Although Willis evidently thought Such's contributions merited a patronym, I also would appreciate comments from Fernando and Jose Maria on Such's contributions -- if very minimal, I could be convinced to change my vote.] Furthermore, although I appreciate the cleverness of "cryptic" in the taxonomic sense, most people will assume that it refers to behavior, for which "cryptic" does not distinguish this species from any other in the family, much less the genus. My only reservation is the use of "Cryptic" in HBW, but I'll stick to my NO, at least until Fernando and Jose Maria weigh in. The CBRO uses "Such's," and the species is endemic to Brazil."


Comments from Pacheco: "NO. Neste caso, estou inclinado a concordar com as colocações de Remsen. As principais contribuições de George Such - chamado de Dr. Such (um médico) por seus colegas britânicos (Swainson, Leach, Vigors) do início do Séc. XIX - foram sumarizadas por Pacheco & Whitney (Auk 114:303-305). Pessoalmente, eu prefiro que o uso do patronímico seja mantido como única homenagem "possível" a este naturalista."


Comments from Silva: "NO. I cannot see any reason to replace the English name of this species. The name cryptic does not add anything to help people to identify or understand a bit the history of this species. I would prefer to maintain the name proposed by Willis."