Proposal (164) to South American Classification Committee


Recognize Philodice as a separate genus from Calliphlox


This proposal would split off the genus Philodice from Calliphlox into which our baseline list currently lumps it. The situation of these two genera and a third, Nesophlox, has been extremely unstable over the years with one, two or all three being recognized to accommodate four currently recognized species: amethystina, mitchellii, bryantae, and evelynae.


Calliphlox was described for amethystine by Boie (1831), Philodice to separate mitchellii by Mulsant and J. & E. Verreaux (1866), and Nesophlox to separate evelynae and bryantae by Ridgway (1910). An indication of the degree of disagreement over generic limits is given by the differences between the placement of the four species in major checklists. Cory (1918) placed amethystina and mitchellii in Calliphlox, evelynae and bryantae in Nesophlox but did not mention Philodice, as did Ridgway (1911), who considered the latter a synonym of Calliphlox. Peters (1945) placed evelynae, mitchellii and bryantae in Philodice and amethystina in Calliphlox without stating his reasons, but was possibly influenced by the remarks of Todd (1942), who also commented that "no great violence would be done to the facts by combining all these forms under Calliphlox." The AOU (1983) lumped all in Calliphlox without publishing any rationale, though an unpublished note by Monroe in the AOU files (passed on to me by Dick Banks) cited Todd as the basis for this. This was followed by Sibley & Monroe (1990) but not by Hilty & Brown (1986), who maintained mitchellii in Philodice. Schuchmann (1999) also lumped all four into Calliphlox.


To disentangle the reasons for all this, it is essential to review the characters used by Mulsant & J. and E. Verreaux (1866) and Ridgway (1910) to separate Philodice and Nesophlox in particular. The "diagnosis" of Philodice was given in the form of a key by Mulsant et al. (actually, it is not clear that this was the actual diagnosis as two different citations appear for this, but as the characters are summarized in the key, it will serve here). Herewith my somewhat free summary/translation from the original French:


"Philodice: rectrices 4 and 5 about equal in length, notably longer than rectrix 3 Calliphlox: rectrix 3 close in length to 4 and 5."

Within Calliphlox, they distinguished amethystine from evelynae because in the former there is a gradual increase in length from rectrix 3 through 5, the latter ending in a "sharp angle" (=point) while in the latter rectrices 2 through 5 are only slightly unequal and in part red ("rouge" = rufous), rectrix 5 not pointed (they place evelynae in a "subgenus" Egolia, equivalent to Philodice and Calliphlox, which were also actually considered "subgenera" of their "genre Amathusia". Evidently Egolia was subsequently ignored because Ridgway (1910) later described Nesophlox for evelynae. They did not mention bryantae because it was only described a year later by Lawrence (in Doricha). Their Amathusia included members of various genera (Doricha, Rhodopis, Calothorax) in addition to those considered here, which had for the most part been named by Gould a few years earlier.


I have not seen Ridgway's original description of Nesophlox, but the relevant information is summarized and commented upon by Ridgway (1911). He distinguished his Nesophlox from Calliphlox (including mitchellii) by "wing relatively larger, outer primary not attenuated terminally, lateral rectrices of adult male broadly edged rufous on inner webs, adult female with tail less than half the wing (length)", vs. (Calliphlox) "wing relatively smaller, outer primary narrower and attenuated terminally, lateral rectrices of males entirely "purplish-dusky", adult females with tail not greater than half the wing". He mentioned the pointed outer rectrix of Calliphlox with relatively larger inner rectrices, and noted that "bryantae is somewhat intermediate in form and coloration" (female resembling Calliphlox in its dusky auriculars, male has more green in inner rectrices -- in amethystina only the middle rectrices are green, as in evelynae. in which the others are black with rufous, rather than all black); he noted the close affinity of Nesophlox and Calliphlox. He did not mention mitchellii in detail and may not have seen it.


Todd (1942) was not impressed with Ridgway's characters for Nesophlox and commented "if it is recognized, both mitchellii and bryantae would have to be referred thereto or separated under the name Philodice, as Simon has already done. In the former case, Philodice would supplant the later Nesophlox", evidently paving the way for the Peters arrangement.


Thus, the essential differences between Calliphlox, Philodice, and Nesophlox boil down to differences in the relative lengths of the rectrices of the males, the presence or absence of pointed tips or rufous in the outer rectrices, an attenuated or normal outer primary and minor differences in coloration and the relative lengths of wing and tail in the females. To place these differences in perspective, we might compare the degree of differentiation among the species in the related genus Selasphorus. Here too we find species with highly attenuated vs. normal outer primaries, very pointed vs. blunt-tipped rectrices, widely varying amounts of rufous vs. black or green in the rectrices and rufous in the underparts and a wider range of sizes and gorget colors than among the four species of concern here, even among the four species of Costa Rica-Panama (see Stiles 1983). In sum, if we continue to maintain all these species in Selasphorus, rather than splitting up this genus into several smaller genera with slightly different tails, I see no reason for not merging Philodice (and Nesophlox) into Calliphlox and strongly recommend a NO vote on this proposal.



AOU 1983. Checklist of North American birds, sixth ed.

Cory (1918)

Hilty & Brown (1986)

Mulsant, E., J. Verreaux & E. Verreaux. 1866. Essai d'une classification méthodique des Trochilidés. (from Mem. Soc. Imp. Sci. Nat. Cherbourg 1866, vol. XII) (pp. 84-86)

Peters (1945)

Ridgway, R. 1911. The birds of North and Middle America, Bull. USNM, vol. 50, part 5. (pp. 309, 640-641).

Schuchmann 1999, HBW vol. 5.

Sibley & Monroe 1990

Stiles 1983, Auk 100:311-325.

Todd, W. E. C. 1942. List of the hummingbirds in the collection of the Carnegie Museum 39: 271-310 (p. 357).


Gary Stiles, February 2005





Comments from Remsen: "NO. I like Gary's Selasphorus analogy. Defining genera on the basis of secondary sex characters and slight color differences would be dangerous in Trochilidae. I think there is as much variation in tail shape in Schuchmann's broadly defined Chlorostilbon mellisugus as there is in the Philodice/Calliphlox/Nesophlox group."


Comments from Zimmer: "NO. Both Gary's Selasphorus analogy and Van's point regarding Chlorostilbon mellisugus are well taken. Recognition of such narrowly defined genera obscures relationships and represents a loss of informative value."


Comments from Robbins: "No. Gary's analogy of woodstar plumage variation with Selasphorus species is on the mark."


Comments from Nores: "NO. Las especies son notablemente semejantes en diseño de color y aspecto. Las diferencias de la cola no son importantes como para separar géneros de colibríes. La analogía que hace Stiles con Selasphorus es muy ilustrativa."


Comments from Pacheco: "NO. A definição do gênero apoia-se em caracteres relativamente tênues e sem significância dentre os Trochilidae."


Comments from Jaramillo: "NO - I have always wondered why there are so many Woodstar genera; that never quite made sense to me. I see that it probably doesn't make sense at all."