Proposal (395) to South American Classification Committee


Change English name of the two Pittasoma species



Effect on South American CL: change the English name of the two Pittasoma species to something other than “Antpitta”


Background: The two Pittasoma Antpittas have until recently been treated alongside other Antpittas and Antthrushes in the family Formicariidae.  SACC proposal #235 split up the Formicariidae based on new data (Irestedt et al. 2002, Chesser 2004, Rice 2005a, 2005b).  Formicariidae is now restricted to the Antthrushes (Formicarius, Chamaeza), whereas the Antpittas have been placed in a family of their own, Grallariidae.  The two Pittasoma Antpittas, however, have been placed in the Conopophagidae alongside the Gnateaters, based on Rice (2005a, 2005b).


The name Antpitta is now taxonomically misleading for these two species, since it is clear that their nearest relatives are the Gnateaters, and not the other Antpittas.  As I see it, there are 5 possibilities for a name change:


A. “Gnateater”: This may be the most obvious and straightforward change, given that all other members of the Conopophagidae bear this name.  The downside to this is the possibility of the genus Pittasoma being placed in its own family at some point in the future; some voting members on proposal # 235 preferred this option, given some of the dissimilarities between Pittasoma and Conopophaga.


B. “Ant-pitta”:  This name is in parallel with a situation that currently exists with the Formicariidae.  All birds with the name “Antthrush” belong to this family; however, 2 unrelated species of the Afrotropical genus Neocossyphus (Turdidae) bear the name “Ant-thrush.”  The hyphen may or may not have been introduced to distinguish these species from the Neotropical ones.  This is the smallest change possible, but it may be insufficient to distinguish Pittasoma from other Antpittas - phonetically there is no change.  Note also that “Ant-pitta” would be in violation of Parkes (1978) Rule 1D (see proposals 214-218).


C. “Pittasoma”:  This would be a new English name, based on the already existing genus name.  Its advantage is that it would distinguish these 2 species from other Antpittas and the Gnateaters.


D. “Antpitta-gnateater”:  In parallel with “Manakin-tyrant” for Neopipo (proposal 187), the error of the old classification is preserved, and placing gnateater after the hyphen indicates the actual affinities of the birds.  The name is, however, very cumbersome.


E. “Gnatpitta”:  Although entirely novel, all of the information conveyed in (D) can be found in this name. The retention of -pitta as a suffix highlights the Pitta-like morphology of the genus (as in the Grallariidae), and preserves the error of earlier classifications. The prefix Gnat- points to its true affinities with the Gnateaters.  Phonetically, “Gnatpitta” is not too different from “Antpitta.”  For what it’s worth, the name has already arisen independently and is being used on some websites.  The Wikipedia entry for Tyranni mentions the name (although the entry for Conopophagidae does not).


Voting procedure: In this proposal, “NO” = retain Antpitta and “YES” = change to something other than Antpitta.  Would those members voting “YES” please state which name is their preference, and if the proposal passes, I’ll write a new proposal based on the most popular name.


Literature Cited: See SACC website.


Liam Hughes, April 2009



Comment from Thomas Donegan and Paul Salaman: “We adopted "Gnatpitta" in the 2009 Colombia checklist (Salaman et al. 2009), for the reasons set out in this proposal.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “NO – I am not bothered by this; we have different types of orioles, blackbirds, robins…all taxonomically misleading, and the world still keeps on turning. If I end up being the only one to vote no, I think that Gnatpitta has a nice ring to it.”


Comments from Schulenberg: “NO. I'm just not vexed by the idea that a group name might not reflect phylogeny. As Al points out, we have many well-established English group names that are based on shared morphotypes or general similarities - what's wrong with continuing this trend? I also agree that "gnatpitta" has a nice ring to it when *written*, but I wonder if, when spoken, it might sound too much like "antpitta."


Comments from Robbins: “YES.  And to be consistent with other English names that I have supported in prior proposals, I favor changing the name to Pittasoma.”


Comments from Zimmer: “YES.  No point in continuing to call them antpittas when we know they aren’t.  On the other hand, I am totally opposed to calling them “gnateaters”.  As I stated earlier (Proposal #235), I really think these two species should be placed in their own family.  Without them, Conopophagidae is a pretty uniform group.  Whether or not we choose to recognize the differences between Pittasoma and Conopophaga at the familial or generic level, they are very different beasts, and should have an English name that reflects that difference.  So I would vote NO on option A.  I would also vote NO on option B:  inserting a hyphen into Ant-pitta for the two Pittasoma species.  This would just create more confusion (I would rather stick with the status quo than make this change).  I would also vote NO on option D,  “Antpitta-gnateater”, which is cumbersome, confusing, and would be an ugly name to hang on a couple of magnificent birds.  That leaves us with option C (use Pittasoma as the group English name) or option E (“Gnatpitta”).  I could be perfectly comfortable with either one.  Like Mark, my preference would probably be for calling them Pittasomas, but “Gnatpitta” is catchy, reflects the relationship to gnateaters and the morphological similarity to antpittas, and does roll off the tongue.  However, Tom may have a point regarding how similar “Gnatpitta” sounds to “Antpitta” when spoken.  So, I would vote YES to change the group name from Antpitta to either “Pittasoma” or “Gnatpitta” (in that order of preference) but NO to any of the other options presented.”


New comments from Schulenberg: “Earlier (7 June 2009) I voted "No" on this proposal, but I'd like to change my vote to "YES." As Alvaro (and, earlier, I) pointed out, there are a lot of bird names - warbler, flycatcher, chat, etc. - that do not reflect phylogeny. But there also are plenty of cases where it makes sense to revise our English names to reflect adjustments in taxonomy. Examples of this include SACC Proposal 334 on names for Poecilotriccus tyrannids, and SACC Proposal 187 on Neopipo (although in that case, SACC made such a hash of things that I'm ready to subcontract our English name operation to Bob Ridgely. I'm serious about that.). To me, the Pittasoma situation is something of a borderline case. My preference would be for "Gnatpitta."


Comments from Stiles: “YES. If they aren’t antpittas, it makes sense to call them something else (although the world would still turn if “antpitta” were retained). However, as these are not popular, well-known birds the change to something better would rock few boats; I like “Gnatpitta” for reasons given by various committee members. I fail to see the pronunciation problem suggested by Tom and Kevin.  If someone says “gnateater” in the field, I have yet to see anyone start looking for a long-snouted mammal!  As a second choice here, I would not be averse to “Pittasoma”. “


Comments from Remsen: “NO, but with little conviction.  Many or most English “last names” for birds have little phylogenetic significance – they typically refer to morphotypes and often span family boundaries when morphology does.  As long as the species in Pittasoma match the basic “antpitta” morphotype, then they are OK with me.  On the other hand, in this case I do appreciate the rare opportunity to retain a 1:1 match of last name and family, so this is a very weak “no” vote.  Of the potential new names, I’d go for “Pittasoma” – in contrast to some conversions of scientific names, not only is this one unusually tractable in terms of pronunciation, it also means, literally, “pitta body,” thereby preserving the morphotype connotation.  As for “Gnatpitta” …. this seems a little too contrived for my taste and is potentially misleading in terms of implying that these species have something to do with gnats.  Conopophaga” means gnat-eater (Greek), and even if Conopophaga may not eat “gnats” per se, they are known to eat many small (< 5 mm long) arthropods (Whitney HBW chapter), and they do some sally-striking, which as far as I know, is unknown or very rare in Pittasoma.”