Proposal (53) to South American Check-list Committee


Adopt a new English name for Myrmeciza castanea


Background: In 1932 John T. Zimmer proposed a new taxon of antbird, castanea, as a subspecies of the widespread Myrmeciza hemimelaena, Chestnut-tailed Antbird. Castanea later was synonymized by Peters. More recently, Isler et al. (2002, Auk 119: 362-378) demonstrated that castanea differed vocally from hemimelaena, that the two were narrowly syntopic, and that castanea not only should be recognized as a valid taxon but also should be given the rank of species. SACC already has endorsed this taxonomy (our Proposal 16).


Isler et al. 2002 also proposed the English names Northern Chestnut-tailed Antbird for Myrmeciza castanea and Southern Chestnut-tailed Antbird for Myrmeciza hemimelaena. At the time that SACC adopted Proposal 16, several of us made negative comments (still posted on our web site) regarding the suggested English names.


Analysis: My own views - negative - on compound group names are expressed (at length) in my comments on our Proposal 48, and I will not repeat them here. Suffice it to say I'd prefer almost anything to a name in the form "Xxxxx Chestnut-tailed Antbird".


For now I will propose that we retain "Chestnut-tailed Antbird" for the widespread species Myrmeciza hemimelaena, and adopt a new name, "Zimmer's Antbird", for Myrmeciza castanea. I believe that the name "Zimmer's Antbird" in fact first was proposed by Mort Isler, as a tribute to John Zimmer's role in recognizing and naming castanea in the first place. This would similar to, say, the name "Chapman's Antshrike" for Thamnophilus zarumae, who originally described it.


I should make clear that I am more than willing to consider alternative names for castanea if anyone proposes something else better in the form of "Xxxx Antbird". But for the moment, "Zimmer's Antbird" is my best alternative to "Northern Chestnut-tailed Antbird".


In response to the initial negative reactions to "Northern Chestnut-tailed Antbird", by the way, Mort Isler wrote the following to Van (also posted on our web site, under Proposal 16):


 "With regard to the English names of M. hemimelaena and M. castanea, we canvassed all of the coauthors of our recent Auk paper (119:362-378) except Thomas Valqui, whom we understand is in the field in Peru. All three of the remaining authors expressed a strong preference for maintaining the English names of M. hemimelaena and M. castanea proposed in the paper. We gather that you received Bret [Whitney]'s comments directly. The consensus of their comments is that they thought that the English names proposed in the paper were appropriate and that the known geographic range overlap between hemimelaena and castanea is too narrow to require changing them.


"With regard to the second possible objection, although the range of M. hemimelaena extends much further east than the range of M. castanea, the range of M. hemimelaena is entirely south of the Amazon/Marañon and the range of M. castanea, except for the extension into the San Martín region, is north of the Amazon/Marañón. Therefore, we feel that the descriptive names of "Southern" and "Northern" are valid.


"None of the other authors got very excited about our suggestion of possibly changing the English name of M. castanea to Zimmer's Antbird.


"After due consideration, therefore, we have to report that it is the authors' recommendation that the English names for M. castanea and M. hemimelaena remain as proposed in the paper.


"We appreciate your consulting us on the matter."


Recommendation: My recommendation, of course, would be to vote "Yes", to change the English name of Myrmeciza castanea from "Northern Chestnut-tailed Antbird" to "Zimmer's Antbird" (or to a better name, if anyone creates such a thing, as long as it is nice and simple).


Tom Schulenberg, August 2003





Comments from Remsen: "I vote YES on this proposal -- no surprise, as I was a ring-leader in opposing the awkwardness of the original English name. Like Tom, I strongly favor shorter names all-else-being-equal, and I dislike compound names for the reasons I gave in my "XXX Seaside-Cinclodes" proposal. Regardless, I am particularly opposed to the compound name in this case because these names are traditionally reserved for allopatric/parapatric species ... clearly not the case in this case -- in fact, it was their sympatry that was crucial in identifying castanea as a species-level taxon."


Comments from Robbins: "I vote "yes" for the using "Zimmer's Antbird" for Myrmeciza castanea for reasons outlined by Van."


Comments from Stiles: "I go with Zimmer's Antbird for reasons given above. Not very pretty but less cumbersome and about as appropriate as the alternative."


Comments from Zimmer: "I vote "yes" on this proposal. Although I do not have the same visceral reaction to compound names that Tom has, I do find "Northern Chestnut-tailed Antbird" and "Southern Chestnut-tailed Antbird" to be really awkward. I also agree with Van that such names really should be reserved for allopatric taxa. I think that "Zimmer's Antbird" does a nice job of recognizing the person who first pointed out the distinctiveness of castanea, and I voiced this opinion to Mort Isler when he first suggested the name as an alternate to the names used in the paper that split castanea.  I generally don't like to mess with the names suggested by the authors, but this is one case where such a case is called for. And, contrary to Gary's comment about the suggested name not being "pretty", I find myself thinking that "Zimmer's Antbird" has a kind of nice ring to it!"


Addendum from Schulenberg: "I remember that some time in the 1980s Ted Parker was carting around LSU a set of proposed changes to English names of tyrant flycatchers. I guess that these proposed changes had been sent to Ted for his comments, I don't know. The basic idea was that this person apparently no longer could cope with names like "bristle-tyrant", "tody-tyrant", "pygmy-tyrant" and the like, and wanted to simplify all of these to "flycatcher". Ted, who was at least as good as I am at working himself into a state of righteous indignation, was beside himself over this idea: how could anyone not see that "bristle-tyrant" meant Pogonotriccus and that that *meant* something??? Ted got worked up, we all had a laugh, and the whole thing faded away (thank goodness). "All of which is a long winded way of saying, in response to Mark Robbin's comments on my diatribe in relation to Proposal 48, that I recognize that there are many *great* English names for Neotropical birds that are compound in nature: besides the ones already mentioned, where would we be without "foliage-gleaner"? and so on. 'So, yes, although I prefer names that are simple in structure over names that are more complicated, *other things being equal*, I am *not* suggesting that we strip ourselves of well-established, highly useful compound group names.  "What I was railing against was the recent tendency to create new (and in my view, less useful) compound group names in response to a simple species "split". My comments were prompted, after all, by a proposal to turn a "cinclodes" into two "seaside-cinclodes". I also had a negative response to recently proposed names for a split in Myrmeciza (now our proposal 53). And I've never been happy with the notion of turning one Slaty Antshrike into a whole slew of "xxxx Slaty-Antshrikes". From Gary Stiles' comments (on proposal 53), I gather that I am not alone in this.  "So, please interpret my critique of compound group names within the narrower context that I have tried to describe here."


Comments from Nores: "[YES] Si estoy de acuerdo. No solo por ser un nombre más corto y apropiado, sino también por un reconocimiento a Zimmer."