Proposal (559) to South American Classification Committee


Synonymize Scytalopus petrophilus with Scytalopus speluncae and recognize Scytalopus notorius



Effect on SACC list: If this proposal is accepted, the name Scytalopus speluncae would be applied to the Rock Tapaculo, thus replacing the name S. petrophilus, leaving the Mouse-colored Tapaculo (to which the name speluncae has been traditionally applied) with the available name Scytalopus notorius.


Justification: This proposal advocates the adoption of the taxonomic recommendations made by Raposo et al. (2012), namely that Scytalopus petrophilus should be considered a synonym of Scytalopus speluncae.  The justification for this is that Raposo et al. (2012), by virtue of extensive historical research, made it abundantly clear that the holotype of Scytalopus speluncae is beyond reasonable dispute (based on the available evidence) from São João del Rei, in Minas Gerais.


It is critical to note that the curator of the relevant collection in St. Petersburg (Vladimir Loskot), where the type specimen and many relevant documents are held, is one of the authors of Raposo et al. (2012).  The same locality, São João del Rei, is listed as the provenance of a paratype of S. petrophilus, yet all of the authors involved in this debate agree that the prioponly one species of Scytalopus occurs in this region (diagnosed morphologically by being paler than the dark grey species of the Serra do Mar, and having the rump and posterior underparts barred brown).


It should be abundantly clear, to those who have read the paper by Raposo et al., that whatever doubts were expressed by Maurício (2005), Bornschein et al. (2007), Maurício et al. (2010), and Whitney et al. (2010) reflect an incomplete knowledge of the historical facts, rather than being based on information that might permit a reasonable alternative interpretation. The best example of this is the incorrect interpretation of certain literature by Maurício et al. (2010), which resulted in a wholly inadequate translation of the sole historical reference that was mounted in support of their position (see the figure and text on p. 58 of Raposo et al. 2012).


If there is any doubt concerning a type locality, authors should follow the recommendations of the Code (ICZN, 1999, 76A.1) especially:


 “[articles] 76A.1.1. data accompanying the original material; 76A.1.2. collector’s notes, itineraries, or personal communications; 76A.1.3. the original description of the taxon; 76A.1.4. as a last resort, and without prejudice to other clarification, localities within the known range of the taxon or from which specimens referred to the taxon had been taken” (Raposo et al. 2012).


These articles from the Code should be borne in mind when considering the following:


1. All of the available details directly attached to the specimen indicate that S. J. Del Rei is the type locality.


2. All of the collector’s notes and field diary also clearly indicate that S. J. del Rei is the type locality, and Maurício et al. (2010) did not directly examine these sources.


3. The original description mentions the presence of white elements on the breast, which is also the case with the topotypical material collected from S. J. del Rei, but was considered to be in error by Maurício et al.


4. Ménétriés’s itinerary definitely included S. J. del Rei.


The remaining doubts concerning this specimen’s morphology expressed by Maurício et al. (2010) essentially revolve around the notion that one might discover a pale grey specimen with brown barring on the rear flanks and rump among the few variant individuals from the dark grey population, but this suggestion has been shown to be erroneous (see Raposo et al. 2012).  Unlike the majority of authors of Raposo et al., not one of Maurício and his co-authors have examined the holotype of Scytalopus speluncae, and all of their conclusions are based on photographs supplied to them by the senior author of the 2012 paper itself.


Raposo et al. (2012) demonstrated that the holotype of Scytalopus speluncae is identical to the topotypes, which can easily be seen by viewing Fig. 7 in Raposo et al. (2012).  With the synonymization of S. petrophilus, S. notorius becomes the valid name for the dark grey species inhabiting the Serra do Mar of eastern Brazil as shown in Raposo et al. (2006), who already had established the correct use of S. speluncae for the light gray form and described the "notable" dark-gray new species six years ago.  My proposal can be concluded with the same words that closed Raposo et al.: "Of what relevance are type localities, if not to assist in resolving such problems? If these authors doubt our analysis of the holotype, then they might use the type locality to determine the morphology of the species (in conjunction with the topotypes), rather than the opposite."


Literature cited


Bornschein, M.R., Maurício, G.N., Lopes, R.B., Mata, H. & Bonato, S.L. (2007) Diamantina Tapaculo, a new Scytalopus endemic to the Chapada Diamantina, northeastern Brazil (Passeriformes: Rhinocryptidae).  Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia, 15, 151–174.


International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN) (1999) International code of zoological nomenclature. Fourth edn. International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, London.


Maurício, G.N. (2005) Taxonomy of southern populations in the Scytalopus speluncae group, with description of a new species and remarks on the systematics and biogeography of the complex (Passeriformes: Rhinocryptidae). Ararajuba, 13, 7–28.


Maurício, G.N., Bornschein, M.R., Vasconcelos, M.F. Whitney, B.M., Pacheco, J.F. & Silveira, L.F. (2010) Taxonomy of “Mouse-colored Tapaculos”. I. On the application of the name Malacorhynchus speluncae Ménétriès, 1835 (Aves: Passeriformes: Rhinocryptidae). Zootaxa, 2518, 32–48.


Raposo, M. A., Kirwan, G. M., Loskot, V. & Assis, C. P. (2012) São João del Rei is the type locality of Scytalopus speluncae – a response to Mauricio et al. (2010). Zootaxa 3439: 51–67.


Whitney, B.M., Vasconcelos, M.F., Silveira, L.F. & Pacheco, J.F. (2010) Scytalopus petrophilus (Rock Tapaculo): a new species from Minas Gerais, Brazil. Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia, 18 (2), 73–88.


Guilherme R. R. Brito, October 2012




Comments from Bret Whitney: “To address the recently posted Proposal 559 of Brito to synonymize Scytalopus petrophilus in Scytalopus speluncae, I offer the following observations and opinions.  Mention of authors’/parties’ names refers to the literature cited by Brito, occasionally specified to date for necessary emphasis.

  1. The holotype of Malacorhynchus speluncae (today, Scytalopus speluncae) exists and all agree that it was an adult bird and was collected by and described by Ménétriés.  
  2. All agree that a high-quality color illustration accompanied the original description and, like the holotype, it is available for independent examination today; it shows an entirely gray bird with no hint of brown color or dark barring anywhere in the plumage.
  3. All agree that the holotype is not in perfect condition, having lost most of the feathers of its lower underparts, especially on one side.  There is dissention as to whether there are enough feathers present in the posterior underparts to reliably allow their description today: Raposo et al assert that contour feathers are completely lost on both sides and it is impossible to see dark barring that must have been there, pointing to a miniscule brownish tinge or vestiges of some barred effect in the uppertail coverts, while Mauricio et al. and Whitney et al. explain the lack of barring as a natural feature of the specimen, with traces of brownish feathering anywhere on the lower underparts being remnants of a previous, subadult plumage.  
  4. The holotype is 180+ years old.  All agree that it cannot be expected to have maintained its natural coloration (saturation and hue), but there is dissention as to how much it might have changed and in what manner, and there is dissention surrounding the original coloration of gray plumage areas and how to interpret Ménétriés’s description of this gray, especially in the throat and breast.  
  5. All agree that Ménétriés clearly designated a grotto near São João del Rei the type locality and his diaries exist in which he provided sufficient detail to establish its identity near São João del Rei today.
  6. Ménétriés described fifteen (I believe) species of birds, over half of which have been shown to have been assigned erroneous type localities (Pacheco 2004 and subsequent elaborations of tangential details).  All agree on this point, but Raposo et al do not believe that Ménétriés could have erred in the case of M. speluncae because he collected the specimen himself (i.e., it was not Langsdorff material) and provided an unusually accurate and detailed description of the locality and described iris color of a bird [possibly a tapaculo, we cannot objectively determine what kind of bird he had in hand] after collection.  Mauricio et al. and Whitney et al. believe that it is not only possible, but essentially irrefutable, that Ménétriés erred in his designation of the type locality because his description and the accompanying color plate of the holotype quite accurately portray another, geographically proximate population of Scytalopus, one inhabiting the region through which his itinerary clearly indicates his party passed en route to and from São João del Rei — and because there exists today — as all agree — only one form of  Scytalopus in the immediate vicinity of São João del Rei, a form that in all plumages bears conspicuous dark barring on the flanks, features not mentioned at all in Ménétriés’s original description or featured in the color illustration of the holotype that accompanied the description.  It is worth repeating that Ménétriés published his description some ten years after collecting his specimen — plenty of time, according to Mauricio et al. and Whitney et al., for him to have forgotten critical details of his fieldwork or to have mixed up specimens in his possession or in museums, labeled or not.  Mauricio et al. and Whitney et al. believe it highly probable that Ménétriés improperly linked the specimen and the locality, as he more obviously did for several other birds he described (notwithstanding that most of the problematic ones were Langsdorff specimens).  Great detail in Ménétriés’s description of the type locality, including collection of a tapaculo there, does absolutely nothing to validate that locality for the specific specimen in question.  As for labels attached to the specimen, whether in Ménétriés’s handwriting or not — it is, of course, impossible to establish when those might have been affixed.

“In our collective effort to determine identification of the holotype, which is far less complicated than it may seem, it certainly will be best to admit that disagreement on the condition and appearance of the 180-year-old specimen is understandable and to therefore drop any further discussion of these points.  That it is not possible for scientists to agree on condition of an extant holotype is justification enough for discounting any lingering argument.  It matters not that no one among Mauricio et al. or Whitney et al. have personally examined the holotype because the high-quality photos and descriptions presented by Raposo et al. serve perfectly well to show that the holotype, especially the critically important flanks/belly region of it, is in poor condition.  The productive course for resolution of the holotype’s identity is, therefore, to concentrate on those points on which all parties do agree, and to consider each of them in their order of relevance under the ICZN*:


1.    the author’s original description with its accompanying illustration, and

2.    all other data or indications that seem reliable and may be brought to bear


“Ménétriés’s description and the color illustration are in close agreement and clearly indicate an essentially plain, gray bird.  If we are to trust Ménétriés’s diaries, description of a locality we can identify today, and even a bird’s iris color – and I see no particular reason to doubt the authenticity or accuracy of any of these things – then we must also trust without prejudice his description of a very important specimen.  It would be inadmissible to imagine, for instance, that Ménétriés might have failed to notice conspicuous barring on the flanks on either side of a specimen that shows no sign of shot having damaged the legs or feet and with the tail intact – even if the plumage damage we see today occurred during his inspection of stomach contents or preparation of the skin.  Such barring was obviously regarded as important detail because an illustration of Malacorhynchus albiventris (Ménétriés 1835; today Eleoscytalopus indigoticus) by the same artist on the same plate shows extensively black-barred, rufous flanks.  As Raposo et al have pointed out more than once, all agree that there exists today only one form of Scytalopus in the vicinity of São João del Rei: the one with conspicuously barred flanks.


“All data considered, it is clear that Ménétriés could not have taken the specimen he described as being essentially plain-gray at that grotto near São João del Rei — unless, perhaps, more humid forest habitat was present in that area of Minas Gerais in the early 19th Century and plain-gray birds then occurred there.


*Raposo et al (2012) stated, “… correctly identifying the type locality is of overriding importance to ensure the correct nomenclature of the entire species-group…”  Their insistence on placing provenance ahead of the original description of the specimen in establishing the identity of the holotype has unfortunately led to much wasted time on both sides of the aisle.  It is poignant to note that the ICZN does not require designation of a holotype (see Recommendation 73A) or designation of a type locality (see Recommendation 73C.2) as part of a valid description of an animal.  I mention this to bring focus sharply to identification of the extant holotype of Malacorhynchus speluncae as the question we must strive to resolve.  In order to satisfy all parties involved in this argument today, identification of this specimen must reside in (as justified above) collective trust of: 1) Ménétriés’s description, the only salient point being whether the flanks were conspicuously barred or not; 2) the color illustration that accompanied the original description and whether or not it agrees with the description; and lastly, in other pieces of information.  Ménétriés’s original description of present-day Scytalopus speluncae must be considered applicable to the Scytalopus tapaculos matching it in areas in which he is known to have collected birds at the time.  It really is as simple as that.  Thus, the name speluncae must stand for plain-gray birds that (today, at least) occur as near to his designated locality as about 70 km in Minas Gerais and which remain common in vast areas he traversed and collected in the state of Rio de Janeiro.  Scytalopus petrophilus Whitney, Vasconcelos, Silveira, and Pacheco 2010 is the valid name for tapaculos they described as “Rock Tapaculo”, which is the only Scytalopus that occurs around São João del Rei, Minas Gerais, today.  The specimens from near São João del Rei called “topotypes of S. speluncae” by Raposo et al (2006) are specimens of S. petrophilus and have no bearing as types of any taxon.  Once again, the name notorius Raposo, Stopiglia, Loskot, and Kirwan 2006 must be considered (at least for the present, [Whitney et al 2010]) a junior synonym of S. speluncae.


“In answer to the question from the concluding remarks of Raposo et al (2012) repeated by Brito to close his proposal, above, I refer to ICZN Article 76, Recommendation A.2: “A statement of a type locality that is found to be erroneous should be corrected.”  That is what Mauricio et al (2010) effectively accomplished in designating “Serra dos Órgãos” as a much more appropriate type locality for S. speluncae, a proposal endorsed by Whitney et al. (2010).  A highly desirable result was the maintenance of stability of nomenclature long in use. 


“Finally, concerning stability of nomenclature, which is the single most important objective of the Code, it occurred to me that it might be desirable to submit a request to the Commission to consider the name speluncae a nomen dubium because the holotype is damaged to such an extent that interested scientists are unable to agree on its identity.  The Commission could decide to set aside the extant holotype and allow designation of a neotype.  Although this course might well stabilize the nomenclature (argument on the subject never seems to go away), I quickly decided against petitioning the Commission for two clear reasons: 1) neotype designation of a plain-gray specimen from Serra dos Órgãos (or anywhere else) would only lead to heightened dissention among ornithologists interested in resolving the issue, a situation the Code explicitly attempts to head-off (see Recommendation 75B); and more importantly 2) it is highly probable that “ancient DNA” from the extant holotype could be extracted and amplified to objectively establish its identity.  After all, about 90% of the specimen is intact and in perfect agreement with the author’s description and the artist’s accompanying depiction.  Despite the dissentions enumerated above, there is no good reason to abandon the holotype, to the contrary, it should definitely be maintained.  If there is any request or recommendation to be made, it is certainly for the curator(s) at the Zoological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences (ZISP), St. Petersburg to allow specialists with no vested interest in the outcome of this debate to obtain from the holotype of Malacorhynchus speluncae (ZISP145251) enough biological material to permit amplification of its DNA and, consequently, establishment of its identity and stabilization of nomenclature.  The technology and methodology for undertaking this analysis exist today, and cadres of scientists around the world are currently working toward ever finer resolution of “ancient-DNA” analysis such that an attempt to amplify material that might fail or come up short of confidence levels today might well be repeated with satisfactory results some time into the future.”


Comments from Pacheco: “So that the historical research related to this case is truly “extensive” and the “available details” impartially interpreted, I think it opportune to advance a couple of observations bearing in mind that Ménétriés, once he was established as curator in St. Petersburg following his experience in Brazil, had at his disposition ornithological material collected in Brazil during the 1820s by Langsdorff, Freyress, and Bescke as well as his own material.


“Observation 1: In the collection in St. Petersburg, the specimens originating from Brazil, especially those from the Langsdorff-Ménétriés Expedition, did not bear labels with data, nor field numbers.


“The subsequent annotation of data on labels was the work of the curator.  In this case, this was Ménétriés himself.  Chrostowski (1921) attested to this reality: “Ce n´est pas le cas pour les oiseaux de Langsdorff-Ménétriès, dont il n´existe au Musée aucun catalogue. Sur les étiquettes les indications relatives au sexe, à la date et au lieu précis de la capture de l´oiseau sont négligées. »


“For those species he described, Ménétriés relied on his memory and annotations in his diaries, but lacking a numerical or other organization of the material, he inserted on the labels a small amount of additional information.


“Helmut Sick (who visited the collection of ZISP on 31 August 1982) wrote in his scientific diary that the majority of the labels on Brazilian specimens contained only “Langsdorff, Brasilia”.


“Observation 2: Ménétriés did not always remember if individual specimens were collected by him or by someone else.


“In the same article in which he described Malacorhynchus speluncae, Ménétriés (1835) described Formicivora melanaria (= Cercomacra melanaria), designating as its type locality “Minas Gerais” and augmenting the information on the specimen labels of his syntypes (apud Chrostowski 1921) to indicate that he had collected the specimens himself: “E. Ménétriès leg.”  The distribution of C. melanaria (Mato Grosso Antbird) is centered on the region of the Pantanal, at least 1,160 km west of the region through which Ménétriés passed (see the full line of  Figure 10 of Raposo et al. 2012) and most certainly could not have been collected by him.


“These two observations together reveal that Ménétriés would have had to “select” specimens from within his Brazilian collection in the absence of information unequivocally defining their provenance.  In the case of his “№ 18 Myothera,” he probably (as must be expected, after the passage of nearly ten years) relied heavily on his field journal describing an impressive cavern and, recalling his collection of a furtive bird of some kind at that memorable spot, apparently extrapolated that he collected the tapaculo specimen he wished to describe in St. Petersburg at that place near São João del Rey.  Whether this interpretation is really what happened or not, the fact remains that a failure of memory could easily be involved.”


Comments solicited from Richard Schodde (Chair, Standing Committee Ornithological Nomenclature, IOC):  Raposo et al. emphasize the type locality in settling the issue because they find the holotype difficult to identify. Whitney & Pacheco emphasize the identity of the holotype as the primary issue, place considerable faith in its illustration, and treat the type locality as a secondary and, in this case, indecisive issue.


“I would always side with Whitney and Pacheco in such a case because it is the identity of type specimens that decide the application of names, not type localities. Type localities may provide critical collateral information, but that information is secondary to the primary issue of type specimen identity.


“Reliance on type locality diverts attention from and diminishes the power of the type specimen - the only true name bearer for a species-group taxon - in fixing names. That's why new species-group taxa must be based on whole collected type specimens. If it is thought that collection might contribute to extinction, then the taxon is on the way out anyway and, with a specimen, we would at least have a record of what it looked like and how it compared with other related taxa.


“Whitney's suggestion that ancient DNA sequencing should be used to resolve the issue is a good one.”


Comments solicited from Edward C. Dickinson: “It is not evident to me that the Code has a particular contribution to make here unless it is perhaps to force the question of whether there is sufficient proof that the painting was made from the type as opposed to a better, more easily depictable specimen thought to be the same taxon but perhaps not and perhaps not from the same locality. In those days the type concept was hardly formed in most people's minds. Indeed this remained true until the 1870s or so; until then the question "asked" of arriving specimens was whether a specimen was typical of some known population rather than whether it was the specimen, or one of the specimens from which the original description was drawn. Thus for example many specimen labels, especially those of Boucard, which say TYPE are simply those seen to be typical of the population concerned and the name given to that population was then added to the label.”


Comments from Stiles: “YES.  Having read the Raposo papers as well as the rebuttals by Whitney and Mauricio et al., I find the arguments of Raposo et al. to be the more convincing. I am especially impressed by their painstaking first-hand examination of the type specimen and the historical materials, the reproduction of which makes it eminently clear that the type locality is indeed Sao Joao do Rei and its cave and that the type, while damaged, is typical of material from that locality and thus correctly identified with the name speluncae.


Comments from Marcos Raposo: “No resume of the situation can replace a close reading of at least the papers by Raposo et al. (2012) and Maurício et al. (2010), or, even better, all of the relevant papers published since Maurício (2005). Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to provide a specific response to the comments of Whitney and Pacheco above, in order to give clear balance to the discussion directly available here.


“I maintain that what we have at issue is a dispute between a scientific hypothesis based on clear facts (Raposo et al. 2012) and a poorly defined opinion (Maurício et al. 2010).


“Throughout the papers by Raposo et al (2006), Raposo & Kirwan (2008), and Raposo et al. (2012), there is a clear and, significantly, unmodified narrative, namely that the holotype of S. speluncae corresponds in plumage to those of its topotypes, and that it is representative of the generally paler populations found in the interior of Minas Gerais. We introduced the name S. notorius for the darker species of the coastal mountains and we defended that the original type locality designation, São João del Rei, is correct because the morphology of the type of S. speluncae and its topotypes, other specimens of both species, the diaries of Langsdorff and Ménétriés, the original description, images produced by the expedition’s artist (Rugendas), other historical data and practically all of the 20th century literature support this hypothesis.


“In general, Maurício (2005), Maurício et al. (2010), and the responses of Pacheco and Whitney on this website have sought, as one of their principal objectives, the transfer of the type locality from São João del Rei to the Serra dos Órgãos. It is worth spending some time on detail on the fact that each of these works contains important differences of interest to our discussion.


“First, Maurício (2005) described the holotype as being homogenously dark grey and disagreed with Chrotowski (1921), who had analyzed the holotype directly and had mentioned that it possessed a barred rump. Maurício postulated that the holotype represented the all-dark population from the coastal mountains (S. notorius sensu Raposo et al.) and consequently, its type locality would be there. In this respect, however, his work was meritorious in that demonstrated for the first time the existence of two species of Scytalopus in southeast Brazil, one basically dark and the other paler with some barring. Where he erred was in deciding which should carry the name S. speluncae, and this has been the basis for the entire dispute. Maurício based his analysis entirely on very poor quality photographs (of which copies are also in my possession) yet believed that Chrotowski’s (1921) direct, personal analysis of the holotype was wrong. Maurício’s ideas concerning the morphology of the holotype were categorically refuted not only by Raposo & Kirwan (2008) but also by Maurício et al. (2010)!


“Thus, Maurício et al. (2010) effectively admitted that Chrotowski had been correct, persuaded by the (much better quality) photographs of the holotype provided by myself, and that the specimen was not all dark but paler with some barring (contra Maurício 2005). However, these authors then went on to suggest that this pattern could be considered a polymorphism of those populations that we had named S. notorius (not admitted in Maurício, 2005; see also Raposo et al. 2012). On the basis of the paper by Pacheco (2004), Maurício  et al. (2010) proposed that the type locality of S. speluncae henceforth be considered the Serra dos Órgãos.


“The following points in Maurício et al. (2010) may be considered particular weaknesses:


a) once again, these authors failed to analyze the holotype directly;

b) given that their initial assumption of what the holotype looked like (Maurício 2005) could no longer be defended, they adopted an ad hoc hypothesis suggesting the existence of polymorphism in the birds of the coastal mountains;

c) they proceeded to search for variants of (what we called) Scytalopus notorius that possess paler plumage and barring on the underparts (see photos in Maurício et al. 2010), but while admitting that the type was not all dark, but instead paler with some barring, they did not admit the primacy of São João del Rei as the type locality of S. speluncae, despite the fact that all specimens from the latter show this pattern!

 d) they failed to identify a single specimen that simultaneously possessed generally paler plumage and a barred abdomen and rump, equal to the holotype, within the range of S. notorius yet insisted on changing the type locality of S. speluncae;

e) Serra dos Órgãos was chosen as the new type locality, despite the lack of historical or morphological evidence to support this change, for the doubts expressed by Maurício et al. in relation to Ménétriés and São João del Rei, even if accepted as valid, do not point in any single direction, much less towards the Serra dos Órgãos;

 f) the only historical information brought to bear for instituting this change was a partial, incomplete reading and translation of a passage in Pacheco (2004) (which see Raposo et al. 2012 for a detailed response).


“Pacheco on the SACC website has concentrated on attempting to cast doubts on the reliability of the author of Scytalopus speluncae, but a number of problems are immediately apparent with his arguments.


“(1) Pacheco states correctly that some of Ménétriés’ Brazilian type localities are dubious or wrong, but then appears to assume that because of this São João del Rei can only also be considered doubtful. However, it would be just as correct to claim that many of his type localities are valid, especially those on which his own specimens were based (Pacheco 2004). In this case, the authors of Raposo et al. (2012) have not based their opinion on the validity of this particular type locality using the presupposition that it might or might not be correct because other type localities designated by the same author are or are not valid, but on evidence concerning the type specimen, its topotypes, and historical data collated and studied only by us.


“(2) Pacheco does not discuss the documentation presented by Raposo et al. (2012) in support of Ménétriés (and his work). It is very easy to criticize the authors of extremely old works, in this case (as in others) not wholly without some vindication, but it should be clearly remembered that few specimens from this era are as well documented (with date, specific locality, etc.) as that of S. speluncae.


“(3) Pacheco evokes the authority of one of his mentors, Helmut Sick, who wrote privately that he did not trust in Ménétriés. Frankly, this type of argument has little use in scientific discussion. In practice, i.e. public, Sick did not question São João del Rei as the type locality of S. speluncae (Sick 1997, p. 525), and neither did he possess access to the diaries of Ménétriés or many of the historical data studied by us.


“(4) Another interesting point is that Pacheco (2004: p. 5) stressed the importance of analyzing Ménétriés diaries. This is something that we have specifically done, yet Pacheco’s comments suggest that he now considers the original diary information to have little value, at least in the present case.


“Whitney’s comments above appear to present a different opinion to that expressed in Maurício et al. (2010). Specifically, he now appears to regard the question of the type locality as lacking in importance, whereas Maurício et al. (2010) apparently considered it sufficiently important to change it.


“The question of stability, raised by Whitney, is scarcely applicable in this case. His interpretation of the ICZN articles is equivocal. Scytalopus speluncae has never ceased to be used. Prior to 2005 only one species belonging to this complex was known to exist in southeast Brazil. With the description of a new species (S. pachecoi), it became inevitable that the name speluncae should be defined correctly. Stability should not be invoked to defend the mistaken use of a name. Generally, it is used to preserve a junior synonym against a senior synonym in widespread and long-term use in the literature.


“Furthermore, in respect of the proposal to designate a neotype in favour of the extant holotype: a) this suggestion rather ignores the fact that all of those people who have recently examined the holotype (Marcos Raposo, Guy Kirwan, Renata Stopiglia and its curator Vladimir Loskot) are of the opinion that it presents the major morphological diagnostics of the single Scytalopus taxon known from the relevant region; and b) if someone decides to substitute a holotype with a neotype this should be done with clear respect to the original type locality, which runs clearly contrary to Whitney’s stated opinion that the type locality is of lesser importance.


“Another last and important point to address is the claim of Whitney that the identity of the holotype of Scytalopus speluncae should now (contra Maurício 2005 and Maurício et al. 2010) rely on:

1.     the author’s original description with its accompanying illustration, and;

2.     all other data or indications that seem reliable and may be brought to bear.


“Considering that Maurício et al. (2010) suggested that Ménétriés badly (or incorrectly) described his specimen, for example remarking that his description of the throat must have been effectively an illusion, produced by examining the specimen at a sideways angle; little is left for us. The second point of Whitney (“all other data…”) is exactly all historical data that we’ve brought to light but he apparently refused to consider it valid.


“We should also call attention to the fact that the only thing Whitney considers valid in this entire story is the fact that the plate does not show the brown feathers on the flanks and rump. Based on this, he insists the holotype is a S. notorius. But all authors to date (Raposo et al. 2006, Maurício et al. 2010 and Raposo et al.2012) agree that the holotype has those brown feathers. It is quite obvious that because the feathers of flanks are damaged, Ménétriés (1835) and the illustrator did not notice the remains of brown, but they are there (see a clear illustration of rump in Raposo et al. 2006).”


Additional comments from Pacheco: “To promote a full understanding of the case, I summarize here some points that should be known to all who will give an opinion or vote on this proposal.


“1) Raposo et al. (2006, 2008, 2012) and Brito's and Raposo's comments made ​​here exhaustively repeat and put particular weight on the direct analysis of the holotype as the foundation for the unsurpassed decision on the application of the name Malacorhynchus speluncae and the consequent description of Scytalopus notorius. A few excerpts from their arguments on this point of view:


      “We analyzed two recently collected topotypes of S. speluncae collected by MAR and RS, in September 2005 at São João del Rei, Minas Gerais (21o04’16.8’’S, 44o20’19.4’’W), and the holotype (ZISP 145251)” (Raposo et al. 2006)

      “The Brazilian species complex Scytalopus speluncae: how many times can a holotype be overlooked?” (Title in Raposo & Kirwan 2008)

      “Failed to compare their purported new taxa with the holotype that bears the senior name of the complex” (Raposo & Kirwan 2008)

      “The species’ holotype is an adult male (ZISP 145251) held in the Zoological Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, in St. Petersburg, Russia. On various occasions between 2006 and 2009, each of the present authors, except CPA, examined this specimen” (Raposo et al. 2012)

      “Our own knowledge of S. speluncae is based on a thorough examination of the holotype” (Raposo et al. 2012)

      “Maurício et al. (2010) without having examined the specimen, attempted to discredit the notion that the holotype possesses those whitish or pale gray elements” (Raposo et al. 2012)

      “Unlike the majority of authors of Raposo et al., not one of Maurício and his co-authors have examined the holotype of Scytalopus speluncae (Brito, here)

      “…. ignores the fact that all of those people who have recently examined the holotype (Marcos Raposo, Guy Kirwan, Renata Stopiglia and its curator Vladimir Loskot)” (Raposo, here)


“Amidst so many catch-phrases, one very important issue has to be clearly stated: all main conclusions made by Raposo et al. 2006 were decided before the direct examination of the holotype.  Better said, all decisions were based on photographs sent by V. Loskot – the curator of St. Petersburg Museum.


“2) Raposo et al. (2006, 2012) and Brito's and Raposo's comments placed excessive emphasis on the type locality, and therefore the origin of the holotype, as a strong point to support the application of the name speluncae. They also emphasized that only one taxon of Scytalopus "occurs" in the region of São João Del-Rei. A few among many examples:


      Raposo et al. (2012) use 191 lines specifically dealing with this aspect (60% of the work), whereas Mauricio et al. (2010) use 23 lines (9% of the work).

      “São João del Rei is the type locality of Scytalopus speluncae (Title in Raposo et al. 2012)

      “Known thus far only from the opposite ends of the Espinhaço range at São João Del Rei, Minas Gerais, in the south, and Chapada Diamantina, Bahia” (Raposo et al. 2006)

      “The original type locality as designated by the species’ author is São João del Rei and this conforms to the available historical data” (Raposo et al. 2012)

      “The unanimous agreement that just one species of Scytalopus occurs in the vicinity of the type locality” (Raposo et al. 2012)

      “All of the available details directly attached to the specimen indicate that S. J. Del Rei is the type locality” (Brito, here)

      “Only one species of Scytalopus occurs in this region” (Brito, here)

      “We defended that the original type locality designation, São João del Rei, is correct” (Raposo, here)


“To demonstrate that the acquisition of topotypes or the confirmation of the type locality are not as conclusive as they seem, and that the thesis that only taxon occurs in the [biogeographical] region of São João Del Rei is a fallacy, I clarify certain facts below.


a)    São João Del-Rei is located in the “Campos das Vertentes”, i.e. northern portion of the Mantiqueira range and is not part of the Espinhaço range (contra Raposo et al. 2006).


b)    It is true that Scytalopus petrophilus (or light-gray taxon) is the only Scytalopus of the Espinhaço range in Minas Gerais and that Scytalopus speluncae (or dark-gray taxon) is the only Scytalopus on the Serra do Mar in Rio de Janeiro. However, on the intermediate Mantiqueira range (where São João Del-Rei is located) both taxa occur sympatrically – as shown for at least 3 localities (Pacheco et al. 2008; Whitney et al. 2010) and records for other still unpublished localities.







Partial map of Southeastern Brazil showing the mountain ranges: Espinhaço (orange), Mantiqueira (pink) and Serra do Mar (green). Localities: 1 – São João Del-Rei (type locality of Scytalopus speluncae, according to Ménétriés 1835, Raposo et al. 2006, 2012); 2 – Serra da Piedade (type locality of Scytalopus petrophilus); 3 – Serra dos Órgãos (type locality of Scytalopus speluncae, assigned by Pinto 1952, Maurício et al. 2010); 4 – Ibitipoca State Park and 5 – Campos do Jordão (localities where Scytalopus speluncae and S. petrophilus are sympatric).


c)    São João Del-Rei is 66 km in a straight line from Ibitipoca State Park (both on the Mantiqueira), where both taxa occur together today (not 75 km, as in Raposo et al. 2012); but it is about 100 km far from the southernmost record of de Scytalopus petrophilus on the Espinhaço range.


d)    Hence, it could be expected, and is biogeographically sound to speculate that, in the past (especially 180 years ago!) both taxa (light-gray, dark-gray) occurred together in many more localities on the Mantiqueira range, when the forests and the connections were more extensive, without any reasons to exclude São João Del-Rei as a contact zone of both taxa.



“3) Raposo et al. (2006, 2008, 2012) and Brito's and Raposo's comments made here suggest a thorough and unquestionable historical survey of the case. And so on...


      “Ménétriés’s diary notes are also in perfect accordance with those of the leader Langsdorff (Mikulinskii 1995)” [a Russian source] (Raposo et al. 2006)

      “Yet, Maurício (2005) and Bornschein et al. (2007) persist in dismissing the shared conclusion of six authors that have personally examined the holotype (namely Ménétriès, Chrotowski (sic) and the four authors of Raposo et al. 2006).” (Raposo & Kirwan 2008)

      “To our knowledge, only three other authorities have taken the trouble to examine the holotype of S. speluncae. The first to do so was Burmeister (1856)…” (Raposo & Kirwan 2008)

      “…a comprehensive review of all available historical data concerning its collection” (Raposo et al. 2012)

      “Historical data concerning its collector and author, as detailed below, are also very complete.” (Raposo et al. 2012)

      “Maurício et al. (2010) neither examined the holotype nor were they able to quote from much of the historical literature, because it runs largely contrary to their hypothesis (e.g. Chrostowski 1921, Gaysinovich & Komissarov 1968, Komissarov 1977, Mikulinskiy 1995).” (Raposo et al. 2012)

      “The justification for this is that Raposo et al. (2012), by virtue of extensive historical research.” (Brito, here)

      “It should be abundantly clear, to those who have read the paper by Raposo et al., that whatever doubts were expressed by Maurício (2005), Bornschein et al. (2007), Maurício et al. (2010), and Whitney et al. (2010) reflect an incomplete knowledge of the historical facts.” (Brito, here)

      “Other historical data and practically all of the 20th century literature support this hypothesis” (Raposo, here)


“It is perfectly possible to see that all the extensive historical research carried out by Raposo and colleagues had a clear and only goal: to corroborate the type locality. However, the confirmation of this point must be properly placed in perspective according to the arguments presented in the previous topic. On the other hand, the historical research by Raposo and colleagues (Raposo et al. 2006, Raposo & Kirwan 2008) about the previous examination of the holotype was clearly incomplete.


a)    Burmeister (1856) did not examine the holotype (contra Raposo & Kirwan 2008); however, at least two well-known authors of the Neotropical ornithology, Charles Hellmayr and Helmut Sick, had directly compared the holotype with specimens from the Scytalopus speluncae group.


b)    Hellmayr (1907) compared a [dark-gray] specimen from the Itatiaia massif with the type of S. speluncae, and stated that the former “... is a perfectly adult male agreeing in every respect with the type of the species kindly lent to me by Dr. Bianchi.” (Mauricio et al. 2010).


c)    To convince himself of the differences, Sick (1993:401) compared [in 1982] the holotype of Malacorhynchus speluncae with the holotype of Scytalopus novacapitalis, described by him in1958, and concluded that the differences were "very clear".


d)    Knowing that Scytalopus novacapitalis is the [light-gray] taxon more closely related and morphologically similar to Scytalopus petrophilus (Mata et al. 2010; Whitney et al. 2010), Sick's conclusions from this direct comparison are meaningful.


e)    At least, as far as Sick's name is involved, this has more meaning than a statement that I have never made here or anywhere else: Raposo stated: “Pacheco evokes the authority of one of his mentors, Helmut Sick, who wrote privately that he did not trust in Ménétriés.”


“4) Concerning Raposo's statement: “a dispute between a scientific hypothesis based on clear facts (Raposo et al. 2012) and a poorly defined opinion (Maurício et al. 2010)”, I leave the exactness of Raposo's allegation to the other members of this committee, based on the following observation:



“Finally, for the debate to be productive, you need to redirect the discussion to the application of the name by the features present in the holotype, with the help of defensible inferences. After all, the Code refers to a name-bearing type but not to such a thing as a name-bearing type-locality!


“Let´s focus on the holotype?


“Additional references:


Hellmayr, C.E. (1907) Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 19: 76.

Mata, H.; Fontana, C. S.; Maurício, G. N.; Bornschein, M. R.; Vasconcelos, M. F. and Bonatto, S. L. (2009). Molecular phylogeny and biogeography of the eastern tapaculos (Aves: Rhinocryptidae: Scytalopus, Eleoscytalopus): cryptic diversification in Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 53(2):450-462.

Pacheco, J. F.; Parrini, R.; Lopes, L. E. and Vasconcelos, M. F. (2008). A avifauna do Parque Estadual do Ibitipoca e áreas adjacentes, Minas Gerais, Brasil, com uma revisão crítica dos registros prévios e comentários sobre biogeografia e conservação. Cotinga, 30:16-32.

Pinto, O.M.O. 1952. Súmula histórica e sistemática da ornitologia de Minas Gerais. Arquivos de Zoologia, São Paulo 8(1):1-51.

Sick, H. 1993. Birds in Brazil: A Natural History. Princeton: Princeton University.\



Response from Raposo: “I will try to be as concise as possible in addressing the four points of Pacheco.


“Point 1- Pacheco now says something totally new and surprisingly: “all main conclusions made by Raposo et al. 2006 were decided before the direct examination of the holotype. Better said, all decisions were based on photographs sent by V. Loskot – the curator of St. Petersburg Museum.”

RESPONSE: False. Pacheco has forgotten that Dr. Loskot is one of the four authors of our 2006's paper (see bellow). Obviously, he has conduced our first analysis of the holotype.


Raposo, M.A., Stopiglia, R., Loskot, V. & Kirwan, G.M. (2006) The correct use of the name Scytalopus speluncae (Ménétriés, 1835), and the description of a new species of Brazilian tapaculo (Aves: Passeriformes: Rhinocryptidae). Zootaxa, 1271, 37–56. 


“Point 2 – Pacheco claims now that “the thesis that only one taxon occurs in the [biogeographical] region of São João Del Rei is a fallacy”. RESPONSE: False and contradictory. False, because we have never referred to a “biogeographic region” when discussing the type locality (please, search it in Raposo et al. 2012). We defended that only one species occurs (to the best of current knowledge) at the type locality São João del Rei. Pacheco is also contradictory, because Mauricio et al. (2010), Whitney et al. (2010), and Whitney's response above (point 6) (“— as all agree — only one form of Scytalopus in the immediate vicinity of São João del Rei” Whitney's words) agree with Raposo (2008 and 2012) on this point.


“Pacheco also states again that we “placed excessive emphasis on the type locality”. One more time: our 2012 paper on the type locality (where we also have addressed the holotype) is a response to the change of type locality promoted by Maurício et al. (2010) and defended by Whitney et al. (2010). So we were forced to address the issue. We gave special attention to the holotype in Raposo and Kirwan (2008) paper "The species complex Scytalopus speluncae: How many times a holotype can be overlooked".


“Point 3 – I will split it in two different small points. a) After repeating some selected phrases from our papers he states, “the confirmation of this point [“our thorough and unquestionable historical survey of the case”] must be properly placed in perspective according to the arguments presented in the previous topic”. RESPONSE: I consider that the previous topic was properly responded to. b) Pacheco also claims here “the historical research by Raposo and colleagues ........... was clearly incomplete”. RESPONSE: Inapplicable. I cant imagine a complete historical research, but I guess you all will also agree that our historical research (Raposo et al. 2012) is far more complete than the one presented by Mauricio et al (2010), won't you?.


“Point 4 – Pacheco criticizes the number of specimens analyzed by us in our 2006 paper. RESPONSE: Inapplicable. We all (myself and Maurício) examined and collected many more specimens after 2006. The focus here is not the examined material of Maurício (2005) or Raposo et al. (2006), but the conclusions of Maurício et al. (2010) and Raposo et al. (2012). It is fair to mention that we all agree in the differences between the two species of Scytalopus of the region, so the comparison between Mauricio's and our sample is not relevant at all. We don't agree in the holotype identification (and it is only one specimen...).


“In relation to Pacheco's last phrase “Let's focus on the holotype”, I can only say again (sorry) that four of our authors examined the Holotype (we all went between 2007 and 2008). How many of Pacheco's collaborators went to St. Petersburg?”


Response from Pacheco:

“Point 1 - Thank you. You confirm what I said exactly (!): that the initiator and main author of the paper decided about the identity of the holotype (and everything else) before examining it directly. It is relevant to note that in spite of this, you have written an article (without the participation of Dr. Loskot) titled "The Brazilian species complex Scytalopus speluncae: how many times the holotype can be overlooked?"

“It would be quite reasonable and also very scientifically appropriate to expect you to abandon ambiguity and provide precise dates and circumstances of your examination of the holotype in St. Petersburg. This was not provided in any of your works and such information is relevant, although unfortunately, it would arrive after you having already decided on the nomenclatural arrangement. You also have not stated in any of your works that you (or Dr. Loskot) have directly compared the holotype to specimens of the light-gray or dark-gray taxa, as Hellmayr and Sick did.

“Point 2 - I reiterate what I claimed. It could very well be called "the fallacy of the false exclusive occurrence”.

“A statement in Raposo et al. 2012: "Regarding the topotypical and near topotypical (sic) material (e.g., from São João del Rei and Caraça)" is clearly an indicative of this fallacious argument because São João Del Rei and Caraça are in distinct watersheds and mountain ranges and distant more than 135 km. In turn, the 66 km between São João Del Rei and Serra do Ibitipoca (one of the localities of sympatry of the two taxa involved) are in the same Mantiqueira range and interconnected by the course of the river Elvas, whose mouth is on the river das Mortes, less than 2 km from the cave Gruta de Pedra.

“I do not need to abandon the Serra dos Orgãos as a rectification of the type-locality of Scytalopus speluncae to recognize that the maintenance of São João Del Rei does not imply – due to biogeographical reasons – the exclusion of the occurrence of the dark-gray taxon.

“If you put together your hypothesis (60% of the content of Raposo et al. 2012 were spent just to ratify the original type-locality) without checking the biogeographical issue, this was a resounding failure.

“My points 3 and 4 consisted of counter-arguments to improper statements made initially by Raposo and Brito. The significance and value of the historical research and the quality and breadth of the sampling are available to everyone from the works cited.

“To answer the last sentence: "How many of Pacheco's collaborators went to St. Petersburg?" I retrieve a specific passage in Maurício et al. 2010:

Furthermore, the decision to apply the name S. speluncae to a taxon other than the dark-gray species and introduce a new name for the latter relied upon the examination of the holotype by only one author of that paper (V. Loskot), whereas the other three worked with second-hand information.’ “




The following is an email exchange among those concerned with the issue, posted here – keep in mind this is unedited, so any errors in grammar etc. are forgiven and ignored:


Additional comments from G. Brito: “Since new information and ideas are being expressed, I have to state this: science is based on facts, not doubts or speculations.


“Lets consider that the holotype is very damaged, thus leading to all this confusion (despite the fact that all the people that analysed it personally do not have any doubts) .... what's the next step to be made??  Designate a neotype! That according to the Code should be a topotype .... since with no doubts Raposo et al. (2012) show very accurate facts that the type locality is the cave in S. J. del Rey...and the topotypes collected until now are representatives of the light-gray taxon with brown barring on the lower back, flank, and thighs!


“All must bear in mind that an application to ICZN should be made to set aside the extant holotype information.


“It's simple! If this happens (neotype designation) ... the dark gray taxon still bears the name Scytalopus notorius because all the topotypes are undoubtedly the light-gray form and should bear S. speluncae name. And S. petrophilus is still a junior synonym .... because it's type locality is S J del Rey .... end of the story!!"”


Response from Whitney: “No, Guilherme, the next step is not to abandon the holotype.  The next step is to get a DNA sample of the holotype, somehow, someday — a sample extracted by a person who has no personal interest “the answer”.  Meanwhile, can you or Marcos or anyone else please prove to me that that particular specimen was collected at S J del Rei?  As I said in my comments to the SACC, I trust that Menetries collected birds at the grotto that his artist illustrated.  No problem.  But as far as I can tell, there is absolutely no evidence that the particular specimen we are interested in was taken there.  Labels do not help — we cannot possibly know for sure when those were affixed to the specimen.  You guys insist that the contour flank feathers on both sides of the specimen are completely missing, and insist that this is why we cannot see the barring that must have been there.  Gosh, it’s pretty hard to deal with this kind of posturing — and I am not disposed to argue longer that there are enough feathers there to tell that they were plain gray, not barred.  Now, can you or Marcos please explain how the specimen lost all of those feathers — and only those feathers — without any damage to the tarsi or feet or tail?  Obviously the feathers were not lost due to damage from the shot, even if Menetries shot the bird twice or three times, because it is simply impossible to inflict that amount of feather damage from shot without damaging anything else.  Thus, Menetries must have had a relatively undamaged bird in his hand.  Given the detail he wrote in his diary, why didn’t he describe the barred flanks, which had to have been clearly visible on one side or the other??  Why didn’t the artist illustrate the specimen clearly showing barred flanks, as he did for Malacorhynchus albiventris??  The answer is quite simple — the specimen they described/illustrated did not have barred flanks.  These plain facts — not speculation — mean one thing:  Menetries did not collect that specimen at the grotto near S J del Rei.  Most likely, he collected it in the mountains of Rio and just mixed up his thinking or notes or memory or what have you in the 8-10 years before he published his description.  Why is this simple and very commonplace human failure so difficult for you and Marcos to imagine?  It is, quite truly, the single most parsimonious interpretation of the facts.


If you still do not agree, then please explain to everyone, Guilherme and Marcos, how Menetries managed to fail to see and describe the conspicuously barred flanks and why we should all believe that he was immune to common human error, alright?  Remember, we already know that made some pretty boldfaced mistakes...  If, in return, you have any specific questions or points you would like me to address for you and everyone else, I stand by to give clear, direct answers.  No problem if you want to settle it in Portuguese.


I’ve read the papers, so no need for you to reword any of that.  Yes, I definitely do believe that it is more parsimonious for two major reasons:  The holotype is described by the collector without having barred flanks and the holotype was illustrated to accompany the description without barred flanks.  I am sure you understand the disconnect there!  When we consider these facts, and we consider that Menetries made mistakes about type localities, and we consider that he delayed years (not a month!) to describe the bird (not to mention that the holotype itself looks to some people who know quite a bit about Scytalopus in Brazil like it had gray flanks, not barred flanks, judging from the excellent photos supplied to the ornithological community by Raposo et al) -- then yes, definitely, I believe it is far more likely that Menetries made one simple mistake that explains everything:  he did not collect the specimen he described at the cavern near S J del Rei — só isso!



Brito: Yes, I'll later send you a full response with facts that leads me to believe that that particular specimen was collected in S J del Rei, but all of them are already published in the Raposo et. al. (2012) paper!


But before that I just ask you one question: do you really think that believing that Menetries collecting one dark bird in RJ, messing up labels, describing the cave, been mindless during 8 or 10 years, forgetting to read his diary and etc. is MOST PARSIMONIOUS than just believing in the actual label (with locality and date) on a type specimen?”


Remsen: I thought that it had been established that Menetries's localities and labels have been shown repeatedly to be untrustworthy.”


Brito: Some...not all of the localities and labels of Menetries have problems!


“But note that all of the localities with problems are from birds not collected personally by Menetries. All problems are on specimens collected by Langsdorff and sent to Menetries in Russia after the baron got sick (and kind of crazy) in Mato Grosso! The Pacheco' paper (in Portuguese from Atualidades Ornitologicas...forgot the year) clearly states that, and reading the Menetries book all of you can see the very different descriptions from birds originating from the Langsdorff's last bird batch and the birds collected by Menetries himself!  Malacorhynchus speluncae is one of these (collected by him) since there's information about iris colors, stomach contents, and habits of the bird collected! Also note that the handwriting on the label and the "Journal de chásse" are the same, and there's a number (7 if I remember well) that is the same date that Menetries and Langsdorff diaries tell about the cave and that Menetries describes as the collection date! Of course this is not a very accurate label, but from a bird from more than 200 years old we can't ask too much! Not everybody was like Natterer!


“Several of Sellow's birds have also known localities and labels problems, but because of that should we discard the information from nearly 5000 specimens? Same thing for some of the Olalla’s birds...should we burn them all because a few known mistakes?


“About the barring....I didn't personally examined the type but everybody agrees that exist some barred feathers on it (and in the Mauricio et al 2010 paper there's a good part of the discussion on the search of light gray birds with barring as polymorphisms on the dark bird population). Why the artist didn't paint them or Menetries didn't mention it I don't know.... and we'll never know! Any explanation would be equally mere speculations.




Whitney: Thanks for your reply, Guilherme, but writing off as inconsequential the lack of critically important brown coloration and flank barring in both the original description and the artist’s illustration is inappropriate and, I must say, unprofessional.  It’s a big deal — the only deal here.  All Scytalopus tapaculos have some brown in the posterior underparts as immatures, and it apparently takes several years for some species, maybe all species, to attain definitive plumage, which, in the case of Mouse-colored Tapaculo in the mountains of southeast Brazil, is entirely gray.  It is not unusual, to the contrary, it is expected that many birds will show some brown vestiges in the posterior underparts, and adult females usually have some faint flank barring according to Marcos Bornschein who, along with Giovanni Maurício, has spent more time collecting more Scytalopus in Brazil than anyone else.  To the point, the plumage of the posterior underparts of the holotype is damaged to the extent that it is not possible for scientists to agree on what the natural feathers looked like.


“If Raposo et al. insist that the flanks were conspicuously barred and all interested parties are now not able to clearly determine this — and we (Maurício et al. and Whitney et al.) are absolutely not convinced of this and no amount of scrutiny of the damaged holotype will help in this regard -- then why do we not immediately turn to the author’s description and the accompanying color illustration?  I really don’t care where Menetries collected the bird: it does not matter one iota.  What does matter is the identification of the holotype.  The description and illustration do not support the insistence of Raposo et al. that the flanks were conspicuously barred, period.  Raposo et al .and you need to stand up to this, and defending your position with insistences that the holotype “must have had barred flanks” because you found some brown bits and only barred birds occur around S J del Rei today, 180+ years later, all requires special pleading because your “facts” do not add up.  Consider this: If the type had been lost 100 years ago and all we had today was Menetries description and the accompanying illustration, none of this arguing would be happening,  and “notorius” would never have been thought about, right?  Instead, we would all be wondering how in the world Menetries managed to get an all-gray bird at S J del Rei.  And the consensus would likely be that he made a mistake about exactly where he shot the bird.  By the way, if you want to dig into how Menetries was capable of making mistakes about where he personally collected birds in Rio de Janeiro, such as the vicinity of Serra dos Órgãos, ask Pacheco to tell you the story of Formicivora deluzae.


“One again, and finally, I hope, the onus is on you (and Raposo et al), Dr. Stiles, and anyone else who may vote “yes” on your proposal, to explain why Menetries’s description and the accompanying illustration do not feature conspicuously barred flanks.  Please let’s have you and Raposo et al. answer this directly:  Mauricio et al and Whitney et al assert that the holotype must have had essentially plain-gray flanks.


“It would certainly be ideal to have an impartial DNA analysis of the holotype conducted, but Dr. Dickinson has informed us that this will not be happening under the current directorship of the ZISP.  That’s no problem --  the world will keep turning while science waits.  I guarantee you that that specimen will eventually be analyzed and probably reanalyzed well into the future.  But for now, here’s another consideration: If the description and illustration had been lost and we had only the damaged holotype on which to base the name speluncae, the DNA analysis would be seen as critically important -- or it might indeed be desirable to abandon the holotype in favor of designation of a neotype.  Fortunately, an entirely reasonable resolution of this issue does not require DNA analysis and we certainly do not want to designate a neotype because we possess a trustworthy description from the author and an excellent illustration that accompanied the description.


“Ah, as for Dr. Dickinson’s idea that maybe the illustration was of some other specimen... If someone can provide any direct evidence that this is a possibility, I would be delighted to consider it — but absent some direct evidence (of the sort, for example, that clearly indicates that Menetries erred in assigning type localities to multiple birds he named) it has no bearing on the issue at hand.  Which would, of course, bring us straight back to the point of explaining why this high-quality illustration does not show speluncae with conspicuously brown, barred flanks.”



Comments from Marcos Bornschein:


“A feature of the flank plumage of the Scytalopus speluncae type seems forgotten. More important than the holotype having barred feathers on the flank is what that barring shows.


“Having traveled 35.000 kilometers after the dark-gray taxon (from Minas Gerais to Santa Catarina), having collected more than 80 specimens and having followed some pairs of this species to collect their juveniles (unfortunately, necessary to the study), I can assure that many adult dark-gray taxon individuals are not completely gray and have vestigial flank and rump barring, 100% concordant with the type of S. speluncae.


“My experience with the light-gray taxon is smaller, but I saw many specimens in collections and collected 5 of them, more than double of what Raposo et al. (2006) collected. Regardless, what matters is that we can pluck all the feathers but one from the flanks of the light-gray taxon, and yet the great difference from the type of S. speluncae will be evident. This is because not only the barring matters, but also the aspect of this barring. This is why the S. speluncae type is perfectly identifiable as belonging to the Mouse-colored Tapaculo populations, rendering unnecessary a genetic analysis or a neotype. It is not necessary to repeat here the barring characteristics and differences between the light-gray and dark-gray taxa because it was covered in Maurício et al. (2010).


“I want to leave a personal (and unscientific) perception of what I think is the reason for the current controversy. Due to the absence of bars on the wings, the type of S. speluncae is an adult (unanimous to both groups of researchers). Raposo & Kirwan (2008) thought that adults of the dark-gray taxon have 100% gray flanks ("... S. notorius lacks any trace of brown in the rump and flanks in adult males."). This work was produced after Raposo et al. (2006). Therefore, that was the rational they had when they proposed considering the type of S. speluncae attributable to the light-gray taxon, which always keeps the barring on the flanks. Having barring, the direct conclusion was that the type of S. speluncae could not be the Mouse-colored Tapaculo. And S. notorius was described.


“We are discussing how a gray animal with vestigial barring on the flanks as in the Mouse-colored Tapaculo, described as gray and painted gray, could be a barred gray animal with barring typical of the light-gray taxon. And in this whole process, the emphasis on direct examination of the type specimen and the discussion of the type locality only serves to divert attention from the misconception that Raposo et al. perpetrated by not knowing the plumage variation of the dark-gray taxon.”




Comments from Robbins: “NO, based on comments by Whitney and Pacheco.”




The following yellow-highlighted is an email discussion mainly between Raposo and Whitney:


Marcos Raposo > Dear friends,

> If you do not understand after this.... . I couldn't be more didactic then this, cant I? I answered the central question that motivated Whitney and friends to change type locality and put Ménétriés in doubt. Later I will send my last contribution... a more complete explanation on all this mess. The appended pictures should be carefully observed and read if you really want to understand the things.


> Hope you also understand now that analysis of the holotype is different from analysis of pictures. The destroyed feathers were analyzed one by one in St. Petersburg.


> Dr. Remsen, would you mind uploading this last contribution to SACC's website?


> All the best, Marcos


> <Figuras explicadas.pdf>


WHITNEY: ”Well, Marcos, I am sorry, but this does not explain how Menetries failed to describe the conspicuously brown, barred flank feathers because the specimen he collected (and you say it is the same one for which he described iris color and stomach contents) was not so badly damaged by shot that all of those feathers were lost; the legs, feet, and tail are all in fine shape!!  In other words, the flanks were definitely visible on at least one side before Menetries opened the stomach cavity or prepared the specimen, which action(s) I suppose could have resulted in the damage we see today.  Here is all you have ever given us (Raposo et al. 2006) to suggest how Menetries failed to describe to brown, barred flanks and the artist failed to illustrate these features:


The holotype of Scytalopus speluncae. Ménétriés (1835: 527) made no mention of the rufous and black stripes on the tips of the rump and flank feathers in the original description of S. speluncae, nor were they illustrated (pl. 13, fig. 1). It seems likely that these parts were already damaged either in the collection or preparation so that Ménétriés would not have been aware of such features, in 1835, some ten years after the specimen was collected. That vestiges of these characters still remain on the holotype makes their omission from the plate and type description less important.


This “seems likely” passage is critically important in establishing the identity of the holotype (without DNA analysis).  If we are to trust Menetries’s diaries and other things (e.g., iris color and stomach contents of some bird he collected), and we clearly see that he and the artist recognized the importance of barring on the flanks of Malacorhynchus albiventris, published together with M. speluncae, then we have to trust that he would have accurately described the flanks of the specimen he collected and described — not made critical errors of the sort you are telling us he and the artist committed.  Your selective application of Menetries’s memory failure is frustrating, and only diverts attention from the critical points we need to establish.  And, once or twice, again, your “vestiges” are merely remnants of the bird’s normal, subadult plumage — and the omission of conspicuously barred, brown flanks is no “less important”.  You did not discuss these blatant anomalies in any of your subsequent papers (understandably so, given your point of view).


Obviously, there will be no rest to this case until the type’s DNA is analyzed and it is placed in a well-corroborated phylogeny of Brazilian Scytalopus — but let’s se how the SACC, at least, goes with the voting.





I will propose an efficient change of strategy now... Let me talk with Bret without interruption of huge e-mails... Only Bret and me. My mission will be to explain our logic to Bret because I am feeling I am really coming close to convince him.


Question 1 of Bret: “please explain to everyone, Guilherme and Marcos, how Menetries managed to fail to see and describe the conspicuously barred flanks and why we should all believe that he was immune to common human error, alright? Remember, we already know that made some pretty boldfaced mistakes...” (Whitney to everybody some days ago)"


ANSWER 1 of Marcos: Ménétriés did not describe the abdominal area in his description, simply, because it was not intact enough to be described. But we all must agree that no artist would opt by describing a destroyed venter… so, the artist simply made his job and described it, parsimoniously, gray. Is it difficult to understand? I would do the same if I were a painter, won't you?


Question 2 of Bret: "I am sorry, but this does not explain how Menetries failed to describe the conspicuously brown, barred flank feathers because the specimen he collected (and you say it is the same one for which he described iris color and stomach contents) was not so badly damaged by shot that all of those feathers were lost; the legs, feet, and tail are all in fine shape!!  In other words, the flanks were definitely visible on at least one side before Menetries opened the stomach cavity or prepared the specimen, which action(s) I suppose could have resulted in the damage we see today"


ANSWER 2 of Marcos: Bret, if you had read our paper you would have noticed that all this information (iris color, stomach content etc.) are written in Ménétriés' diary, in French (easy to read). See the figure 1 where we show a photograph of the diary. The painting was obviously made in St. Petersburg as well as the description of the plumage (they are not in the diary). Yes, it is the same specimen! Labels are the proof we need. And remember, as soon as we have already shown (and you agree!), the specimen is not dark gray as S. notorius, but lighter and buff-marked on flanks and rump. No reason to doubt it is the one collected and referred in the diary. Also have in mind that the cave reported by Ménétriés is a place where this tapaculo is one of the first Birds to be seen and heard.


Next question!



WHITNEY: Marcos, tell us how we can know that the bird for which Menetries described iris color and stomach contents was a tapaculo (Scytalopus).  It could have been anything!  The labels don’t help because we cannot know when they were affixed to the specimens.  Menetries labels on the holotype does not mean that that specimen is one that he collected at S J del Rei — it indicates, at most, that there is good chance that the specimen was among the lot he tried to put together in publishing his descriptions.  Yes, I agree that the specimen is not as dark gray as the birds we have traditionally called speluncae, and I reiterate that this is due to the physical properties of the feathers having changed in predictable ways over 180+ years:  basically, the gray becomes paler, and in as little as ten years (Whitney 1994).  There is no way that that specimen is as dark gray as it was when fresh, and furthermore, it has glass eyes, so there is a good chance that it was mounted and displayed at some time (i.e., possibly exposed to even more UV light than if in a drawer), but this is more speculative.  If the artist simply “filled in the blank” of supposedly damaged (at the time) flanks and belly, I guess he could well have opted to make them just like the other tapaculo on his plate, and put in brown flanks with conspicuous barring — no?  The cave area holds, today, only S. petrophilus, and your supposed “topotypes” of S. speluncae have no status as types of any taxon.


In closing, Marcos, we must maintain focus on this:


How should we, as scientists and taxonomists, explain or interpret the fact that Menetries’s original description and the accompanying illustration of the holotype do not feature brown flanks with conspicuous barring?


Asking me and everyone else to simply believe that it did not when there is direct evidence to the contrary is, frankly, beyond my capacity to understand you.


RAPOSO: Dear all, please, give us some more time (only me and Bret). Our dialogue will be useful to your understanding of the problem.


Bret, I want to respond to all your doubts, including your doubt on how could someone prove the exact time the label met a bird 180 years ago. I will explain exactly why I don't have to present a proof to the proof (label). I will show you, why epistemologically, we need not find an historical passage where Ménétriés says something like "at this exact moment I am labeling my specimen..." and why the one who have to prove the falsity of the label are you. I will also dedicate myself to remind you that both Ménétriés and Langsdorff (the healthy one) were renowned in their time and in history for their meticulousness exceto pelos infundados comentários postados aqui (we discussed it properly in Raposo et al. 2012).


But to continue with this discussion, we have, first, to finish with the explanations on the first two questions. The second one you have probably already understood. The data were at the diary (Raposo et al. 2012, fig. 1). Your persistent question is:  "How should we, as scientists and taxonomists, explain or interpret the fact that Menetries’s original description and the accompanying illustration of the holotype do not feature brown flanks with conspicuous barring?" .


Essentially you didn't understand how Ménétriés have not described the totally destroyed feathers....

 Ok! maybe it will be easier for you if I give you not an answer, but a question. Please respond it with few words. It is a very simple question.


Considering that Ménétriés described the totally preserved throat as "whitish gray" and the plate illustrates a gray belly: Why do you insist in rejecting his description of the throat (feathers that exist) and, simultaneously, agree with the part of the plate which is based on feathers we both know don't exist (also knowing that those preserved feathers contradict the plate)?


If you manage to respond this question I guess you can understand where, in terms of science (not in rhetoric!), you are erring.


WHITNEY: No need to determine any exact times anything happened; all we need to recognize is that it is not possible to determine when Menetries’s or others’ labels were attached to the holotype.  Your response to my question is, of course, not adequate.  If we all accept that Menetries collected the holotype, and we are to trust his diaries and notes about some (quite possibly other) bird he collected, then we should also accept that he produced a trustworthy description of his specimen.  Menetries had a largely undamaged specimen in his hand when he described it: As I have pointed out several times now, the feather damage on both sides of the posterior underparts had to have happened after he shot the bird, during preparation or sometime later, because it is impossible to inflict that amount and kind of shot damage to both sides of a small bird without also heavily damaging the legs, feet, or tail.  This brings us back to: “Why didn’t he describe and the artist illustrate the brown flanks with conspicuous dark bars?”  I will, again, answer the question for you, and in the single most parsimonious manner (i.e., no special pleading, no convoluted explanations):  The flanks were essentially plain gray, not remarkably different from the rest of the bird.


Why do you refuse to recognize this remarkably straightforward explanation?  Answer: You firmly believe that the specimen had to have been collected at the cavern near S J del Rei; you believe that only birds with brown, barred flanks could have occurred at that locality 180+ years ago because that is the only form that occurs there today; you believe that it is not possible that Menetries made a mistake in designating this specimen from that locality; and you believe that Menetries and the artist could not have been able to determine the color or pattern of the damaged posterior underparts, and they decided to illustrate them as plain gray just to fill in the flanks — I mean blanks.  Menetries probably didn’t describe the posterior underparts as any specific color or with barring because they were essentially plain gray like the rest of the bird.  All that really matters, however, is that he did not describe them as brownish with black barring.  All of your beliefs, above, are somewhat to highly equivocal, and none are based on irrefutable evidence.  I know you do not agree with me on this, so let’s concentrate on what we do have as solid evidence to establish the identity of the holotype:  A valid description from the person who collected the specimen accompanied by a high-quality, color plate that agrees perfectly with it, right down to the throat color — and, you should objectively also believe, the color and patterning of the posterior underparts.  Gosh, I guess we could warp it so far as to imagine that Menetries collected a bird with brown, barred flanks, opened the stomach and prepared the specimen right after collection, in the process inflicting the extensive damage we see today, and then forgot to make note of the most conspicuous characters of the specimen, and when he described the bird years later he didn’t mention the flanks and his artist, or Menetries himself, looking at the damaged specimen, just painted it all gray except the silvery throat sheen, which was easy to see.  This convoluted scenario would require special pleading on several levels, invoking a mega-reversal of your previous insistence on Menetries’s trustworthiness to require all to accept that Menetries could indeed have made some very serious mistakes about this individual specimen.  It’s actually all somewhat imaginable, but what certainly works best is to recognize that the bird was not so massively damaged at the time of collection; to trust Menetries’s description and the accompanying illustration; to recognize that he did, in fact, commit numerous errors in designating type localities, including those of some birds he personally collected, years after his fieldwork; and to designate a new and perfectly reasonable type locality not only in recognition of the above points but also to preserve stability of nomenclature long, long in extensive use.  Raposo and Kirwan (2006) threw a wrench into the works, destabilizing all of us by suggesting a new name to replace one long in use for, I am sorry to say, no (good) reason.


Here is my answer to your question (below), Marcos: I do agree that Menetries perceived the throat as whitish toward the center, no problem, as was explained by Maurício et al (2010).  To reiterate it:  I think Menetries probably perceived the same thing that anyone examining fresh, adult specimens of Scytalopus species can observe: the remarkable “graphite-like sheen” characteristic of the throat feathers, making them look silvery or whitish in some aspects and dark gray in others.  I have no doubt that Menetries would have been impressed with this unusual feature, and I think he attempted to describe it and the artist to illustrate it.  The throat was not “white” like the throat of M. albiventris in the same work, and they did an admirable job of finding a way to call attention to the “whitish” aspect of it.  The feathers of the posterior underparts simply could not have been heavily damaged on both sides of the specimen by Menetries’s shot — this damage occurred sometime later, between the time he prepared the specimen (or opened its stomach?) and the early 21st Century.  And, again, the brown vestiges in the posterior underparts that you have shown to exist through your greatly detailed examination of the holotype -- for which everyone is grateful -- are expected remnants of the bird’s previous, near-definitive plumage.


At this point, let’s stop with the arguing and simply accept the eventual SACC and CBRO voting outcomes, including any outside voters who may be invited to either committee -- until one day when it is possible to impartially obtain a tissue sample followed by an impartial DNA analysis of the holotype and the real speluncae stands up, or caves in.


RAPOSO:  Please, find here my final contribution, a didactic summary of the situation. If you want to know properly the case, please, read it and the papers Raposo et al. (2012) and Maurício et al (2010). I respond here to all doubts raised by Whitney et al. showing how weak is their perspective on the case.


You have two options to choose. The math is simple:


- We have our interpretation of the type. Accordingly to us, it is perfectly compatible with topotypes collected at the very same point. All historical facts are in favor to this.


- Whitney and colleagues didn't analyze the type and did not raise one only historical fact that contributed to this discussion. All that Whitney's team knows come from our historical research and even their impression on the type (which, accordingly, should be a strange morphological intermediate between S. notorius and S. speluncae) was constructed after the analysis of my photographs.


What is all this about, science or personal charisma (or authority)? The decision on what SACC will follow is yours.


The last messages of Whitney also show he is totally based on speculation. I am addressing these speculations at the second half of this last contribution.


Our opinion is based on (without contradictions):


1 - our own comparison between holotypes and topotypes (and other specimens available in museums). Our description of the holotype specimen indicates a light gray with barred flanks and rump typical of other species of São João del Rei.

2 – label data;

3 - original description, especially the mention of whitish throat; description of the habits and behaviour of the specimen; and the type locality, especially the mention of the limestone cave that is located at São João del Rei;

4 - the diaries of the author, Ménétriés;

5 - in Langsdorff's diaries;

6 – in Rugendas paintings of the cave and itinerary;

7 - in the fact there is only one species of Scytalopus at the type locality;

8 - the dates of arrival of material to St. Petersburg, before the period of madness de Langsdorff;


9 – in all historical data that states how careful were Langsdorff and Ménétriés with their labels and diaries, before Langsdorff disease.


In relation to Maurício et al. (2010) and Whitney's thesis


As I have addressed before Maurício et al. (2010) have a different notion of the holotype that Maurício (2005). After receiving our material, Maurício et al. (2010) admitted the type was not dark gray as Maurício (2005) claimed, but lighter and buff-barred blackish, a notion very similar to our own notion. But Maurício et al. (2010) and Whitney in his last messages preferred to believe that this “intermediate” would be a kind of very rare Scytalopus notorius (in fact Maurício et al. didn't find a specimen like this among his S. notorius, see Raposo et al. 2012). This strange interpretation would be enough to question Ménétriés's and our own description of the holotype as well as all historical facts we raised about the case. It would be also enough to the authors come to the unexpected conclusion that the holotype should have come from “Serra dos Órgãos”.


I will demonstrate bellow, again, why this notion is completely speculative and less parsimonious than simply accept historical facts and our analysis of the holotype.


In last messages Whitney advocates also that the description doesn't refer to the specimen that Ménétriés has collected in São João del Rei, because we could not trust the labels. So, it would be only a coincidence we find such a compatible topotypes or even a Scytalopus at the very same point that Ménétriés has referred at the original description with such a similar behavior of that described in his diary and original description “courant à terre et voltigeant sur les petits buissons, à l’entrée d’une grotte calcaire près de St. João del Rey, Minas Gerais” (Ménétriés 1835, see also figure 1 of Raposo et al. 2012).


Simultaneously, Bret says it is unacceptable that Ménétriés hadn't noticed the buff-barred blackish pattern in posterior parts if it really existed, while we all know, by the analysis of the holotype that those feathers (see figures 2 and 3) exist but are hidden by a majority of destroyed feathers. They are still present in flanks and vent, accordingly to Loskot's and my own examination (they are also visible in the pictures).


Link to the pictures: explicadas.pdf


Using a total different kind of criteria, he advocates that Ménétriés erred in describing the preserved feathers of the throat and belly as whitish-gray (“blanchàtre”), the same color they are in current days (see Figures 1 and 3). Throughout this discussion, Whitney did the same thing. He gave strong weight to the doubts and depreciated all the facts. It is very clear in this point. Obviously this is behind the desire to change the type locality and hence the question of labels, history etc.


He also added a new speculation to the discussion. He is assuming now that Ménétriés has analyzed and described the fresh and undamaged specimen. I will not enter into his world of speculation about the shot that killed the specimen but it is quite clear that the painter did his job when the specimen arrived to St. Petersburg, probably already damaged (by the comparison with the holotype). Ménétriés has also described the plumage of the specimen at Russia (we know exactly what he had in his diary, and plumage details were not there!). So, all Bret's “facts” on this point are, again, pure speculation based on his lack of knowledge on the historical facts.


He advocates, in pages and pages of pure rhetoric that the specimen is dark gray with plain flanks but we know it isn't dark and Maurício et al (2010) spent half of his article looking for a light gray barred specimen among those dark gray tapaculos from the distribution of S. notorius. What kind of reasoning is that?? If the specimen is light gray with barred flanks and rump why Maurício and Whitney do not admit it is a typical specimen from the type locality? We must be more scientific than this to have a serious hypothesis.


Because I don't want to be rude (and my English doesn't help!) or accused of changing Bret's words, I quote him here (e-mail 02/12/2012) and list the problems of his very central beliefs on the case:


I do agree that Menetries perceived the throat as whitish toward the center, no problem, as was explained by Maurício et al (2010) (1). To reiterate it: I think Menetries probably (2) perceived the same thing that anyone examining fresh, adult (3) specimens of Scytalopus species can observe: the remarkable “graphite-like sheen” (4) characteristic of the throat feathers (1), making them look silvery or whitish in some aspects and dark gray in others (5). I have no doubt that Menetries would have been impressed with this unusual feature (6), and I think he attempted to describe it and the artist to illustrate it (7). The throat was not “white” like the throat of M. albiventris in the same work, and they did an admirable job of finding a way to call attention to the “whitish” aspect of it (8). The feathers of the posterior underparts simply could not have been heavily damaged on both sides of the specimen by Menetries’s shot (9)— this damage occurred sometime later, between the time he prepared the specimen (or opened its stomach? 10) and the early 21st Century. And, again, the brown vestiges in the posterior underparts that you have shown to exist through your greatly detailed examination of the holotype -- for which everyone is grateful (11) -- are expected remnants of the bird’s previous, near-definitive plumage (12). (Whitney's words responding to my question “Bret, considering that Ménétriés described the totally preserved throat as "whitish gray" and the plate illustrates a gray belly: Why do you insist in rejecting his description of the throat (feathers that exist) and, simultaneously, agree with the part of the plate which is based on feathers we both know don't exist (also knowing that those preserved feathers contradict the plate)?”



Not all marks are related to mistakes but all refer to imprecisions that make his opinion demonstrably speculative. These imprecisions and mistakes are listed bellow:


1 – Bret's first sentence is not precise (also in line 4 “ characteristic of the throat feathers”). Such effect should also be effective to the belly because Ménétriés describes as whitish-gray the middle of the throat and the belly (“dévident blanchâtre vers le milieu de la gorge et de la poitrine”). The notion that Ménétriés would describe a dark gray specimen as having whitish-gray throat and belly is highly speculative;

2 - “I think... probably”......... - Should I state how much speculative it is?

3 – Ménétriés didn't describe a fresh specimen!. He described it at the Museum, 10 years later. His diary is our figure 1 (Raposo et al. 2012) and shows only the colours of iris, bill and feet, as well as describes behaviour and the type locality (the cave at São João del Rei);

4 - “graphite-like sheen” doesn't match or come close to the “whitish-gray middle of the throat and belly” of Ménétriés;

5 – It is highly speculative to presume Ménétriés would commit such a mistake. It is also inconsistent because do not considers that the holotype still holds a light gray plumage;

6 – pure speculation!

7 - “ I think he attempted to describe it” - more speculation;

8 – The throat of M. albiventris is pure white and the throat of M. speluncae is whitish gray. Different plates and descriptions, with no connections with our case;

9 – speculation about the shot (or the many shots) that killed the bird – why speculating on this if we know the plumage of the holotype still hold those feathers?;

10 – speculation on how and when the damage occurred; He is quite right in this point but what he doesn't understand is that the plumage was described after he arrived to St. Petersburg;

11- finally some credit!

12 – speculation on the remnants of an immature pattern on the adult holotype. The interesting point here is that Maurício et al. (2010) found this pattern in 25% of the adult S. notorius but commented at Maurício (2005, p. 11) that “all of them [the same variants] have darker gray underparts” so, they do not match the holotype, as intended by Bret's text.


Our discussion made it clear that the whole argument revolves around Maurício's and Whitney's misconception of what is the holotype morphology. That misconception leads them to put doubts on labels etc. But see the material in the following link: <>


This material proves Maurício et al. (2010) and Whitney don't have an objective point here. Whitney's question: “please explain to everyone, Guilherme and Marcos, how Menetries managed to fail to see and describe the conspicuously barred flanks and why we should all believe that he was immune to common human error” was totally responded to in my last e-mail. Ménétriés described what he managed to see. The ventral area was completely destroyed. So, he ignored it, while the painter did what anyone would have done, completed the area with gray (see the complete answer at the link above).


All those who evaluated directly the holotype tell the same story. A light gray specimen, slightly reddish because of foxing, and still keeping barred feathers on the rump and flanks, typical of the topotypes from São João del Rei. And indeed, in his work, Mauricio et al. (2010) practically admit it. They claim that the holotype is an adult very close to what we stand for (Raposo & Kirwan 2008), i.e. a specimen lighter than S. notorius, and therefore they start to seek such a specimen at the distribution of the dark gray species, finding only 4 in 49 adult males. So, they speculate that the holotype is an adult and lighter specimen of S. notorius that kept some younger features (brown barred flanks). This is totally speculative and non parsimonious.


Two last point deserve some attention:


1 – Whitney didn't prove his thesis on the falsehood of the label. He is the one who should try to prove something here because he is accusing Ménétriés of failing (in dubium pro rerum). He believes we should prove the exact time the label met a bird 180 years ago. This is an infantile reasoning. Obviously we don't have to present a proof to the proof (label), or we would be obliged to prove the proof of the proof and so on. Could someone imagine a historical passage where Ménétriés says something like "at this exact moment, I am labeling my specimen..."?


2 – Maurício, Pacheco and Whitney, based on fragmentary historical information, commit the serious mistake denigrate the image of fabulous historical figures (Langsdorff and Ménétriés), both renowned exactly by their meticulousness. There is a more profound discussion on this point in Raposo et al. (2012). More information on these two naturalists can also be found at: <Édouard_Ménétries> ; and Pacheco, in his messages, refers to Sick (1997, p. 525) and Hellmayr (Cory and Hellmayr, 1924, p. 13) but both agree that São João del Rei is the type locality of S. speluncae.


My contribution to this discussion ends here. None of the authors of Raposo et al. (2012) is willing to continue this pointless and endless discussion. I only regret the fact that some of you, although full of good will, are being deceived by the excessive amount of speculation of Pacheco and Whitney.


Thank you all and I apologize for any rudeness that I have committed.




WHITNEY: In response to yours, Marcos, just a couple of brief thoughts.  All should recognize that these “topotypes” to which you repeatedly refer are specimens that, through your blatantly circular reasoning, match the holotype because they were taken near S J del Rei.  However, through the reasoning of Maurício et al and Whitney et al — and explained in painstaking detail in my recent messages — that is based mainly on the author’s description and its accompanying color plate and supported by many additional points, some more or less speculative as are some of yours, to be sure, your “topotypes” are referable to S. petrophilus (the description of which includes a paratype from near S J del Rei).  Everyone knows Menetries described his specimen back in Russia, years after he collected it, and I am happy to assume that the artist painted it at that time.  Whether the specimen was so heavily damaged at that time or not, we cannot know — but consider this:  no ornithologist who has examined this specimen, and there have been many (among them Hellmayr and Sick) as recently as Loskot (in litt. to Pacheco 1998) has called attention to the extensively damaged, destroyed, posterior underparts.  I do not know how to explain that, and prefer not to enter into speculation on when or how the damage occurred, but you are not permitted to assume that Menetries and his artist had a damaged specimen in front of them at the time of description or illustration.  Certo, amigo?  The only thing we can be reasonably sure of is that, at the time of collection, Ménétriés’s shot did not inflict the damage we see today.  Your excellent historical research and examination of the holotype have been invaluable in determining its identity, and I have learned much about Menetries and Langsdorff as early collectors in Brazil.  Thank you very much indeed for that!



Comments solicited by Remsen from Donna Dittmann of the LSUMNS, one of the most prolific preparators of bird skins in the world:


[Remsen]: “Donna -- attached is [pdfs] a controversial specimen that is the type of Scytalopus speluncae, collected 150 +/- years ago.  What do you think the source of the damage is?  Van”


Dittmann: “Tapaculos have soft feathers that could easily become abraded - this bird has underparts progressively more worn - on belly right down to shaft and downy feather base - distal ends all gone. You see that wear to some degree in harsh environments e.g., Ammodramus, maybe some ovenbirds. My take, two potential scenarios, a bird in poor physical condition in a harsh environment that did not molt when it was supposed to ... so physical condition results in extreme damage (=abraded feathers) from environment - but pale bill and legs (no tapaculos share that? even after 150 years) could suggest physical abnormality (could further explain poor plumage condition) OR storage conditions and/or original preservation method, e.g., contact with chemicals that could exaggerate or cause damage to or discolor plumage. I don't know how the specimen was obtained prior to its description...unusual soft part colors mentioned?”


“That's fine to quote me...soft part are colors bizarre...if that's how the bird looked (more or less assuming post mortem changes) in life that's anomalous for a you consider plumage may also be affected by genes and wouldn't be typical of the "species".  If the soft parts are the result of chemical contamination then you have no idea what those chemicals did to the plumage.  I don't think that one should be used for a description.”


Comments solicited by Remsen from Niels Krabbe: I have painstakingly read through the discussion and have ended up agreeing entirely with the views forwarded by the defenders of the proposal.

“The type of speluncae as seen on photo in Raposo et al. (2012) looks very pale to me, paler than any museum specimen of similar age I have seen of any dark Scytalopus (e.g. latrans, acutirostris). The mid throat and breast are grayish white, just as Menetries described them only 10 years after it was collected.

“Despite its moth-ridden appearance some brown can be seen on the upper flanks. Had the brown been remains of an immature or subadult plumage, brown would have shown elsewhere on the body, at least on the wings. I must conclude that the bird is fully adult and had brown flanks.

“Why Menetries did not mention the brown on the flanks and rump, and why the plate accompanying the type description purportedly shows an all-dark bird remains up to speculation. Most likely, the specimen was already heavily moth-infested at the time and was touched as little as possible. Menetries's description, like many other descriptions of the time, was very general ("Entire upperparts medium gray with bluish sheen; this color paler towards the underparts, which are whitish on mid throat and breast. Wings and tail blackish brown."). His lack of mentioning the brown barred flanks is noteworthy and does suggest that the flanks were already damaged then. His lack of noting the barred rump would be a natural consequence of reluctance to touch the most heavily infested part of the specimen.

“But speculation concerning these points is irrelevant. The type specimen is pale and pale birds inhabit the type-locality. If the type could be shown to be something else, then there would be a case, but until then, I see no grounds for doubting that it represents the pale species. I thus recommend a yes to the proposal.”


Response from Whitney: “I just looked at Niels's comments.  How, I wonder, Niels, have you formed you "expectation" of "exactly" how a tone of gray should look after 200 years??  We have no idea how much exposure to UV the specimen might have had, but it doesn't take anything close to two centuries to take most the color/tonality out of feathers (take a look the type of Conopophaga lineata at AMNH sometime; it's almost white after some years on display).  Have you ever seen specimens, series of specimens, of these birds?  This is quite something, Niels!”


Response from Krabbe: “It is based on how other old specimens of Scytalopus I have seen have faded and the photos presented of the pale form. I have seen quite a few old specimens of Scytalopus. There is nothing to suggest that the type of speluncae has been mounted.

“As much as I like the idea of having Scytalopus types with tape-recordings attached to them, I don't think you can discard old types by creating unlikely scenarios or doubting detailed examinations of types. Your major objection to accepting the identity of the type of speluncae was based on an artist’s and describer’s attempt to make up for the missing flank feathers. Close examination of the type reveals that the brown flanks have not been entirely eaten away. It lacks brown in the wing, so all agree that it is fully adult. There really is no good reason to doubt its provenance.”


Response from Whitney: “I have looked at a lot of old specimens of Scytalopus, too, and I confess that I am unable to determine the exact shade of gray I can expect from any of these old skins relative to what they looked like fresh — and we are talking about subtle shades of gray here.  Importantly, we cannot assume that Menetries and his artist had a damaged specimen at the time of description — it certainly was not damaged by shot, so he would have had to have been impressed by the strongly brown and barred flanks — and we cannot assume that moth damage or anything else was responsible for the loss of the feathers in the lower underparts; we simply do not know and cannot even reasonably guess what happened there.  If you are 100% sure that moths are responsible for the damage, why did they stop at the contour feathers of the lower underparts?  Why not eat away lots of other, surrounding contour feathers, all of the basal feathers of the lower underparts, the fatty rump and, well, everything else??


“We do know that several other ornithologists who examined the specimen prior to the year 2000, including Hellmayr, Sick, and Loskot, did not mention the extensive damage to the lower underparts.  Perhaps they did not see it as important, given that the description and illustration indicated an all-gray bird, or perhaps the damage occurred after their examinations.  In sum, the failure of anyone before Raposo et al to mention the damage is a fact, but it cannot be unequivocally explained.


“I agree 100% that we cannot “discard old types”!  Far to the contrary, we must maintain them, especially in cases where they are accompanied by unequivocal original descriptions and illustrations.  I am sure you agree with this.  I have not created a single unlikely scenario and, as I have stated clearly a couple of times or more, I fully trust the detailed examination of the holotype presented by Raposo et al.  I am quite sure that the brownish bits they have pointed out are simply vestiges of a previous plumage (no brown in wings required to have brown vestiges in lower underparts, of course).


Is there “any good reason” to doubt provenance?  Over half of the birds Menetries described, including some he collected himself, were given erroneous type localities.  “Good reason,” -- a likely scenario given what we know about Menetries descriptions — is his having made another error here, probably as a result of having waited years to describe the bird and possibly having mixed up his labels as well.


“As I have suggested any number of times, starting with my first posting to this proposal, the “answer” will come from maintaining the holotype to eventually permit completely impartial analysis of ancient DNA (possibly even more than one analysis, the way things are going!).  In the meantime, the preponderance of evidence points to another outright Menetries mistake followed 170 years later by a series of published misinterpretations by Raposo et al and, finally, special pleadings attached to this SACC proposal by Brito and Raposo.  It simply does not matter, in the context of identifying the holotype, where it was collected; that is a secondary, “circular reasoning” invocation, just as it is to assert that specimens from near S J del Rei are “topotypes” of speluncae!


“But let’s see how the voting goes, and be content with the consensus until we do have DNA analysis.  Sound good?”


Response from Krabbe: “Vitor misquotes me. I said that because the type has no brown on the wings but does have brown un the upper flanks (as seen in the photos), it cannot be the dark form. No specimen of the dark form presented or described shows this combination, while it is typical of the pale form. And no adult or subadult tapaculo with brown on the upper flanks does not also have it on the lower flanks (show me one to prove me wrong). Therefore the type must have had brown flanks. I admit he is right about the specimen having been mounted, but it has no bearing on the issue.”


Response from Whitney: “Niels, as much as I hate to have to open the door a crack on the discussion of what the flanks of the damaged holotype might be interpreted as having been like in the natural state, I guess I will have to ask you to show us where this brown on the upper flanks is because your argument hinges entirely on its presence.  I'm sorry, but I just cannot see brown feathers, not even a single brown feather, in the high-res photos provided of the holotype, flash or no flash, which are every bit as good as actually looking at the specimen itself.  Raposo et al. have adequately proven, I think, that the contour feathering in the upper flanks region is essentially all gone - there simply is nothing there to be brown, nothing there to be gray (but if I had to try to guess, I'd certainly lean toward the upper flanks looking like they were entirely gray).  Not even Raposo et al. are purporting to have found brown feathering in the upper flanks - only the lower flanks/thighs area, and the rump/uppertail coverts.  Since you are also using these photos, I suppose anyone should be able to see at least one brown feather, so please point it out unambiguously.  I'm almost embarrassed to ask, but are you sure you are looking only at photos of the holotype, and not some of the other specimens of which photos were presented?  (This is just plain crazy).”


Response from Krabbe: “Bret, You are right. I was fooled by the light in the first photo I looked at. I throw in the towel and concur with you. Sorry.”



Comments solicited by Remsen from Frank D. Steinheimer: I cannot come up with the "correct" identification of the type (for that I know the species not well enough), but I have another solution. If Vladimir Loskot does not agree to the sampling of the type in question, then the type of Malacorhynchus speluncae Ménétriés, 1835 [= Scytalopus speluncae (Ménétriés, 1835)], has to be treated as unidentifiable; as such the name is then a nomen dubium. See art. 75.5 of the ICZN (1999). A neotype designation of a typical specimen showing all diagnostic characters would settle the dispute and the name Malacorhynchus speluncae Ménétriés, 1835, would be available again.


“Necessary steps to secure the stability of nomenclature of the Scytalopus group would be:


“1) First contact the authors Raposo, Kirwan and Loskot explaining the situation and urging them to cooperate in solving the issue by providing a DNA sample. That should also be in the interest of St. Petersburg Museum (see below step 2: they would loose the type status of their specimen). If they agree, then the DNA analysis most likely would solve the problem if markers are used that qualify for the purpose (e.g. mtDNA control region or another mtDNA marker) and if the analyses are made by a lab with a good track record of working with ancient/historic DNA from museum's specimens.


“2) If Vladimir Loskot still disagrees in the sampling "his" type specimen, then prepare a request to the Commission to set aside under its plenary power the existing name-bearing type of Malacorhynchus speluncae Ménétriés, 1835 of St. Petersburg Museum, and designate a neotype (for the same name and authorship, i.e. Malacorhynchus speluncae Ménétriés, 1835) but using a type specimen of the population for which the name is in prevailing usage - cite the papers accordingly in your request. Which population this will be in the end has to be decided on the percentages of this prevailing usage, but as I can see now that this will be the Mouse-colored Tapaculo, and not the Rock Tapaculo). Most important is that the newly chosen type specimen is from as close as possible to the original type locality of São João del Rei, Minas Gerais, because the historic type analysis using the authentic field diaries is very adequate to ICZN standards (cf. art. 75.3.6 and recommendation 76A.1.2). The citation to the type remains as: Ménétriés 1835: 527 and plate 13, fig. 1. The request has to include

a) a statement of the current discussion on the identity of these birds from São João del Rei, Minas Gerais,

b) a statement that priority is given to the identity of the type specimen rather than to the accompanying type locality data as in Raposo et al. (2012)

c) a diagnostic description of the neotype and publication of all its accompanying data

d) information on the neotype holding institution (I would suggest a respectable institution in Brazil, if an appropriate type specimen is available there)

e) a clear statement why the historic type of Ménétries is unidentifiable

f) an evidences that the neotype is consistent with what is known of Ménétries type and that a specimen closest to the original assumed type locality of São João del Rei has been chosen.


“3) A publication has to follow in which Malacorhynchus speluncae Ménétriés, 1835, and Scytalopus notorius Raposo et al. 2006 are synonymized (the Mouse-colored Tapaculo), and the name Scytalopus petrophilus Whitney et al., 2010, is accepted for the remaining population of the Rock Tapaculo.


“Comments by me: this issue should have been solved before Whitney et al. 2010 named a new (i.e. third) taxon (Scytalopus petrophilus) in the region. It is no good practice to originally describe a new taxon without consulting the relevant type material (in this case Ménétries type of Malacorhynchus speluncae in St. Petersburg), especially since it was known that only two different bird populations for two originally published names occur. Whitney et al. may have the better field experience and understanding of the regional avifauna, so it's a great pity that they have missed the chance to solve this muddle before establishing another new name. Raposo et al. (2006) failed in not investigating the identity of the type specimen itself to the best possible certainty and relied instead on the accompanying type data. Now it is indeed time to solve this issue for the fortune of a stable ornithological nomenclature.



Ménétriés, E. (1835). Monographie de la famille des Myiotherinae où sont décrites les espèces qui ornent le Musée d'Académie impériale des Sciences. Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences de St.-Pétersburg (6th serie) 3: 443–544.

Raposo, M.A., Stopiglia, R., Loskot, V. & Kirwan, G.M. (2006). The correct use of the name Scytalopus speluncae (Ménétries, 1835), and the description of a new species of Brazilian tapaculo (Aves: Passeriformes: Rhinocryptidae). Zootaxa 1271: 37-56.

Raposo, M.A., Kirwan, G.M., Loskot, V. & Assis, C.P. (2012). São João del Rei is the type locality of Scytalopus speluncae – a response to Mauricio et al. (2010). Zootaxa 3439: 51–67.”



Response from Whitney: “Despite the fact that Steinheimer’s suggestion would effectively validate the position of Maurício et al. and Whitney et al. -- although stabilizing the nomenclature through different means -- by 1) synonymizing S. notorius in S. speluncae, with 2) designation of a neotype that 3) matches the description of speluncae (= essentially all gray) from 4) as near as possible (= about 70 km) to São João del Rei, and 5) recognition of S. petrophilus as a valid species-group name, I remain staunchly against abandoning the holotype.  It is indeed most unfortunate that the directors of the ZISP in St. Petersburg are unwilling to permit extraction of a couple of tiny tissue fragments to permit an attempt to amplify “ancient DNA” right now, but as I have said before, this is not the end of the world.  There is no rush; let’s have patience.  One day, perhaps decades from now, DNA of the holotype of Malacorhynchus speluncae will be extracted by impartial technicians and analyzed in satisfactory detail to establish its unequivocal identity.  In the meantime, there is a lot of verbiage above that all voting and interested parties can attempt to assimilate in reaching a consensus for practical purposes.  I suggest that we all stop with the back-and-forth and let the voting move forward, then respect the outcome.  If there are voters who wish to abstain for whatever reasons, that is fine, it matters not.  My formal recommendation, all things considered at this point in time, is maintenance of the holotype and maintenance of nomenclature of long-standing as regards application of the name speluncae: a NO vote to Proposal #559.”


Comments from Vitor Piacentini: So far I’ve been avoiding getting in this messy situation – one of the most controversial cases in the taxonomy and nomenclature of Neotropical birds. After changing my view every time a new paper was published – regardless of the author, of course – I decide I’d better read once again (fourth or fifth time) all relevant papers to make my own judgment. I also tried to follow the discussion at SACC’s page, but I must say it’s becoming too tiring. I further took advantage of being at MZUSP, which holds the largest series in the world of both light-gray and dark-gray taxa, to study them myself. And I also sought to go deep in the historical data. All things considered, I believe several facts emerge clearly:


1) Ménétriés is far from being a reliable scientist;


2) He clearly used data from another bird (from São João Del-Rei) in the description of his Malacorhynchus speluncae, whose true collecting locality (and true collector!) may never be known;


3) The type was a former mounted specimen that went through a strong fading and foxing, similar to other old Scytalopus specimens available;


4) All available data point to a recent damage to the specimen; and


5) The available morphological data agrees well with the dark-gray species and much better than it would with the light-gray species.


I discuss each of these topics below.


1) How reliable is Ménétriés? Despite a few arguments to the contrary, Ménétriés was not a good zoologist. Indeed, even as an entomologist – his main research field – he made mistakes such as describing a Brazilian moth whose type is the head and thorax of one species glued to the abdomen of another species (see Becker & Pinheiro 2009)! Regarding the birds, Ménétriés’s mistakes go beyond “giving wrong localities to material collected by Langsdorff, not to the material collected by himself”, as implied by Raposo et al. (2012). Ménétriés assumed he collected himself several species that he could not have collected simply because they occur far from the places where he travelled in Brazil. Awkwardly, he assumed he collected birds such as Mato Grosso Antbird, Black-throated Antbird, and White-fringed Antwren and, of course, linked them all to his collecting diary (Journal de Chasse). And that is precisely what he did with the type of Malacorhynchus speluncae. So, the fact that he says he collected himself the type of speluncae guarantees nothing! All those mistakes (and, for sure, several others that we cannot find the evidence for yet) were not made deliberately by Ménétriés, but they are the expected result of a zoologist trusting in his memory to give localities to specimens without original field labels about 10 years after the collecting of such material. The testimony of Chrostowski (1921) is very telling:

[About the bird collection at ZISP]


“Among all collections, the most important one is that of F. H. von Kittlitz. The number of birds is relatively small, but the collector carefully labeled all his specimens and, back to Saint Petersburg, studied and described them thoroughly. Despite that, he prepared a manuscript list of all his birds and presented it to the museum. That is not the case with the birds of Langsdorff-Ménétriés, about which there is no catalog in the museum. On the labels, the indications of sex, date and precise collecting localities of the specimen were neglected.” [bold mine]”


With all that in mind, and being further aware that the oldest label of the type only indicates “Brazil” as data, how can we know whether the holotype of speluncae was collected in Minas Gerais? Without any original field label, how can we be sure it is the specimen #18 of Ménétriés’s “Journal de Chasse”? [The historical link between the entry #18 and the type is supported by the wording used by Ménétriés, as shown by Raposo et al. 2012] To answer these questions, I decided to read carefully all the original information in the “Journal”. And what we find there is the next topic.


2) Ménétriés mixed information from another bird he collected in São João Del-Rei in the description of Malacorhynchus speluncae. If one reads the text for his specimen #18, here is what one finds (see Figure 1 in Raposo et al. 2012):


“Myothera (s! caudabrevis ! ) Iris brun clair, bec brun, plus clair inférieurement, pieds de couleur de chair. Va à terre et sur les petits arbres, né chanter pas, le nourrit d’insectes. Je le trouvai d’ouverture de le Grotte D’a Pedra près de St.-Joam”


Almost all that information was copied in the original description, which I copy here, for cross-reference:


Ménétriés, 1835

Malacorhynchus speluncae

Iris brun Clair; bec brun, plus clair inférieurement; pieds de couleur de chair.

La queue est allongée; à pennes larges et molles. Toute la partie supérieure de l’oiseau est d’un gris de souris lustré de bleuâtre; cette couleur s'éclaircit sur les côtes du dessous du corps, et devient blanchâtre vers le milieu de la gorge et de la poitrine; les ailes et la queue sont d’un brun noirâtre.

Je trouvai cette espèce seule, courant à terra et voltigeant sur les petits buissons, à l´entrée d´une grotte calcaire près de St. João Del Rey, dans La province de Minas Gérées; je ne lui ai entend articuler aucun son; et son estomac contenait plusieurs petits insectes.’



However, please notice that NONE of the morphological data from the “Journal de chasse” applies to a Brazilian Scytalopus! And at least one of the characters – the tail length – is precisely the opposite of the information given in the original description! I will detail all that:


Notice the “caudabrevis” in parentheses; as you all probably know, this Latin term means “short tail” (cauda = tail, brevis = short), a feature absolutely not applicable to the M. speluncae of Ménétriés, whose tail is qualified as long by the author (“La queue est allongée”); indeed, Ménétriés described his entire new genus Malacorhynchus as having “Queue assez longue” (= tail very long; p. 522.). Additionally, the bill description is not applicable for a Brazilian Scytalopus; the bill is described as brown above and paler below, which contrasts with the uniformly black or blackish bills of the Brazilian Scytalopus (see Wikiaves website for several examples of bill color of living individuals of both S. speluncae and S. petrophilus). Likewise, neither iris color nor foot color matches a Scytalopus from eastern Brazil.


Another point is the description of the behavior of the bird: Ménétriés mentions in the description that the bird was found running on the ground and fluttering over small bushes (‘courant à terra et voltigeant sur les petits buissons, à l´entrée d´une grotte calcaire près de St.-Joào Del Rey’); in addition to be difficult to see in the field, none of the Scytalopus taxa is able to flutter over bushes.


The table below compares all that information with both light-gray and dark-gray Scytalopus:



Specimen #18 of Ménétriés´ Journal de chasse[1] (Fig. 1 – Raposo et al. 2012)

Dark-gray taxon[2]

(Serra do Mar Tapaculo)

Light-gray taxon (Rocky Tapaculo)[3]


Short (“caudabrevis”)[4]

Long (“La queue est allongèe”, Ménétriés 1835)[5]

Bill color

Brown bill, lighter below

(bec brun, plus clair inférieurement)[6]

Black (Raposo et al. 2006)

Black with gray tip (Whitney et al. 2010); Mandible blackish with gray tomia (Raposo et al. 2006)


Light brown (brun clair)

Dark Brown (Krabbe & Schulenberg 2003)[7]

Dark Brown (Whitney et al. 2010)


Flesh colored feet[8] (“pieds de couleur de chair“)

Pale brown or yellowish brown (Raposo et al. 2006); dark brown (Krabbe & Schulenberg 2003)

Olive-yellow (Raposo et al. 2006); brownish-cream (Whitney et al. 2010)


Drops down to the ground and on/over small trees (“Va à terre et sur le petites arbres”) / runs on the ground and flutters on/over small shrubs (“courant à terra et voltigeant sur les petits buissons”, Ménétriés 1835)

The behavior of fluttering on/over small shrubs is not consistent with a Scytalopus.


[1] Content not translated nor transcribed by Raposo et al. 2012.

[2] Refers to Scytalopus speluncae (sensu Maurício et al. 2010, Whitney et al. 2010), and Scytalopus notorius (Raposo et al. 2006, 2012).

[3] Refers to Scytalopus petrophilus (Whitney et al. 2010), and Scytalopus speluncae (Raposo et al. 2006, 2012).

[4] The epithet "caudabrevis" literally means "short tail".

[5] A quite long tail is exactly one of the features of the genus Malacorhynchus in which speluncae was described (Ménétriés 1835, p. 522).

[6] I.e. mandible lighter than the maxilla.

[7] The color of the iris was omitted in the description of S. notorius (see Raposo et al. 2006).

[8] Known today as peach color, i.e. pinkish orange.


Therefore, it becomes evident that Ménétriés once again was betrayed by his memories and associated the data of his bird # 18, including the collection (type) locality, to a Scytalopus specimen without original field label. Where exactly the type specimen was collected and who collected it are question for which we’ll perhaps never know the answer. Any further discussion on the birds of São João Del-Rei, whether there could be a population of the dark-gray taxon in São João, or when Ménétriés visited the region is simply irrelevant. To properly apply the name speluncae, we must base it on the type specimen. But before performing a morphological appreciation of the type, we must be aware of its history.


3) The type was a former mounted specimen in display that obviously went through a strong fading and foxing. It’s quite surprising that neither group (Raposo et al. x Maurício/Whitney et al.) has explored deeply this feature. The holotype was a mounted specimen and, as such, has been exposed to light for decades in the Zoological Institute – formerly a “Cabinet of Curiosities”. Besides the glass eyes, it’s also possible to see the wire used to attach the legs in a mounted specimen (see Figure 1 in the supporting material[SM]) and the toes are clearly aligned and “rounded” as they would appear in a “perched” bird. That the type is a former mounted bird is not surprising since that was the pattern of bird specimens in the 1820’s. This is important historical information that one needs to have in mind when analyzing the type.


            Despite the fact that the type was a mounted specimen exposed to light, Raposo & Kirwan (2008: 80) stated that “The holotype would also have to be extremely modified over time, from a dark grey specimen to one that is now pale gray with brown flanks [sic] and rump, yet there is no evidence in any of the, albeit limited (because so few ornithologists interested in Brazilian birds have visited the relevant museum), literature that supports this view.”[bold mine]. I do not need to highlight how wrong is to say that the holotype has “brown flanks and rump” – let’s just forget it, such mistake is irrelevant at this moment. Regarding the change in color from a dark gray specimen to a pale gray over 180 years, although the literature does not support it to the speluncae group (but see Whitney 1994), the museum specimens available do it just perfectly! A small series at MZUSP, all collected in the same locality (Itatiaia) with a 50-year spam among them, shows that a specimen of the dark-gray taxon can become as pale as a recently collected specimen of the light-gray taxon after only 100 years (not 180!) and without having been a mounted specimen in display! The figures 2 and 3 (in the Supplement) speak for themselves. A second 100-year-old specimen from Alto da Serra (the same dark-gray taxon as the birds from Itatiaia and the type of notorius) has become likewise pale gray (figure 4). Therefore, any allegation that the type of speluncae belongs to the light-gray taxon because presently it is light gray must be disregarded.


            I must further note that, during a visit to Museu Nacional do Rio de Janeiro in May 2008, Dr. Raposo kindly showed me several pictures of the holotype and explained me his view on the case. Among the many photos there was one of the holotype of M. speluncae together with a Merulaxis specimen with comparable age (of collecting). The similarly old Merulaxis specimen was clearly darker and, therefore, that could be evidence that the holotype of speluncae was light gray when collected. I found at MZUSP also a +100 year old specimen of Merulaxis, collected one year before the old Scytalopus specimen at MZUSP discussed here. The Merulaxis specimen, despite being as old as the faded and foxed Scytalopus and having being preserved under the same conditions, was only slightly faded and preserved its “dark pattern” (Figure 5). That a Merulaxis preserves its colors much better than a Scytalopus renders any comparison between specimens of both genera flawed.


4) All available data suggest the type was damaged only recently. There is no evidence to the claims of Raposo (in his papers and in this discussion) that the specimen was damaged during collecting or preparation (why not during the demounting of the specimen?). As Dr. Krabbe stated in his comment, that kind of damage looks like the result of moth attack. However, I disagree that the damage was probably made prior to unpacking the specimen. Here is all we know:


• Ménétriés did not mention any damage to the specimen;

• Hellmayr, the next person to examine the type (not Burmeister, contra Raposo & Kirwan 2008), did not mention any damage (Hellmayr 1907, Cory & Hellmayr 1924), though he did note on the poor condition of the type of Scytalopus acutirostris Tschudi (Cory & Hellmayr 1924: 21);

• most importantly, in the work on the types of birds of the Museum of St. Petersburg, Chrostowski (1921:26) did not mention any damage in his long and detailed account for the holotype of speluncae, whereas he says precisely that in the short account for the type of Malacorhynchus albiventris [= Eleoscytalopus indigoticus], in the very same page: “De cette espèce je n'ai trouvé au Musée qu'un seul spécimen en assez mauvais état (“Of this species I have found in the Museum only a single specimen, in very poor condition”).


            That neither Hellmayr nor Chrostowski mention the damage to the type is strong evidence that the damaged occurred after 1921 (possibly a result of moth attack, but we cannot discard the role of the demounting of the specimen). If so, there is no reason to Ménétriés or D’Avignon (the artist) overlook the most conspicuous diagnostic character of the light gray taxon, i.e. the brown flanks barred black, especially when such a character was perfectly noted on the type of Malacorhynchus albiventris. In other words, there is no evidence to question the reliability of the type being plain gray as given in the original description and the original plate!


5) All the above said, my analysis of the morphological characters still visible shows that the type agrees in every respect with the dark-gray taxon.  I call special attention to the differences between the pictures of the holotype taken by Dr. Loskot (seen in Raposo et al. 2006), with flash, and those taken apparently by Raposo himself, with natural light coming from a lateral source (seen in Raposo & Kirwan 2008 and in Raposo et al. 2012; see Figure 6 in the Supplement). The photos with flash clearly show a neutral gray specimen, without any “whitish” tone, whereas the pictures with the lateral light highlighting the ventral parts (and leaving the upperparts in the shadow) indeed suggest a bird with whitish underparts. Which one is closer to the real colors? I can imagine it is easy to make a neutral gray specimen looks whitish by overexposing it to light, but I doubt one can make a whitish-gray bird look darker by shedding a flash over it! It is clear from the photos that the type has a gray throat exactly like an old specimen of the dark-gray taxon. It could be argued that it also matches some specimens of the light-gray taxon, sure, but then the foxed and faded holotype would be being compared with a fresh, recently collected specimen.


As I said in the comment #3, any allegation that the type of speluncae belongs to the light-gray taxon because presently it is light gray must be dismissed. Quite to the contrary, given that a dark gray specimen can become “light gray” after “only” 100 years (MZUSP, above), I wonder how pale a 180-year-old light gray specimen that has been exposed to light should appear nowadays! For sure much paler than the recently collected specimens of the light gray taxon [which, according to Raposo et al. (2006, 2012) and Raposo & Kirwan (2008), are about the same tone as the type].


One point I judge worth discussing is the implicit allegation by Dr. Krabbe that the type, as a fully adult, could not show any brown on the rump if it were a specimen of the dark-gray species. Despite the several specimens shown by Maurício et al. (2010: Fig.4) that prove such assumption wrong, I call the attention to specimen AMNH 492362, from Itatiaia [= dark gray], which likewise also contradicts that assumption. I examined that specimen back in June 2009 and found it to have brown barring in at least one rump feather and in a few others in the flanks (Figure 7 in the Supplement). It is thus not surprising that Hellmayr (1907) said that specimen “agrees in every respect with the type”. So, the simultaneous presence of brown barring on the rump without brown markings on the wings has no taxonomic value.

            What about the “whitish throat” originally described and presented in the plate? That would be the only character that, according to some people, does not match the dark-gray taxon and disagrees with all remaining evidence that so far points to the holotype being originally dark-gray, too. I notice, though, that both the original text description and the original plate indicate a bird with a throat lighter than the remaining underparts, but such pattern does not fit either dark-gray or light-gray taxa! None of the 30 specimens of the light-gray taxon available to me (34 if we include the four specimens seen in photographs in Raposo et al. 2006, 2012) has a throat paler than the belly. On the contrary, the throat of the specimens of the light-gray taxon are either darker than the belly or concolor with it. Further, a whitish throat does not agree with the gray-throated type either. So, how to explain such character mentioned by Ménétriés? Another of his mistakes? An imprecise description? At first, the explanation given by Maurício et al. (2010) was not very appealing to me. Then I saw the following video of the dark-gray species, taken in northern São Paulo State: [the locality is explicitly given here:]. To my own surprise, it shows the bird as having a marked whitish throat! And that makes Maurício et al.’s explanation consistent and plausible. The bottom-line is that the whitish throat mentioned by Ménétriés does not offer a challenge to the holotype being a dark-gray specimen.


All in all, I cannot find a single piece of evidence that truly links the type of speluncae to the light-gray species. The alleged evidence for this represents clear misinterpretations and misunderstandings of the available historical and morphological data. On the other hand, the morphology of the type agrees with the dark-gray species, the plumage pattern given in the original description points to the dark-gray species, the original plate points to the dark-gray species and the only two men ever to compare the type directly with either a dark-gray or a light-gray specimen (Carl Hellmayr and Helmut Sick) both said the type refer to the dark-gray form. I have no other option than agreeing that the name speluncae applies to the eastern, dark-gray species.


Post script: When finishing this rationale, I communicated to the authors of S. petrophilus that I had analyzed the case and came to the conclusion the name speluncae applies to the dark-gray species; however, given that some of my arguments have been similarly expressed in the SACC proposal/discussion by Whitney, I didn’t want to anticipate any of the possible rebuttal they could be using in their reply (a MS in prep.). Despite allowing me to freely submit my conclusions, I’ve been told there is another issue: there is a third name available to the dark-gray species: Scytalopus undulatus Jardine, 1851. This name is a junior synonym of S. speluncae (already published in Warren & Harrison 1973) and was overlooked by Raposo et al. (2006) when naming S. notorius, which is itself a junior synonym of S. undulatus (plumage and morphometrics points to its application to the dark-gray species). A complete discussion will be presented by them soon. Anyway, I thank them also for letting me anticipate their finding. Because all evidence supports the application of the name speluncae to the dark-gray species, the availability of the name undulatus has no direct consequence here.



Specimens examined:

Dark-gray/speluncae/notorius: 14 (MZUSP), plus 4 from DZUFMG (high-res photographs); also, I had already seen the 14 specimens from the AMNH in 2009, including the one Hellmayr compared directly with the type and said to “agree in every respect with it”.

Light-gray/petrophilus: 17 (MZUSP), plus 10 from DZUFMG and 3 from PUC-MG (high-res photographs).


Literature cited:


Becker, V. O. & L. R. Pinheiro. 2009. Laemocharis ignicolor Ménétriés (Noctuidae, Arctiinae), a bogus Neotropical moth. Revista Brasileira de Entomologia 53(4): 684–685.

Chrostowski, T. 1921. Sur les types d’oiseaux néotropicaux du Musée Zoologique de l’Académie des Sciences de Pétrograde. Annales Zoologici Musei Polonici, Historiae Naturalis, 1(1): 9–30.

Cory, C.B. & Hellmayr, C.E. (1924) Catalogue of birds of the Americas and the adjacent islands. Field Museum of Natural History, Zoological Series, 13 (3): 1–369.

Hellmayr, C. E. 1907. [Remarks on: “1. Synallaxis moreirae, Ribeiro. 2. Scytalopus speluncae (Ménétries). 3. Musciphaga obsoleta, Ribeiro.”]. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 19: 76.

Maurício, G.N., Bornschein, M.R., Vasconcelos, M.F. Whitney, B.M., Pacheco, J.F. & Silveira, L.F. 2010. Taxonomy of “Mouse-colored Tapaculos”. I. On the application of the name Malacorhynchus speluncae Ménétriès, 1835 (Aves: Passeriformes: Rhinocryptidae). Zootaxa 2518: 32–48.

Ménétriés, E. (1835). Monographie de la famille des Myiotherinae où sont décrites les espèces qui ornent le Musée d'Académie impériale des Sciences. Mémoires de l'Académie des Sciences de St.-Pétersburg (6th serie) 3: 443–544.

Raposo, M.A., Stopiglia, R., Loskot, V. & Kirwan, G.M. 2006. The correct use of the name Scytalopus speluncae (Ménétries, 1835), and the description of a new species of Brazilian tapaculo (Aves: Passeriformes: Rhinocryptidae). Zootaxa 1271: 37-56.

Raposo, M. A., Kirwan, G. M., Loskot, V. & Assis, C. P. 2012. São João del Rei is the type locality of Scytalopus speluncae – a response to Mauricio et al. (2010). Zootaxa 3439: 51–67.

Raposo , M. A. & Kirwan, G. M. 2008. The Brazilian species complex Scytalopus speluncae: how many times can a holotype be overlooked? Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia 16(1): 78-81.

Warren, R.L.M. & Harrison, C.J.O. 1973. Type-specimens of birds in the British Museum (Natural History), vol 3: systematic index. Trustees of the British Museum, London.

Whitney, B.M. 1994. A new Scytalopus tapaculo (Rhinocryptidae) from Bolivia, with notes on other Bolivian members of the genus and the magellanicus complex. Wilson Bulletin 106(4): 585-614.

Whitney, B.M., Vasconcelos, M.F., Silveira, L.F. & Pacheco, J.F. 2010. Scytalopus petrophilus (Rock Tapaculo): a new species from Minas Gerais, Brazil. Revista Brasileira de Ornitologia 18 (2): 73–88.



Response from Raposo: After all these fading demonstrations, it is quite evident that Whitney agrees that the holotype is a light gray bird. As soon as our analysis has shown unequivocally that the specimen still holds the buff with dark bars feathers which are diagnostic of the light gray species (see the red marked words of Maurício, bellow), we could finally finish all this discussion with the conclusion that the holotype is a typical Scytalopus petrophilus, couldn't we?


Rump and lower flank feathers pdf


Legend: remains of the original pattern buff with black bars feathers at rump (above) and among the destroyed lower flanks/undertail coverts (bellow). Maurício et al. (2010, p. 37) consider it “the pattern buff with dark bars that diagnosis the light gray taxon”. We cannot estimate the original extension of these buff feathers in the bird’s flanks because they are completely destroyed as admitted by Whitney "Raposo et al. have adequately proven, I think, that the contour feathering in the upper flanks region is essentially all gone — there simply is nothing there to be brown, nothing there to be gray" (one of his last messages addressed to Niels Krabbe)” As soon as Whitney and others also agree the specimen is light gray (what is a faded gray??) the specimen can easily be identified as Scytalopus petrophilus, and there is no reason to discredit São João del Rei as the type locality and Ménétriés' original description.



No, we couldn't. Whitney et al. will always defend their misguided identification of the holotype although they have changed totally their opinion on its morphology, from an “uniformly dark grey specimen” (Maurício, 2005) to a faded gray (light gray) adult with subadult barred feathers (after these messages). They are still unable to admit that the light gray holotype is the light gray species.


In this message I will try to be as precise and formal as possible. I will demonstrate here that the overall hypothesis of my colleagues Maurício, Whitney and Pacheco congregates everything that classically should not be used in science, e.g.: tautology, ad hoc hypotheses, inductive reasoning, and speculation (none of them badly intended!).


Vitor's message concurs with Whitney's hypothesis of the fading process by using the same strategy: denigrating Ménétriés a little more; saying that the type was not, originally, what it looks like today (Scytalopus petrophilus); and also totally dismissing Ménétriés's description. All points raised by Vitor were already addressed in Raposo et al. (2012) and within these messages. I address again the relevant points of his text.


I will concentrate in showing those misconceptions that are central in Whitney's hypothesis. I also call attention to the fact that science is the best way to find the truth and that science implies some epistemology. I will show that all this speculation (how much is the bird faded? when the ventral plumage was destroyed? how can we be sure about the correspondence between diary, label and holotype? is the diary compatible with the holotype or not (how subjective is that?); why Ménétriés and Chrostowsky didn't say that the abdominal feathers were destroyed? is Serra dos Órgãos a possible alternative type locality? Was Ménétriés really a “bad zoologist”, capable of describing a dark gray bird as being whitish gray?) are only necessary if we deny the real facts. And when you go against them, speculation is almost inevitable and pages and pages must be written to construct the viability of an unlikely story. And when scientists speculate, they speculate well...


Many philosophers of science (e.g. Karl Popper) have shown how easy is to be fooled by poorly constructed arguments in speculative scenarios. They also have shown how readers can the distinguish good reasoning from the bad one. That's the case here! I detail below the most important and evident reasoning errors (the fallacies of Arthur Schopenhauer) of Maurício / Whitney / Pacheco's hypothesis that have brought this discussion into pure speculation. I already mentioned tautology and ad hoc hypotheses in the last message, but I am presenting them here again in a more clear and comprehensive way.


Would you defend a hypothesis that has changed (totally) 3 times? Would you defend a contradictory and tautological point of view? Could this hypothesis be considered scientific?

If you are still in doubt, use a little of the Occam's razor (also written as Ockham's razor, Latin lex parsimoniae).


What is more parsimonious? To believe that Ménétriés has labeled the bird (fact corroborated by his description of the bird and by the fact that we found the same species at the original type locality) or to believe in the domino effect of speculations proposed by Whitney's alternative? I sincerely believe the solution is not that difficult. I am appending some pages of Ménétriés monograph to this message, with the descriptions of some dark species so you can read and see how unlikely would be for a skilled zoologist like him to describe a dark gray breast as BLANCHÀTRE!



Macintosh HD:Users:JVRemsen:Desktop:Ménétriés description of M. unicolor from Rio de Janeiro.JPG



Macintosh HD:Users:JVRemsen:Desktop:Description of Cercomacra caerulescens from Rio de Janeiro.JPG




Macintosh HD:Users:JVRemsen:Desktop:C. caerulescens second part.JPG



Macintosh HD:Users:JVRemsen:Desktop:Description of Cercomacra caerulescens from Rio de Janeiro.JPG



1 – Use of ad hoc hypotheses / Changes in hypothesis

This is the most important kind of fallacy (sensu A. Schopenhauer) because it usually denotes the weakness of the hypothesis. In science and philosophy, ad hoc means the addition of extraneous hypotheses to a theory to save it from being falsified (definition from Wikipedia).

- First hypothesis of Maurício (2005) - the holotype is a “uniformly dark grey specimen” with no barred feathers on rump and flanks (Maurício 2005, p. 22, last paragraph), obviously, associating it with the dark gray form and its distribution.

- Second hypothesis of Maurício et al. (2010) – after Raposo and Kirwan (2008) proved the specimen was not a an uniform dark gray specimen, Maurício et al. argued that the holotype was a kind of intermediate specimen, paler than notorius but darker than the light gray species and with more barred flanks and rump than regular notorius, yet less than the light gray taxon (see the text and the figures of Maurício 2010, showing all the paler and barred notorius they could find). This is discussed in Raposo et al. (2012). They also speculate the holotype could be an adult with remains of subadult plumage. This is their first clear ad hoc hypothesis. The holotype was not what they thought at the beginning but they found an explanation that helped them to maintain their opinion as to its identity. Maurício et al. (2010, p.37) based their main conclusion in an estimation of the extension of brown feathers in the flanks. According to them, my pictures of the holotype “show the right flank partially covered by complete or nearly complete gray feathers and several feathers on the undertail coverts” and “the pattern buff with dark bars that diagnosis the light gray taxon is so extensive and contrasting that it would remain clearly observable even in very damaged specimens” (pg. 39). So, according to this first ad hoc hypothesis, the flank feathers are central to their identification of the holotype as the dark gray form and also to the conclusion the type locality should be “Serra dos Órgãos”.

- Third hypothesis (from these messages) – now, after our rebuttal (Raposo et al. 2012), the last messages and Niels Krabbe's comments, Bret considers that the bird is totally faded. It is not a natural intermediate specimen as defended by Maurício et al. (2010) any more. Now, the type is a faded notorius. This new idea is their second ad hoc hypothesis. Their notion as to the holotype has changed again but the identification remains the same. Bret also admitted that "Raposo et al. have adequately proven, I think, that the contour feathering in the upper flanks [which was used by Maurício et al. In the identification of the holotype as the dark gray species] region is essentially all gone — there simply is nothing there to be brown, nothing there to be gray" (one of his last messages addressed to Niels Krabbe) in clear opposition to Maurício et al. (2010, p.37, 39).

He has also admitted he is not able to “determine the exact shade of gray I can expect from any of these old skins”. At the same time, Vitor's comments show that “A small series at MZUSP, all collected in the same locality (Itatiaia) with a 50-year spam among them, shows that a specimen of the dark-gray taxon can become as pale as a recently collected specimen of the light-gray taxon after only 100 years (not 180!)”. Now, apparently, the defenders of Whitney's hypothesis are prepared to admit the specimen can be lighter than the light gray species and maintain the main conclusions!

The obvious consequence of all this confusion is that it is quite difficult to know what the authors really think about the holotype. It looks like they now agree with us about the morphology of the type, although providing a different rationale as to the light gray color of the specimen. Bret's last notion of the case, in contradiction to that Maurício et al. (2010), has opened a huge door to the identification of the holotype as the light gray bird (Scytalopus petrophilus).

I am again appending pictures to this message proving that the feathers that retain their original color in lower flanks and rump are buff with dark bars.

2 –Tautological reasoning

Bret's belief in a fading process is also tautological. From an initial wrong impression of the morphology of the holotype, he and his colleagues deduced that the bird was from Serra dos Órgãos. Now, they interpret the light gray holotype as being a faded bird because they believe it comes from Serra dos Órgãos. But Serra dos Órgãos was deduced from their abandoned (Maurício’s) first hypothesis! Adding to this odd situation, all of the historical facts point to São João del Rei and no fact points in the direction of Serra dos Órgãos as the type locality, while there is no reason to believe the holotype is faded (see Niels Krabbe comments!).

This tautology is central to their reasoning and it is one of the forces behind the huge amount of speculation concerning the origin and morphology of the type


3 – Misleading inductive reasoning (false syllogism and “inductive leap”)


- Used to demonstrate São João del Rei can't be the type locality. From the fact that some (57%) localities are regarded as presenting “clear problems in the attribution of origins” (Maurício et al. 2010, contested by Raposo et al. 2012) Whitney and Pacheco, in this discussion, have constantly maintained that the type locality is wrong. The implicit syllogism is: A- some of Ménétriés's localities are wrong; B - São João del Rei is one of the localities of Ménétriés; C – conclusion, São João del Rei is a wrong type locality”. This deduction can't be done. Two minor premises don't permit the greater conclusion.

- Another interesting and extremely important point is the “inductive leap”, very common in all their messages. For instance: (A) we don't believe in the label and diary so the specimen can't come from São João del Rei; (B) we don't believe in the label and diary so the specimen comes from Serra dos Órgãos. Another one is present is Vitor's message and in Maurício et al. (2010): (C) we found a specimen from Itatiaia that was referred by Hellmayr as being in total agreement with the holotype, so, the holotype is from Serra dos Órgãos; or (D) we examined a specimen from Itatiaia that was referred by Hellmayr as being like the holotype, so, I know exactly what is the holotype. This last point was discussed also in Raposo et al (2012, p.64).

- Vitor compared the holotype with the diary and found some incongruences (I will not speculate here about how subjective was Vitor's analysis, e.g. what is a long tailed bird? I remember my first impression on the holotype as a long tailed Scytalopus!). Based on those supposed incongruences, he concluded that the holotype could not be the Myiothera that Ménétriés has found at the cave. This is obviously a huge inductive leap. If Vitor had used the same logics in all his analysis, as soon as he also disagree with the breast description presented by Ménétriés, he would also have to reject the holotype as the bird Ménétriés has described.


4 – Incoherence in the use of the disposable information (or incomplete use)

There are many examples of incoherent use of information. Here, I mention only four, because they are related to the two important central issues, the compatibility of Ménétriés' description with the holotype and the credibility of the material collected by Ménétriés.

A - Trying to explain why Ménétriés pointed to a whitish gray throat and breast (“blanchâtre vers le milieu de la gorge et de la poitrine”), Maurício et al. (2010, p. 35) advocated he was confused by a silvery reflection to the feathers. At the same time they make a very strong case concerning the fact that Ménétriés didn't describe brown in the flanks (their legend to Fig. 6). Clearly, they discard only the part of the description that doesn't corroborate their hypothesis. Accordingly Vitor's message “there is no reason to Ménétriés or D’Avignon (the artist) overlook the most conspicuous diagnostic character of the light gray taxon”. If Ménétriés was a “bad zoologist” (in Vitor's wording), capable of describing the breast and the throat as whitish gray when it was in fact dark gray, why couldn't he miss the flanks? Isn't that a hugely incoherent analysis of the data? It becomes worse when we know the breast and throat can easily be described nowadays as whitish gray (or faded, whatever) and that the feathers of the flanks are destroyed. At the same time, Vitor Piacentini discredits everything Ménétriés has done or said but uses the fact “Ménétriés did not mention any damage to the specimen” to support his speculation as to when the abdominal feathers were damaged. It is a typical inductive contradictory reasoning in the use of available information. This is bad science!


B – Pacheco (2004) published a good paper on Ménétriés. At that time, he was very clear (and his analysis concurs broadly with our own) about the difference in credibility between the material collected by Ménétriés himself and the material that came from Langsdorff (after Ménétriés left the team): “...none of these problems [with Langsdorff's material] pertain to specimens obtained by Ménétriés himself in Brazil... We can therefore suppose that the larger number of transcription [labeling] problems exist... in the lot of material that came from Langsdorff.... than with those specimens collected by the monograph’s author [Ménétriés]”. For a complete translation and discussion, please go to Raposo et al. (2012, p. 57). During all this discussion, Pacheco has avoided mentioning his paper, and has not explained why he has changed so much his convictions about the specimens collected by Ménétriés. It is also important to note that the three authors (Chrostowsky, Hellmayr and Sick) used by Pacheco and Piacentini do denigrate Ménétriés image agree with us in addressing São João del Rei as the type locality.


C- Vitor's message brings the insinuation that I have chosen between the pictures, the one which the bird was lighter in order to induce your opinion. Well, this fallacy is named by Arthur Schopenhauer “last stratagem”, “argumentum ad personam” or “personal attack”. I would like to make clear that I made my best to get the photo as close as possible to the real tone; that my camera is a professional one; and that, in our plates (in Raposo and Kirwan 2008 and Raposo et al. 2012), we resolved the situation using the same background (exactly the same), when comparing notorius, petrophilus and the holotype. We also used color catalogues that has shown the identical tone of gray between holotype and topotypes. But he is wright in doubting pictures!! Vitor, Whitney, Pacheco and the rest of their team will only have a good notion of what is the holotype when they go to St. Petersburg, as we all did.


D – At the end of his message, Vitor states that “there is a third name available to the dark-gray species: Scytalopus undulatus Jardine, 1851”. I don't know what kind of diversion is that, but Scytalopus undulatus is also a junior synonym of Scytalopus speluncae (sensu Raposo et al. 2012) and another senior synonym of the light gray species! The appended picture show the holotype with an evident whitish belly (pure white) “typical” of S. petrophilus. I have not called attention to this name before because the specimen is a young bird without precise indication of type locality. There is no need to discuss such a complex specimen here. Hope they do not allege this specimen is also faded!


Scytalopus undulatus


5 – Using Occam’s razor or the principle of parsimony


“Occam's razor (also written as Ockham's razor, Latin lex parsimoniae) is a principle of parsimony, economy, or succinctness. It states that among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected” (from Wikipedia, 2013).

After the last messages of Whitney and Vitor, both defending passionately the fading process, it is clear that they now believe the holotype is light gray (what is a faded gray, after all?). They only disagree with us about the original color of the holotype.

So, let's use the parsimony.

A – The holotype is light gray (all agree!)


B – The holotype holds buff with dark bars on the feathers of the rump and flanks (see the pictures and the Maurício's red phrase above!) and that we cannot (now admittedly, see Whitney's blue phrase above) estimate the original extension of these buff feathers in the bird’s flanks.


Let's use some logic. As soon as it is clear that A (light gray) +B (buff with dark bars) = Scytalopus petrophilus, it is clear that:


D – today, the morphology of the holotype matches Scytalopus petrophilus. Ménétriés has collected a Scytalopus petrophilus; OR,


E – as postulated by Whitney and Vitor, the holotype is faded (very faded). In this case, the holotype became compatible with S. petrophilus after fading, but originally, it was a dark gray bird with some subadult character (the barred feathers). In this case, Ménétriés has collected a S. notorius.


D and E can be considered a resume of the two available hypothesis. Is that correct? Yes, these are definitely the two available hypothesis, ours and their current version of the case. No doubts about that!


So, let's use Occam’s razor to compare hypothesis D and E:


D – The morphology of the specimen collected (light gray) is the morphology of the specimen today (light gray); 1 STEP, NO NEW EVENTS!


E – The morphology of the specimen collected (dark gray) has changed (fade) and it became the morphology of the specimen today (light gray). 2 STEPS, ONE NEW EVENT (THE SPECIMEN FADED)!


That's the application of Occam’s razor! The hypothesis D is more parsimonious.


But we could apply it a little more. We could add to the situation the description of Ménétriés pointing to a whitish gray specimen; we could also consider the type locality of the original description (São João del Rei) where it is only possible to find light gray birds; we could also use the barred feathers of rump and flanks, also associated with the diagnosis of the light gray form... etc. That's why, in choosing the wrong hypothesis, the least parsimonious, we have to enter into so much speculation!


So, let’s finish the application of the principle of parsimony (repeating: “it states that among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected”).



Our hypothesis: We examined the holotype. According to our analysis, the holotype, collected in São João del Rei, is a light gray specimen (throat and breast) with barred flanks and rump (see appended figures). The label and the diary written by Ménétriés are correct. The specimen is identical to the topotypes. Holotype, labels, diaries and original description are proof of this hypothesis. We are telling the same story since the beginning of our participation in the case (2006).

The hypothesis of Whitney et al. Ménétriés has collected an aberrant adult (not since found in Serra dos Órgãos) that retained some subadult features (barred rump and flanks) in Serra dos Órgãos. Ménétriés didn't mention this specimen in his diary and although he and Langsdorff were very careful about their data, as we explained in our paper, Ménétriés didn't label the bird. Some years later he went to São João del Rei and collected another Scytalopus (or a similar bird). At that time he made all of the notes in his diary, describing habitat, behavior etc. (all in the diary figured in our paper) but forgot to label the bird. The date referred to in the diary (7 June) also coincidently matches many other historical sources (including Langsdorff’s diaries and Rugendas pictures). The label that should have been attached to the specimen from São João del Rei was attached to the bird from Serra dos Órgãos. After the material arrived in St. Petersburg, Ménétriés was deluded by a mysterious silvery sheen to the feathers and described the specimen from Serra dos Órgãos as having a whitish throat and breast (“BLANCHÀTRE”). But he was wrong, because, still according to Whitney's hypothesis, the specimen would only be light gray after 180 years of fading. He named the bird as “speluncae” (of the cave) still impressed by that magnificent cave, but holding the wrong bird in his hands. After 180 years, the specimen becomes quite identical (because it has faded, and still has barred feathers on rump and flanks) to specimens of Scytalopus collected in the very same cave where Ménétriés, wrongly, thought he collected the holotype. The most incredible thing in Whitney's story is that Ménétriés was able to predict, in 1835, the exact color the specimen would be 180 years later and also the precise point where a population of an identical species would be discovered. Additionally, in terms of Methodology, they did not analyze the holotype and their knowledge of the history (diaries, labels etc.) comes from reading our paper. We should also mention that based on the same pictures analyzed by Whitney and collaborators, Niels Krabbe had an opposite impression. That’s why, we emphasize the importance of analyzing the holotype.

Which one is the most parsimonious hypothesis?

Vote for Science!


Response from Piacentini: “Marcos’ reply has wrong statements, misunderstandings, and a few distortions, which I’ll quickly correct in the first part of this reply, below. Most importantly, none of the issues I raised were refuted in his responses, some not even addressed. I think it is time to directly discuss the points, otherwise we will be stuck to an endless discussion. And I had planned to move on, with focus. So, I divided my reply in two parts. The first one is a correction to the misleading statements of Raposo. Those who are tired of this long discussion on the details can skip it and go to the second part, which is a concise presentation of my points of view, given following Raposo’s own approach of facts x speculation.


Part I – corrections to Raposo’s misstatements.


A- There is absolutely no syllogism. I did not defend that the type locality of speluncae is wrong because Ménétriés made many mistakes regarding his localities. Where did Marcos take this from? Anyone can easily conclude that the type locality given by Ménétriés is wrong because he copied the data of another bird (from SJDR) from his diary in the description of speluncae. Ménétriés’ other mistakes have no causal effect in this conclusion; they serve only to avoid anyone gets surprised by this easy observation.


B- There is no tautological reasoning. I never defended a priori that the bird came from Serra dos Órgãos. And I guess neither did Whitney, Maurício, et al. I explicitly said that we cannot know the true locality of that specimen. But, once we recognize it belongs to the dark-gray species, then the most probable locality for its collection is indeed the Serra dos Órgãos, where Ménétriés spent 25 months based in the Faz. Mandioca, in the foothills of that mountain range, 2-3 hours walking [and through a paved way] from the upland habitats where the dark-gray Scytalopus lives. The same area was also visited by Langsdorff (other possible true collector). That the type faded/foxed is the result of noticing that the type was a formerly mounted specimen in display. And it belongs to a bird naturally prone to fading as exemplified by the specimens at MZUSP. Where is the tautology?


C- I never made any suggestion that Raposo has “chosen between the pictures, the one which the bird was lighter in order to induce your opinion”. And his following sentence, “this fallacy is named by Arthur Schopenhauer “last stratagem”, “argumentum ad personam” or “personal attack”… well, that could not be more ironic, coming from you! What I said – and I reaffirm it here – is that the whitish throat seen in the pictures by Marcos is an artificial bias of the lateral light highlighting the ventral surface. If the throat was truly whitish, the photo with a flash should also show it. One cannot make a true whitish surface looks gray with a flash. But I can accept, in advance (though reluctantly), the potential forthcoming reply from Marcos that I’m comparing photos made with different cameras . Since Marcos has have made his pictures with his professional camera, then please, Marcos, make available to all of us the original RAW file you made of the holotype without the throat highlighted, i.e. the very same picture your student Claydson Assis presented in the beginning of his dissertation; the one that shows the left side of the specimen. It has the same background, it was made virtually at the same time, under the same conditions. But, unlike the picture with the throat turned to the light source, it shows a specimen with a clear plain gray throat.


D- I really do not know what to think about Raposo’s allegation that the birds from Itatiaia should not be used for comparison with those from Serra dos Órgãos. I’m speechless! First, Raposo himself named the dark-gray populations as notorius including the birds from Itatiaia at MZUSP (check “specimens examined” in Raposo et al. 2006). Second, in over 100 years of research in the eastern slopes of the Itatiaia massif (where all specimens I used for comparison came from), including 14 years of intensive field work there by Luciano Lima and Bruno Rennó, despite hundreds, perhaps thousands, of birdwatchers and ornithologists voice-recording birds there, there is not a single record of the light gray species in that area. Third, the absence of recordings of S. petrophilus in the eastern slopes is not that important; they could be in sympatry there, and indeed it appears the range of both species overlap in the western slopes of Mantiqueira, just like S. pachecoi (of the light-gray group of species) and “southern S. speluncae” (dark gray group) overlap their ranges in southern Brazil without any intergradation. Fourth, the genetic data of Mata et al. (2009) shows precisely that dark-gray specimens from the western slope of the Mantiqueira range fall within the dark-gray species group clade, whereas specimens of S. petrophilus fall within the light-gray species group clade, just like expected! Fifth, vocal data published by Maurício (2005) and the plenty of recordings available at Xeno-Canto, Wikiaves, and Macaulay Library show that birds from Itatiaia share the same pattern of contact and alarm calls as those from Serra dos Órgãos (which diagnose them in relation to the southern S. speluncae – to be formally described soon).

As a somehow related issue, I think it is worth mentioning that the similar allegation by Raposo et al (2012) that Mauricio et al. (2010) used birds from two different species to show individual variation is totally misleading. Mauricio et al. (2010) showed that individual variation can be observed in some bird series from a single locality for both northern and southern populations/species.

In conclusion, both in the publication (Raposo et al. 2012) and in the present discussion, Raposo’s use of the data from Mata et al. (2009) is misleading. On the other hand, I’m glad that Raposo is currently acknowledging the validity of the results of Mata et al. (2009), i.e. that there are several independent species within the dark gray clade/population (currently treated under the name speluncae). Therefore I belive that, for coherence, Raposo must accept also that there are at least four species within the light gray clade, i.e., the results of his student synonymizing S. pachecoi, S. petrophilus (their speluncae) and S. diamantinensis based on plumage, can be questioned (if ever published).


Message to Guilherme: You have asked me to answer the following questions, so here they are:

-“how much the holotype is faded" – I have shown that a dark-gray specimen can become as light as light-gray specimens with half the age of the holotype. The point here is not how much the holotype faded, but being aware its present tone of gray cannot be used as diagnostic. That simple.

-"When the holotype was destroyed" – it is my pleasure to give you this answer in the end of this reply.

-"Menetries collected anything but a Scytalopus on that cave" – I have shown that in my analysis. See below.

-"Menetries mislabeled these particular birds" – I never said that. Further, the labels do not matter at all. The oldest label available only brings “Brazil” as data!

-"Holotype's chest is not whitish gray” – the pictures available show a gray bird, not a whitish one (such as the whitish-bellied specimens of S. petrophilus). See Figure 6 of the supplement to my last message.


Lastly, a short message to Marcos. There is one of your reasoning that especially called my attention: many times you suggest in a negative way that the “Whitney’s hypothesis” has changed every time new facts emerged. Personally, I think the negative option is to get tied to an idea regardless of new discoveries. I’d better keep an open mind and eventually change my conclusions in face of new facts. What about you? If you are not willing, then there is no reason to continue this debate.


Part II – my points of view  (a concise version of my previous analysis). The approach of facts x speculation tries to please Marcos.


1) That Ménétriés made many mistakes regarding his localities is a fact. That he assumed he collected some specimens he could have never collected is a fact. That the type of speluncae has no original label (and the oldest only brings “Brasilia [=Brazil]” as locality) is a fact. That he was right about the locality given in his description of M. speluncae is a speculation (and please, Marcos, note that I’m not saying a priori he is wrong – I’m just aware we cannot trust his localities and should investigate it, just like I did below)

2) That Ménétriés wrote in his diary that he collected a short-tailed, brown-billed etc. bird in São João Del-Rey is a fact. That such morphological description does not apply to any Brazilian Scytalopus  is a fact. That it conflicts with the “tail very long” given by Ménétriés himself in the description of M. speluncae is a fact. That his description of behavior does not make sense for a Scytalopus is a fact. That Ménétriés indeed meant a Scytalopus in his diary despite all these conflicting data is a speculation.

3) That the type was a former mounted specimen in display is a fact. That such specimens fade faster than those kept closed in a cabinet is a fact. That centenary specimens of the dark-grey species can fade enough to reach the tone of gray of a light-gray specimen is a fact. That Scytalopus specimens are prone to fade is a fact. That the 180-years old holotype foxed (acknowledge by Raposo et al. 2006:50) but did not fade at all despite its age and despite being a former mounted specimen is a speculation.

4) [I’m keeping this one here as a formality.  New data confirms the integrity of the holotype until recently – see below.] That Ménétriés did not mention any damage to the type is a fact. That Hellmayr did not mention any damage to the type while mentioning damage to other Scytalopus type is a fact [Guilherme, please do not simplify it as just “not mentioning a damage”. The context is important]. That Chrostowski did not mention any damage to the type while noting damage to a Eleoscytalopus type specimen of Menetriés is a fact. That the type was damaged since collection would be a speculation, which is now refuted by the new data, below.

5) That the pictures of the holotype without a lateral source of light shows the specimen with a plain gray throat is a fact (see the photos by Loskot and by Marcos, if he makes available the original photo I mentioned before). That the original plate and original textual description depict a bird with a throat lighter than the belly and flanks is a fact. That such pattern conflicts with both light-gray and dark-gray species is a fact. Most important, that the whitish throat and breast described by Ménétriés, if taken verbatim, conflicts with the type itself is a fact. That a whitish throat can be seen in dark-gray birds depending of the incidence of the light is a fact. Any thought on what Ménétriés trully meant with such description is a speculation.


As I said when concluding my (previous) analysis, there is not a single evidence that truly links the holotype to the light-gray species. The morphological characters seen presently in the damaged holotype do not allow 100% unequivocal  application of the name, though they agree much better with the dark-gray species (I’d expect a much lighter bird as a result of a light-gray specimen being formerly mounted and 180-years old, as well as a much more extensive buff on the abdominal feathers with minimally preserved structure – not only a fringe [as seen in some feathers on the bird from Itatiaia that Hellmayr compared with the type]). On the other hand, the original plate and description of plain gray flanks, Hellmayr’s comparison with a dark-gray bird, and Sick’s comparison with a light-gray bird, all support the application of the name to the dark-gray species. To refute all that, the alternative hypothesis considers as a fact the speculation that the holotype always had its flanks damaged. Such speculation is disproved below.


The new data


J. F. Pacheco searched for any information about the holotype of S. speluncae in Sick’s diary (for his visit to ZISP in 1982). After the transcription of the labels of the type of speluncae (and then of albiventris), follows one short mention of speluncae, which is the only one in the entire diary. In a sentence about dates, Sick apparently says there is a failure/lack regarding the year “to speluncae”, and then ends the sentence with “tadelloses Präparat”, which means “impeccable preparation” (it is in gothic German*: “Jahreszahlen aus Ausfälle Jahr bis speluncae, tadelloses Präparat”; the type of speluncae seems to be the only [or one of the few] bird specimen from Ménétriés without an annotation of year on the labels]. That the type was in very good conditions in 1982 obviously means:

- That Ménétriés had it in perfect condition and noted the flanks as gray (= dark gray species), not brown barred black (= light gray species);

- That D’Avignon (the artist) had it in perfect condition and painted the flanks as gray (= dark gray species), not brown barred black (= light gray species);

- That Hellmayr found the specimen from Itatiaia to agree “in every respect” – he would never say that if the type was a light-gray specimen with flanks brown barred black;

- That Chrostowski  noted the few vestigial brown feathers on the rump as the only character that Ménétriés did not mention – were the type a specimen of the light-gray species, he would obviously note the flanks as brown barred black, too.


I think there is nothing else to say.


* I thank Dr. Rolf Granstau and his wife Ilse for kindly helping me to transcribe and teaching me the letters in old gothic German; five other German speakers also read the sentence in question.


 P.s. as you all are aware, I’ve requested  - and was denied - access to the type of M. speluncae and the collections of Ménétriés and Langsdorff to further improve our understanding on what really happened with those birds. Fortunately, the rich data available allows the application of the name (to the dark-gray species).



Response from Raposo: see attached pdf.


Comments from Stiles: “Here, I’ll continue to abstain in the hopes that genetic data can eventually be forthcoming.. if anything, I still have a weak preference for Raposo’s stand on the basis of better first-hand information but given the amount of invective involved in the discussions and my lack of familiarity with the birds involved, “on the fence” seems the safest place to be for now!”


Comments from Remsen:  “NO.  After taking an hour to read through all the statements above one last time, I am strongly persuaded, especially by the arguments of Whitney and Piacentini, that whatever speluncae refers to, it is not the population found at the alleged type locality, or at least there is sufficient doubt that only a DNA sample could reverse my assessment of the competing arguments.

“I also resent the tone of the arguments by Raposo that if you disagree with me, you are not a scientist.  Part of this attitude derives from apparent blind faith that Occam’s Razor always leads to “the truth”.  Where is the evidence that the true explanation in biology is always the simplest?  Occam’s Razor has a place in logic when the number of assumptions underlying each argument is equivalent, but even then, it is based strictly on probability and does not necessarily lead to “the truth.”  I point out that Occam’s Razor is used by some philosophers of religion to prove the existence of God because it is a much more parsimonious explanation than all of the steps required for the evolution of life.  Further, nothing could be less parsimonious than human behavior, which is at the center of several of the arguments herein concerning a specimen whose origin, labeling, description, subsequent handling, and subsequent inspections by several ornithologists is about as distant as one can get from the use of parsimony in, for example, determining the minimum number of evolutionary steps to reach the most likely branching pattern in a cladogram.

“Finally, at the risk of seeming defensive, it should be noted that in preliminary discussions, there was concern that I would not even allow this proposal to be posted, much less vote for it, given that Whitney is my colleague at LSU and Pacheco my colleague on SACC.  As any of my colleagues can report with resounding affirmation, I have no fear of disagreeing with colleagues, much to our mutual temporary discomfort but, in the long run, to our mutual benefit, and if my assessment of the evidence herein was in favor of a YES vote, a YES it would have been.  I greatly appreciate the effort that all participants put into trying to resolve this issue.”


Additional comments from Stiles: “Regarding the contentious Scytalopus proposal, and the observations of several outside observers, I am changing my vote to NO. The evidence from morphology and the painting and description of the type clearly link the type to the "dark-gray" species - and I find it very easy to believe, from what I've seen of remounted specimens here after only ca. 50 years, that the type has faded.  Given Menetries's track record on localities, I find it much easier to believe that he described his type accurately, but got the locality mixed up, especially in that his collections did not have accurate labels affixed when collected to the particular bird collected.“


Comments from Stotz: “NO. This doesn't necessarily mean that I am convinced that Whitney et al are correct, but because I am not completely convinced by either camp.  Given that, I think the best thing to do currently is maintain the status quo.  S. speluncae (as currently defined) has always been used for the dark species (Serra do Mar Tapaculo), which is far and away the most widespread species, and I am disinclined to mess with that without being fairly certain that changing it is valid.  Given that I have to continue to use speluncae for the widespread dark taxon, and apply petrophilus to the less widespread paler Rock Tapaculo, as SACC currently does.


Comments from Pacheco: “NO. To avoid boring repetition, I gather here the three stronger reasons to vote "no" on this Proposal.


“1) Most importantly, the holotype of Malacorhynchus speluncae does not match the "light-gray taxon" (= Scytalopus petrophilus) for not presenting the abundant barring on the flanks (therefore matching the dark-gray taxon). This character - the most conspicuous - was not described by Ménétriés, not illustrated by D'Avignon, and was not observed by Hellmayr, Chrostowski, or Sick before the type was damaged.


“2) The transcription and translation of the entry of diary of Ménétriés about the bird collected in São João Del Rei does not agree with either the "taxon light-gray" or "dark-gray taxon." The color of bill, the color of the tarsus, the color of the iris, the relative size of the tail, indicate that the bird collected by Ménétriés was not a Scytalopus. Thus, the only data in support of the application to the light-gray taxon – i.e., the type locality “São João Del Rei” – is now known to be originally linked to a bird other than Scytalopus.


“3) There is an earlier available name for the "dark-gray taxon" that predates by 154 years description of Scytalopus notorius. This is Scytalopus undulatus Jardine & Selby, 1852 (holotype at Natural History Museum, Tring, U.K.). The formal paper that meets rationale for application of the name (Pacheco et al., in prep.) will be submitted in the coming weeks. Thus, the name notorius could never be applied anyway.”


Comments from Zimmer:  “NO.  After much waffling, and finding myself changing my mind with each new counter-argument, I have systematically waded through this entire mess again, and I vote NO.  Ultimately, I find myself persuaded that the following points are true: 


1) The holotype is highly degraded from its condition at the time of its description, both in terms of the absence of most of the abdominal feathering, and in the color tone and wear of the remaining feathers. 


2) It is entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that after 180 years, a Scytalopus of the “dark species-group” could fade/fox to the condition seen in the holotype, particularly if (as is apparent) said specimen had been mounted and exposed to light for decades.


3) It is not uncommon for adult Scytalopus of the dark species-group to have some brown barring on the rump/upper tail-coverts (Indeed, virtually every photo I have ever taken of territorial males of the coastal birds show some remnants of brown barring on the rump or flanks – this character must take years of molt to eliminate completely.).


4) All individuals (regardless of age or sex) of the pale species-group in question have extensive and quite bold/contrasting black-and-brown barring on the flanks, contrasting with the otherwise pale gray abdomen.


5) Neither the original description of the holotype by Ménétriés nor the accompanying illustration refer to or illustrate brown-and-black barred flanks, nor uniformly pale gray underparts, which are the primary plumage distinctions separating the dark coastal birds from the pale interior birds.


6) The absence of mention of barred flanks in the original description and the absence of depiction of such a mark in the accompanying illustration is not because those feathers were already gone (neither Hellmayr nor Sick gave any indication that most of the abdomen of the holotype was missing).


7) It is not possible that the feathers in question were destroyed by shot when the bird was collected – as noted by Whitney, such shot-inflicted damage would also have taken out the legs, feet and tail, and there is no evidence of that.


8) The absence of mention/depiction of barred flanks in the original description/illustration was not due to being overlooked or considered unimportant by Ménétriés or the artist – refer to the concomitant description of E. indigoticus, in which the whitish color of the underparts and the brown-and-black barred flanks are clearly described and illustrated.


“Given all of the above, it is my conclusion that the holotype in question is not inconsistent with a diagnosis of an individual of the dark coastal birds, whereas the original description and accompanying illustration, both of which were made when the specimen was in much better condition than it is now, clearly point toward a bird of the dark coastal group, rather than an example of the pale, barred-flanked interior birds.  I agree with those who contend that the holotype and accompanying descriptive/illustrative material should trump questions of provenance.  Everyone agrees that only the pale birds occupy São João del Rei today, and the name “speluncae” bestowed by Ménétriés certainly suggests that the holotype was taken in habitat that would be considered typical of the pale interior birds.  However, given that the two taxa are, today, sympatric at locations as close as 66 km in the same mountain range as the alleged type locality, and given that in 200 years it is entirely possible that climatic and anthropogenic factors could have significantly altered microhabitats throughout the region, it is no large reach to think that both forms could have been sympatric at São João del Rei in the past – Quien sabe?  It is undisputed that Ménétriés erred significantly on several occasions concerning type localities of species he described.  Whether he erred in designating São João del Rei as the locality where he collected the holotype of speluncae is speculation.  But the point remains that he had a track record for this sort of error, and the fact is, that he described the bird essentially a decade after it was collected, and there was no original tag with precise locality data.  We also know from his journals that he traveled and collected extensively within the range of the dark coastal tapaculos within the same general time period that the holotype of speluncae was collected.  Given the length of time between collection and description, the lack of any precise locality data on the label prior to description, and a proven track record on the part of the describer for errors in remembering localities, it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to imagine that Ménétriés erred in his recollection of the type locality.  But again, this is speculative, and ultimately, not important, given that we have a holotype and an original description and illustration of the holotype.


“I should point out that I was particularly swayed by the fact that Hellmayr compared the holotype directly to a dark coastal bird (from Itatiaia), Sick compared the holotype directly to the holotype of S. novacapitalis, and the former found the holotype of speluncae to agree in every respect with the dark, unbarred Itatiaia bird, while the latter found the differences between the holotype and the pale-breasted, barred-flanked novacapitalis “very clear”.


“I would reiterate Doug’s point, that the name speluncae is so entrenched with respect to the Serra do Mar inhabiting “dark group” of Scytalopus, that it would be destabilizing in the extreme to upset the apple cart by applying that name to the geographically more restricted taxon that everyone in Brazilian ornithology has understood for the past 25 years or so to be the “new” or “undescribed” species, and giving a newly manufactured name to the familiar Serra do Mar birds that everyone has known as “speluncae” for the past ca. 200 years.  Of course, if it could be conclusively demonstrated that a name was applied in error, then that trumps questions of stability.  But lacking concrete proof that such an error has been made in this case (one need only to read the passionate, but diametrically opposed arguments from two sets of respected authors to realize that there are no clear-cut conclusions regarding either the holotype or the type locality), I too (like Doug) would be loathe to opt for a course that would destabilize the nomenclature of the entire genus.  And, if anything, I think the holotype (degraded as it is) and its accompanying original description and illustration, argue more strongly for retention of speluncae for the dark Serra do Mar birds, and petrophilus for the pale, barred-flanked interior birds of Minas Gerais.


“I would like to add, for the record, that I really have no dog in this fight.  There are authors on both sides of this contentious issue that I consider respected colleagues, and both sides have advanced arguments that I find valid.  I have extensive field and museum experience with each of the populations of Scytalopus in question, which has informed my opinions to a certain extent.  My main desire is that we get it right.  In the absence of a clear-cut case of what is right, I think it best to consider the essence of the Hippocratic oath – which has been popularly paraphrased as “first, do no harm” – and apply it to decisions impacting nomenclatural stability, which, after all, is what the ICZN Code is supposed to promote.”


Comments from Cadena:  “NO.  Having a special interest in the birds in this group, I have read the papers and have tried to follow the (long and winding) discussion in detail, and have come to the conclusion that I am not 100% sure about who is right. I tend to be inclined towards the position taken by Raposo et al., but I see value in some of the arguments from the other side - I am simply not ready to firmly argue for one position over another. With that, I believe the most sensible thing to do is to vote for maintaining our status quo pending additional information. The analyses and discussion here have gone to great limits in examining all the information available, and I suspect with the data at hand the issue will remain impossible to solve with certainty. I would thus like to close with a plead to the curator at the institution housing the type specimen to reconsider his position about not allowing "destructive sampling" of the specimen for DNA analyses. I do not get how removing a tiny piece of skin from a foot would cause major harm to a specimen that is already badly damaged and likely faded, as extensively described in this discussion. And, well, specimens exist to be used for scientific purposes, and I cannot imagine a more relevant use of this particular specimen than allowing its study to resolve this ongoing debate about the taxon it represents. With even a short sequence of mtDNA the dispute could be totally settled!”


Additional comments from Niels Krabbe: “I should perhaps be a bit more specific than just "I throw in the towel". I should have said that I agree entirely with the argumentation of one group.


“I recently wrote this to an author preparing yet another paper on the subject:


“I must admit that I was fooled into thinking there were remains of brown on the upper flanks by the light on the first photo of the holotype I examined, but a careful look at better photos of the holotype convinced me, that it is not the case. After having pointed out to me that the specimen had been mounted (as the glass eyes and steel wire through the feet clearly demonstrate) I realised that the gray colors probably had faded (in Scytalopus they fade considerably with exposure to light). As a final blow, while reading Chrostowski's careful description of the brown on the rump as well as Sick's note that it was perfectly prepared, I realised that these authors would have mentioned a strong moth attack making a description of the flanks impossible, had it been the case.


“The only reasonable explanation was that the flank feathers were intact and dark as on the drawing of the holotype, so I had to throw in the towel.


“Menetries' many mistakes are so well-documented that one more is no surprise.”


Additional comments from Whitney: Since my first posting to Guilherme’s proposal, I have unwaveringly maintained sharp focus on objectivity, and interpretation of factual points, with a much lesser emphasis on probabilities and a minimum of verbiage on speculative material: I consistently strove to identify tangential material as such.  As I mentioned a couple of times, I am not interested in the slightest in maintaining a name I or anyone else authored if it is shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, to have been applied erroneously.  Deus me livre, de jeito nenhum!  Some who have participated in Proposal 559 have obviously assumed that I am biased, that I have a personal interest in having a name I co-authored upheld.  Such assumption is exactly wrong, and truly comes from within your own heads -- if you think not, please provide citations or at least some well-developed reasoning based on my wording in Proposal 559, for example.  To the point, after just now reading through the votes that have come in recently, then looking back at what I posted at the beginning, I would not change a word of it.  I outlined the case about as plainly and simply as could be (which Kevin summarized fairly completely), given that we are dealing with a very old, presently damaged holotype.   The only point I would add to it is that it is important that Hellmayr, Sick, and others examined the holotype and noted no barring on the flanks or damage to the specimen; in their examinations, these features were contraindicated.  Oddly, however, it seems that about half of the voters have opted for something like “ultimately, it’s most stable to stick with the old nomenclature, given that we can’t get it figured out without DNA analysis”.  Some voters said they couldn’t make up their minds which set of arguments was most accurate or factual, yet they failed to identify perceived inconsistencies or sticking points; strange voting indeed, unless one abstains.

“I continue to strongly encourage amplification of holotype DNA as highly desirable in this case — but it is not, objectively, necessary — that is, unless Menetries’s description and the accompanying color illustration (among other, lesser bits of information) are discarded.   Fortunately, no one has suggested that (because there is absolutely no reason to do so), and I will underscore here that we definitely do not want to discard the holotype; to the contrary, it must be carefully maintained.  I hope that there is overwhelming agreement on this important point, which none of the voters and few participants in the discussion has addressed (beyond desire to have tissue analyzed).  Following up on this point, even should analysis of tissue fail to provide definitive placement of the holotype in a phylogenetic tree of congeners from eastern Brazil, it must be carefully maintained because it one day (soon) will be possible to obtain that definitive answer.  Then, should the independent analysis of holotype tissue (the removal of which from the specimen by known, independent researchers should be duly videotaped) show that petrophilus is a junior synonym of “notorius”, that would be fine with me — truly, and I would bow to the gene trees despite my grave doubt based on currently available evidence.   As I’ve said multiple times, I have deep respect for everyone involved in the back-and-forth, and emotions expressed by others have not swayed my own, consistent, argumentations.  I learned a lot in the process, and trust that friendships and professional relationships have not suffered at all along the way.  There is certainly no ground for that.”