Proposal (919) to South American Classification Committee


Change the English group name for Pseudotriccus from Pygmy-Tyrant to Thicket-Tyrant



As an analog to SACC proposal 916, which changed the English group name for Euscarthmus from Pygmy-Tyrant to Scrub-Tyrant, this proposal follows in the same logical line to rename the remaining far-outlying genus, Pseudotriccus, to distinguish it from the rest of the Pygmy-Tyrants.


Kevin Zimmer already had thoughts along this line as far back as his Proposal 702, attempting to clean up the English name mess of so many Pygmy-Tyrants and Tody-Tyrants. Gary Stiles has since suggested the name Thicket-Tyrant, which seems an excellent fit. Here are the relevant excerpts from Kevin’s proposal:


”Proposal 702d:  If Proposal 702c is adopted, then something has to be done with the three species of Pseudotriccus and the two species of Euscarthmus, all of which currently share (inappropriately) the hyphenated group-name of “Pygmy-Tyrant.”  The two genera are not particularly close to one another, and neither is at all close to any of the other flycatchers currently called “Pygmy-Tyrants”.  Pseudotriccus and Euscarthmus care not only currently treated as belonging to a different subfamily, but their taxonomic past is even more checkered, with Euscarthmus having, at one time, been variously treated as belonging with either antbirds or gnateaters, based largely on similarities in tarsal scutellation.


Proposal 702f:  Construct new group-names for Pseudotriccus and Euscarthmus. Still another option would be to construct a new hyphenated group-name for each of these genera, which may not be worth the bother, given the small number of species (3 and 2 respectively) involved.  I could see calling the two Euscarthmus “Scrub-Tyrants” for example, although I’m hard-pressed to come up with an appropriate group name for Pseudotriccus.”


As already noted in proposal 702, and now strongly confirmed by Harvey (2020), Pseudotriccus is not closely related to any of the remaining species that bear the English name Pygmy-Tyrant. Whereas Pygmy-Tyrant is not a perfectly monophyletically aligned group name, the three Pseudotriccus species are more closely related to Antpipits and Bristle-Tyrants than to any other species that bears the name Pygmy-Tyrant. As such, continuing to call Pseudotriccus Pygmy-Tyrants is somewhere between very uninformative and downright misleading.  Pseudotriccus is far enough from the remaining Pygmy-Tyrants that the name change could easily be viewed as mandatory. Despite the unclean definition of what the remaining Pygmy-Tyrants are, they are at least all in the same subfamily and tribe.


Given how infrequently observed the three Pseudotriccus species are, and how little known they are to casual birders, I do not think this name change would be overly disruptive. Changing the name to Thicket-Tyrant leaves all remaining Pygmy-Tyrants as a much more sensible group, defines the three Pseudotriccus as a cohesive group, and gives English name users an excellent habitat clue as well.


Given the (relatively) obscurity of these birds and the correspondingly minor disruption, the phylogenetic mandate to rename these species as they aren’t even in the same subfamily as the rest of the Pygmy-Tyrants, and the appropriateness of the proposed new name, I recommend a yes vote for this proposal.



Josh Beck, September 2021





Comments from Remsen: “YES.  The new genetic data confirm what was predicted from Bud Lanyon’s analysis of syringeal morphology (American Museum Novitates 2914 and 2923 [1988]), namely that Pseudotriccus is not a Pygmy-Tyrant and to continue to call it by that name is misleading, as outlined above.  This is a case in which the stability needs to be disrupted because it is misleading.  As for the loss of stability, the name change is a minor one, and as noted in the proposal, these are not familiar birds.  benefit of giving them a unique group name is that it calls attention to how different they are.  (By the way, that the new Harvey et al. data shows that “Pygmy-Tyrant” does not refer to a monophyletic group requires removal of that hyphen by our conventions.)”


Comments from Lane: “NO. I know most of the Pseudotriccus reasonably well, and "thicket" is not a satisfying descriptor of their typical habitat. They are found in understory of humid montane forest, not in thickets, which for me suggests no overstory. Their most notable feature may be their loud bill snaps when agitated, and that would be a far better feature to call attention to in their name than "thicket', which I find frankly quite inaccurate. I would recommend something like "Snapping-Tyrant" or "Clapping-Tyrant."


Comments from Stiles: “YES to Thicket-Tyrant for Pseudotriccus. To me, a patch of dense understory vegetation within a forest or at its edge qualifies as a thicket: such patches are the preferred habitat of Pseudotriccus spp. I see no need to restrict the term thicket to non-forest habitat as Dan suggests.”


Comments from Donsker: “NO. I fully agree with Dan that "thicket" is not the right English word that appropriately describes the montane understory habitat of these species. But I'm not sure that there is an existing English word that does apply, other than "understory" itself, and "Understory-Tyrant" is hardly acceptable. I rather like Dan's suggestion of "Snapping-Tyrant" and would support that.”


Additional comments from Remsen: “Here are some online dictionary definitions say for ‘thicket’:


• Merriam-Webster: “a dense growth of shrubbery or small trees: COPSE

• thick or dense growth of shrubs, bushes, or small trees; a thick coppice”

• Cambridge: “an area of trees and bushes growing closely together. Synonym copse.”

Wikipedia: “A thicket is a very dense stand of trees or tall shrubs,[1] often dominated by only one or a few species, to the exclusion of all others.”


“Thus although I agree with Gary that a less precise use of thicket is ok, Dan has the dictionary on his side, and so I change my vote to NO.  Like David, I cannot find a suitable equivalent that doesn’t sound contrived or silly.”


“What if we just removed the “Pygmy-“ from the names?  They aren’t Pygmy Tyrants phylogenetically, nor are they particularly “pygmy” with respect to other small tyrannulets.  In fact, I wonder if they would make the Top 100 Smallest Tyrannids based on body weight?  So in my opinion, that part of the name is somewhat misleading even as a description.  The “Pygmy-free” names would be:


Bronze-olive Tyrant

Hazel-fronted Tyrant

Rufous-headed Tyrant


“I wondered if a problem with this that unmodified “Tyrant” might imply a larger sized tyrannid, as in Cattle Tyrant and Long-tailed Tyrant, but we already have Black-chested Tyrant for Taeniotriccus andrei, Sharp-tailed Tyrant for Culicivora caudata; and we also use Tyrant for mid-sized species such as Spectacled Tyrant and Riverside Tyrant.  So, I don’t see problems with any implications of size.”


Additional comments from Stiles: “ If one goes by dictionaries, maybe we just don't have a word in English for "dense patches of understory inside or at edges of forest"... and the nearest I can come to placing "copse" in the Neotropics is "mata de monte" in the Llanos, which hardly fits the case. Because the three species differ considerably in plumage, and their vocalizations, while similar, are not all that distinctive in the family, maybe the bill-snaps (also not unique but definitely more distinctive) would be the best peg upon which to hang a name.”


Comments from Jaramillo: “NO – For reasons given. I do not know these birds much at all. But you look at them and they are all a particularly dark plumage, dusky, or olive. Why not “Dusky-Tyrants” or as Van suggests, just simplify to “Tyrant” and be done with it?”