Thursday, July 26, 2012

Xantus, Scripps, and Guadalupe

Scripps's Murrelet. 2007 off Newport, Oregon by Greg Gillson.
The American Ornithologists' Union this month split Xantus's Murrelet into two species (see my Oregon Seabirds blog article: Guadalupe and Scripps's Murrelet).

The origins of these names are not all that familiar to birders. Who were Xantus and Scripps? And where is Guadalupe?

John Xantus (1825-1894) fled to the United States from Hungary in 1851, escaping the unsuccessful war of independence from Austria. Soon he joined the US army, stationed in Riley, Kansas. There he developed an interest in natural history (in that age this evidently meant shooting mammals and birds, and collecting eggs and plants for museums). In California he collected "massive amounts of materials," including many fishes, for Spencer F. Baird at the Smithsonian. He made an expedition to Baja California, Mexico, in 1859, using Cabo San Lucas at the very tip of the peninsula as his base for collecting. (See also this biography of John Xantus). Xantus's described to science the murrelet that came to be named for him. Xantus also collected the hummingbird named for him by George Newbold Lawrence. Fifty-two species of plants, molluscs, lizards, insects, birds, and fishes were named for him. Xantus described to science many birds including Hammond's Flycatcher, Spotted Owl, and Cassin's Vireo (The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds. 1980. John K. Terres.). Xantus eventually returned to Budapest, Hungary as a naturalist.

The murrelet type that Xantus originally described breeds primarily on Guadalupe Island, or Isla Guadalupe, about 150 miles west of Baja California, Mexico, and about 250 miles SW of Ensenada. (See Biology and conservation of Xantus's Murrelet in Marine Ornithology. 2006. Carter et al.).

In 1939 Green and Arnold described two forms of Xantus's Murrelets, including one breeding on Anacapa Island, California. They named the type specimen for Robert P. Scripps, on whose yacht they traveled to visit Anacapa. The Scripps family made their fortune in the newspaper industry in the Midwest, and most retired to San Diego. In 1903 E.W. Scripps and his older half sister, noted philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, provided funds to help create the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.

Recent research has discovered that both the Guadalupe and Scripps's Murrelets breed on the San Benito Islands without significant interbreeding. They have different calls and different facial markings. And now they are considered separate species.

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