Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Evolution of a Citation

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Richard C. Banks
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center at National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC

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In the 10th edition of Systema Naturae, Linnaeus (1758) based the names of several species of American birds on the illustrations and descriptions in Mark Catesby’s “The Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands . . . .” (1731-1743).  Linnaeus’s reference to Catesby (sometimes among others) indicates precisely which species of bird should be known by the binomial name Linnaeus used.  Catesby’s illustration and text became, in essence, the “type” of the species.  Let me use the bird that goes by the English name Blue Grosbeak, Passerina caerulea, until recently Guiraca caerulea (but see Klicka et al. 2001, Banks et al. 2002), to illustrate this evolution of a citation.  

In his large genus Loxia, Linnaeus (1758) included a species with the specific name caerulea (p. 175).  After a brief Latin description, he gave a reference to the bird he was naming: 

“Coccothraustes caerulea. Catesb. car. I.  p. 39.  t. 39.   

He then provided information on where the species occurred: “Habitat in America.”  This latter statement becomes the type locality, i.e., the locality from which the type specimen, the illustration (actually the bird illustrated), came--America.  “Habitat” here is not an ecological word, but Latin for the English “It lives.”    

Drawing of "The Blew Grosbeak" by Mark Catesby

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In formal scientific check-lists of birds it is customary to give a citation to the first (beginning with Linnaeus 1758) use of the scientific name used for each species.  A full citation to a scientific name includes the original generic and specific name of the bird, the name of the author (or proposer) of the scientific name, the year and the place (title or bibliographic citation) of the publication in which the name was first used.  Frequently this is followed by a statement of the type locality, but this is not required by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. 

In the first Check-list of birds issued by the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) in 1886, the citation (p. 287) for the Blue Grosbeak is: 

Loxia caerulea Linn. S.N. ed. 10, I.  1758, 175.   

This is the generic and specific name first used for the bird, the abbreviated name of the author (Linnaeus), and the name and date of the work in which the name was proposed (page 175 of volume 1 of the 10th edition of Systema Naturae, 1758.)  That citation is followed by a similar reference to the first placement of the species in the genus (Guiraca Swainson) in which it was then placed.  These citations are identical in the second edition of the AOU Check-list (1895, p. 251). 

The third edition of the AOU Check-list (1910) began including type localities with citations.  In that edition, the citation for the Blue Grosbeak (p. 235) reads:

 Loxia caerulea Linnaeus, Syst. Nat., ed 10, I, 1758, 175.  (Carolina.)  

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The use of Carolina rather than America, as specified by Linnaeus, was a restriction of the type locality.  As Oberholser (1921) wrote about another species, “. . . the well-known fact that Catesby’s work was done largely in the vicinity of the Savannah River in southeastern South Carolina has led to the selection of “Carolina” as the [restricted] type locality” by the AOU Check-list Committee. 

The fourth edition of the AOU Check-list (1931) became more expansive, and more enlightening, in its statements of the type localities of Linnaeus’s birds from Catesby.  The preface to that edition (p. x) states: “An innovation in the present edition of the Check-list is the indication of the original basis of names proposed by Linnaeus, Gmelin and a few other early writers, who based their species on the plates or descriptions of still earlier non-binomial authors and were not personally acquainted with the birds they named.”  Two examples are from Catesby.    Thus, the citation for the Blue Grosbeak (p. 315) is expanded to: 

          Loxia caerulea Linnaeus, Syst. Nat., ed. 10, I, 1758, 175.  Based on The blew Gross-beak, Coccothraustes caerulea Catesby, Carolina, I, 39.  (In America = South Carolina.)   

The type locality given here is a further restriction from the third edition.  A discussion in the preface to the Check-list (p. xi) on restricting Catesby’s localities to Carolina is based on an article by Stone (1929). 

 Hellmayr and Conover (1938) continued the practice of giving the Catesbian basis for Linnaean names.  Their entry (p. 88) for the Blue Grosbeak is:

          Loxia caerulea Linnaeus, Syst. Nat., 10th ed, 1, p. 175, 1758--based on “The Blue Gross-beak” Catesby, Nat. Hist. Carolina, 1, p. 39, pl. 39; “Carolina”=South Carolina.   

Note the omission of Catesby’s Latin binomial, the different spelling and capitalization of Blue, and the use of Carolina rather than America as the original type locality.  

The citation in the fifth (1957) edition of the AOU Check-list (p. 550) is essentially the same as that in the fourth edition, except for the substitution of “blue” for “blew” in Catesby’s name. 

The next full citation is in the Peters Check-list (Paynter 1970).  This expanded citation is: 

          Loxia caerulea Linnaeus, 1758, Syst. Nat., ed. 10, 1, p. 175; based on “The blew Gross-beak” of Catesby, 1731, Nat. Hist. Carolina, 1, p. 39, pl. 39--Carolina; restricted to South Carolina by Amer. Ornith. Union, 1931, Check-list North Amer. Birds, ed. 4, p. 315.

Note again that Carolina is erroneously given as Linnaeus’s type locality.

The sixth edition (1983) of the AOU Check-list (p. 673) provides its own innovation: 

          Loxia caerulea Linnaeus, 1758, Syst. Nat., ed. 10, 1. p. 175.  Based on “The blew Gross-bec” Catesby, Nat. Hist. Carolina, 1, p. 39, pl. 39. (In America = South Carolina.)  

“Blew” is back, but “Beak” is changed to “Bec” which seems to be from the French version of Catesby’s text. 

Finally, the seventh edition (1998) of the AOU Check-list gives a citation (p. 636) for the Blue Grosbeak identical to that of the sixth, except for putting parentheses around “ed. 10," including the use of “bec.”   

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The question arises--what is the proper material from Catesby to cite for the name?  Catesby’s text in the first edition of his work used the species heading 

Coccothraustes caerulea

The blew Grofs-beak*

but the lettering on his plate is

Coccothraustes caeruleus

The blew Grosbeak 

In this instance, and in some others I have checked, Stone (as Chair of the Check-list Committee) chose to use the lettering of the text rather than what was on the plate.  This follows what Linnaeus had done with the Latin name, choosing Catesby’s text over the plate.  Presumably this was because the text was set in type some time after the plates were engraved, and the text would represent Catesby’s last preference.

But  Catesby published a second , then a third, edition, and although the same engravings of the plates were used, the type was re-set.  In the second edition, the heading for the species account of the Blue Grosbeak  used “Blue” rather than “blew.”  This apparently is the basis for the “correction” in Hellmayr and Conover (1938) and AOU (1957) . 

If one is going to provide the Catesbian basis for the name Linnaeus used, it seems reasonable to give the basis precisely as Linnaeus saw it.  There is evidence (L. Overstreet, pers. comm.) that Linnaeus had the first edition of Catesby’s work, and that he chose to cite the wording of the text rather than that on the plate.  Thus, the Catesbian basis for the Linnaean name for the Blue Grosbeak should be 

Based on Coccothraustes caerulea, The blew Gross-beak, Catesby, . . . .


Banks, R. C.  et al.  2002.  Forty-third Supplement to the American Ornithologists’ Union Check-list of North American Birds.  Auk 119(3): 897-906.

Hellmayr, C. E., and B. Conover.  1938.  Catalogue of birds of the Americas.  Part 11.

Klicka, J.  et al. 2001.    A cytochrome-b perspective on Passerina bunting relationships.  Auk 118:611-623.

Oberholser, H. C.  1921.  The geographic races of Cyanocitta cristata.  Auk 48:83-89.

Stone, W.  1929.  Mark Catesby and the nomenclature of North American birds.  Auk 56:447-454. 

* What is depicted here as an “f” is the no-longer-used “long s” now treated as “s” in English and “ss” in German.  “f” is as close as we can come with available modern fonts.

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Last modified: 01/06/2003
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