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11 March 2022 Note on the nomenclature of Myrmothera guttata Vieillot, 1824 (Passeriformes, Thamnophilidae)
Christophe Gouraud
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Work on the publication date of Bonnaterre & Vieillot's Tableau encyclopédique et méthodique calls into question the priority of some names in use today. Among these Myrmothera guttata Vieillot, 1824, proves to be a junior synonym of a name introduced earlier. The possible reversal of precedence is studied here in compliance with the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

The Principle of Priority (Art. 23) is one of the pillars of the International code of zoological nomenclature (hereafter the Code) whose scope is ‘to promote stability and universality in the scientific names of animals and to ensure that the name of each taxon is unique and distinct’ (ICZN 1999). For more than a decade, the publication dates of several important 19th-century ornithological works, in which many new species were described, have been studied and corrected, as a result sometimes questioning the priority of names currently in use (e.g., Dickinson & Lebossé 2018, Dickinson et al. 2019). The relevant work to the case discussed herein is Bonnaterre & Vieillot’s Tableau encyclopédique et méthodique des trois règnes de la nature (1790–1823, hereafter Tableau encyclopédique), whose publication date was clarified by Dickinson (2011). Based on his work and during my ongoing search for type material in the Baillon Collection of the Musée George Sand et de la Vallée Noire, La Châtre, France (hereafter MLC; see Gouraud 2015), I came across a valid name—Myrmothera tessellata Vieillot, 1822—which was published before that currently in use: Myrmothera guttata Vieillot, 1824. The former name is therefore senior synonym of the latter. I have investigated the implications of the rediscovery of this name, introduced by Vieillot in 1822, for the nomenclature of what is currently known as Rufous-bellied Antwren Isleria guttata (Vieillot, 1824).

Although the Principle of Priority is fundamental to the stability of nomenclature, it should not ‘upset a long-accepted name in its accustomed meaning by the introduction of a name that is its senior synonym’ (Art. 23.2). Art. (‘the senior synonym…has not been used as a valid name after 1899’) and Art. (‘the junior synonym…has been used for a particular taxon, as its presumed valid name, in at least 25 works, published by at least 10 authors in the immediately preceding 50 years and encompassing a span of not less than 10 years’) are intended to ensure this, and both must be met to prevent a reversal of precedence and the continued use of the junior synonym. After having addressed the possible reversal of precedence, I will address the whereabouts of the type specimens.

Myrmothera tessellata Vieillot, 1822

  • Full reference.M[yrmothera] Tessellata Vieillot in Bonnaterre & Vieillot, 1822: 683–684, livraison 91 (July 1822).

  • M. tessellata was introduced by Vieillot in 1822 in the Tableau encyclopédique. The section Ornithologie in which this taxon was described comprises eight livraisons, the dates of which were detailed by Dickinson (2011: 78, and references therein). Livraison 91, which contains pp. 529–848 and concerns us here, appeared in July 1822. The bird described by Vieillot is a good match for a female Rufous-bellied Antwren Isleria guttata (Vieillot, 1824) whose description, of a male, appeared two years later in Vieillot & Oudart's La galerie des oiseaux, dédiée à son Altesse Royale Madame, Duchesse du Berri (1820–26, hereafter Galerie des oiseaux) under the name Myrmothera guttata. More precisely, the text appeared on the first page of livraison 44 (p. 251) and the plate (155; see Fig. 1) was the last of livraison 45 (A. Lebossé in litt. 2020). Both livraisons were dated 1824 by Lebossé & Dickinson (2015: 51). Thus, Myrmothera tessellata Vieillot, 1822, is a senior synonym of Myrmothera guttata Vieillot, 1824, the name currently in use.

  • Reversal of precedence.—Both conditions of Art. 23.9.1 are met and therefore the younger name (Myrmothera guttata) is valid. The conditions of Art. are met (see list of works in Appendix). To my knowledge, the condition in Art. applies. Thus, the younger name has precedence. Applying Art. 23.9.2, the younger but valid name Myrmothera guttata Vieillot, 1824, is a nomen protectum and the older name Myrmothera tessellata Vieillot, 1822, is a nomen oblitum.

  • Types.—Although the Galerie des oiseaux aimed to describe and figure at least one species of each genus in the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris (MNHN) collections, Vieillot's protologue for M. guttata is based on a bird from Cayenne (French Guiana) originally owned by the Comte de Riocour, most of whose collection was acquired by Adolphe Boucard in 1889 (Renshaw 1905: 422). The Boucard collection was subsequently dispersed among several museums, especially MNHN (25,000 specimens), the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC (10,000 duplicates) and those in Madrid and Lisbon1, which acquired 8,000 birds (Mearns & Mearns 1998: 286, 302). The holotype could not be found at MNHN (P. Boussès in litt. 2021). It is also not in Washington (not listed by Deignan 1961; confirmed by C. Milensky in litt. 2021) and Philadelphia (N. H. Rice in litt. 2021), where some specimens ended up. The Natural History Museum, Tring, also possesses some Boucard specimens, but the type was not listed by Warren & Harrison (1971) or in the online NHMUK database ( search). Finally, it has not been found in the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid (J. Barreiro Rodríguez in litt. 2021). In summary the whereabouts of the type specimen is unknown.

  • With respect to Myrmothera tessellata, Vieillot's description clearly indicates that the individual described was in the Baillon Collection and came from Cayenne. The holotype has been found (MLC.2011.0.1526; Fig. 2a) and it matches Vieillot's protologue. The pedestal inscriptions also state that the bird is from Cayenne (Fig. 2b) in accordance with the given type locality.

  • Figure 1.

    Plate 155 of the Galerie des oiseaux: ‘Le Fourmilier Moucheté (Myrmothera guttata)’ (© Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, via Biodiversity Heritage Library:


    Figure 2.

    Specimen MLC.2011.0.1526, holotype of Myrmothera tessellata Vieillot, 1822. B: the original pedestal inscriptions read: ‘Myrmothera / tessellata V[ieillot] / fourmilier / marqueté Vieill[ot] / Encycl[opédie] / Cayenne / M. Bécoeur’. The red label to indicate type status will be added as soon as possible (© Christophe Gouraud / Musée George Sand et de la Vallée Noire, La Châtre)



    I am grateful to Josefina Barreiro Rodríguez (Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid), Patrick Boussès (Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris), Christopher Milensky (National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC) and Nate Rice (Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Philadelphia) for their help in searching for the type of M. guttata. Without the Biodiversity Heritage Library (, where the plate for Fig. 1 of the Galerie des oiseaux was found, work such as this would be far more difficult and time-consuming. Laurent Chevrier provided useful information on the collection of the Count de Riocour, Guy Kirwan helped with the search for synonyms, and Alain Lebossé provided additional information on publication dates of the texts and plates of the Galerie des oiseaux. Finally, I thank Vítor de Q. Piacentini and an anonymous referee for their comments.



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    Sample of 25 works, published by at least ten authors in the immediately preceding 50 years and encompassing a span of not less than ten years, where the junior synonym (i.e. Myrmothera guttata Vieillot, 1824) has been used for a particular taxon, as its presumed valid name, as required by Art. and in compliance with Art. 23.9.6 of the Code. The references are listed in chronological order.

    • Oniki, Y. & Willis, E. O. 1972. Studies of ant-following birds north of the eastern Amazon. Acta Amazonica 2: 127–151.

    • Haffer, J. 1978. Distribution of Amazon forest birds. Bonn. Zool. Beitr. 1–4: 38–78.

    • Novaes, F. C. 1980. Observações sobre a avifauna do alto curso do rio paru de Leste, Estado do Pará. Bol. Mus. Para. E. Goeldi, N. S. (Zool.) 100: 1–58.

    • Willis, E. O. 1984. Myrmotherula antwrens (Aves, Formicariidae) as army ant followers. Rev. Bras. Zool. 2: 153–158.

    • Thiollay, J.-M. 1988. Comparative foraging success of insectivorous birds in tropical and temperate forests: ecological implications. Oikos 53: 17–30.

    • Powell, G. V. N. 1989. On the possible contribution of mixed species flocks to species richness in neotropical avifaunas. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 24: 387–393.

    • Sibley, C. G. & Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale Univ. Press, New Haven, CT & London.

    • Hackett, S. J. & Rosenberg, K. V. 1990. Comparison of phenotypic and genetic differentiation in South American antwrens (Formicariidae). Auk 107: 473–489.

    • Willard, D. E., Foster, M. S., Barrowclough, G. F., Dickerman, R. W., Cannell, P. F., Coats, S. L., Cracraft, J. L. & O'Neill, J. P. 1991. The birds of Cerro de la Neblina, Territorio Federal Amazonas, Venezuela. Fieldiana (Zool.) 65: 1–80.

    • Haffer, J. 1992. Parapatric species of birds. Bull. Brit. Orn. Cl. 112: 250–264.

    • Thiollay, J.-M. 1994. Structure, density and rarity in an Amazonian rainforest bird community. J. Trop. Ecol. 10: 449–481.

    • Stouffer, P. C. & Bierregaard, R. O. 1995. Use of Amazonian forest fragments by understory insectivorous birds. Ecology 76: 2429–2445.

    • Mason, D. 1996. Responses of Venezuelan understory birds to selective logging, enrichment strips, and vine cutting. Biotropica 28: 296–309.

    • Reynaud, P. A. 1998. Changes in understory avifauna along the Sinnamary River (French Guyana, South America). Orn.. Neotrop. 9: 51–70.

    • Hilty, S. L. 2003. Birds of Venezuela. Princeton Univ. Press.

    • Lindell, C. A., Riffell, S. K., Kaiser, S. A., Battin, A. L., Smith, M. L. & Sisk, T. D. 2007. Edge responses of tropical and temperate birds. Wilson J. Orn. 119: 205–220.

    • Aleixo, A., Poletto, F., Cunha Lima, M. F., Castro, M., Portes, E. & Sousa Miranda, L. 2011. Notes on the vertebrates of northern Pará, Brazil: a forgotten part of the Guianan Region, II. Avifauna. Bol. Mus. Para. E. Goeldi 6: 11–65.

    • Bravo, G. A., Chesser, R. T. & Brumfield, R. T. 2012. Isleria, a new genus of antwren (Aves: Passeriformes: Thamnophilidae). Zootaxa 3195: 61–67.

    • Belmonte-Lopes, R., Bravo, G. A., Bornschein, M. R., Maurício, G. N., Pie, M. R. & Brumfield, R. T. 2012. Genetic and morphological data support placement of Myrmotherula gularis (Spix) in the monotypic genus Rhopias Cabanis and Heine (Aves: Passeriformes: Thamnophilidae). Zootaxa 3451: 1–16.

    • Dickinson, E. C. & Christidis, L. (eds.) 2014. The Howard & Moore complete checklist of the birds of the world, vol. 2. Fourth edn. Aves Press, Eastbourne.

    • Bravo, G. A., Remsen, J. V. & Brumfield, R. T. 2014. Adaptive processes drive ecomorphological convergent evolution in antwrens (Thamnophilidae). Evolution 68: 2757–2774.

    • Johnson, E. I. & Wolfe, J. D. 2014. Thamnophilidae (antbird) molt strategies in a central Amazonian rainforest. Wilson J. Orn. 126: 451–462.

    • del Hoyo, J. & Collar, N. J. 2016. HBW and BirdLife International checklist of the birds of the world, vol. 2. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

    • Spaans, A. L., Ottema, O. H., Ribot, J. H. J. M. & van Perlo, B. 2016. Field guide to the birds of Suriname. Brill, Leiden.

    • Zimmer, K. & Isler, M. L. 2020. Rufous-bellied Antwren (Isleria guttata), version 1.0 in del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D. A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) Birds of the world. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY. (accessed on 25 March 2021).


    [1] 1 The entire collection was destroyed by fire in March 1978 (Roselaar 2003: 275).

    © 2022 The Authors;
    Christophe Gouraud "Note on the nomenclature of Myrmothera guttata Vieillot, 1824 (Passeriformes, Thamnophilidae)," Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 142(1), 5-9, (11 March 2022).
    Received: 30 April 2021; Published: 11 March 2022
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