Translator Disclaimer
1 April 2007 Spelling, authorship, and date of the name of the Pacific Eider (Somateria mollissima v-nigrum)
Author Affiliations +

The name “v-nigra Gray, 1856” is commonly used in most recent comprehensive works for the Pacific Eider, a subspecies of the Common Eider (Somateria mollissima) that ranges from eastern Siberia to northwestern North America (Johnsgard 1979, Carboneras 1992, Dickinson 2003). The modified spelling “v-nigrum Gray, 1856” is used by the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU 1998) and Goudie et al. (2000).

Bruce and McAllan (1990), however, have shown (see also International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature [ICZN] 2003) that Gray's (1856) v-nigra is the most junior of the four names established for the taxon within a span of less than four months; they listed: (1) Somateria v. nigrum Bonaparte, “not earlier than Oct. 22,” 1855, Comptes Rendus de l' Academie des Sciences, Paris 41:665 [“665” was an error for 661]; (2) S[omateria]. V. nigram Gray, 1 December 1855, The Athenaeum 1466:1404; (3) Somateria V. nigrum Gray, 22 December 1855, The Literary Gazette 2031:819; and (4) Somateria V-nigra Gray, 5 February 1856, Proceedings of the Zoological Society, London [PZS] 1855:212.

It is apparent that Gray's communication at a meeting of the Zoological Society of London on 27 November 1855 was reported in three different British periodicals (with three different spellings). Gray had discussed details of his proposed new species with Bonaparte during the latter's visit to the British Museum earlier in 1855 and, as a consequence, Bonaparte's (1855) report antedated all the published accounts of Gray's communication to the Zoological Society.

For the next 100 years, however, Bonaparte's name went unreported in print inasmuch as it is buried at the very end of a paper where he made extensive comments on Gray's newly published Catalogue of Genera and Subgenera (Gray 1855). Although numerous earlier works covering the history of the name and its authorship (invariably Gray) could be cited, we are mostly concerned here with confusion in recent usage. The name of the Pacific Eider was thus cited from Gray (1855 or 1856, in PZS), either verbatim (as v-nigra or V-nigra) or modified to “v-nigrum” (e.g., Salvadori 1895, AOU 1931, Peters 1931, Hellmayr and Conover 1948a, Dement'ev and Gladkov 1967, Livezey 1995). Moreover, Bonaparte (1856) later contributed to the oversight of his senior name by using “v. nigrum Gr.” This subsequent action also demonstrates that Bonaparte was not trying to pre-empt Gray's name, but it merely happened to appear first in his report to the French Academy of Sciences in Paris.

The name “v. nigrum Bonaparte, 1855” has priority and is not an unused senior synonym after 1899 (ICZN 1999, art. 23.9.1). AOU (1955) announced that “Somateria mollissima v-nigra Gray, 1856 is to be listed as Somateria mollissima v. nigra Bonaparte, from Somateria v. nigrum Bonaparte, Comptes Rendus Acad. Sci. (Paris), vol. 41, no. 17 (not earlier than Oct. 22), 1855, p. 661”; the name was carried by AOU (1957) and further corrected to “v-nigra” by AOU (1973). It is obvious that the proposed change was founded on the then unpublished annotations contained in “Richmond's Index,” given that AOU (1955, 1957) repeat the exact wording used by Richmond (1992) (fide A. P. Peterson). This explains why later works, such as Johnsgard (1975), Palmer (1976), and Godfrey (1986), used “v-nigra Bonaparte.” In addition, Vaurie (1965) cited Bonaparte's “v. nigrum” and used “v. [−] nigrum,” and Cramp and Simmons (1977), as well as Stepanyan (1975, 2003), also used “v-nigrum Bonaparte.” However, Johnsgard (1979) used “v-nigra Gray 1856,” with the result that this citation in such an influential work has caused some confusion, but we have failed to find a published justification for the subsequent reuse of Gray's name. Perhaps this action was based on Delacour (1959, the standard work on waterfowl at the time), who cited Gray, presumably following Peters (1931).

Furthermore, the results of our research demonstrate that the publication date of Bonaparte's v. nigrum is actually 29 October 1855, a date that still awards it seniority. We also have concluded that authorship must be attributed to Bonaparte and Gray.

The date given by AOU (1955, 1957) of “not earlier than” 22 October 1855 is based on the weekly meetings of the Académie des Sciences at which Bonaparte's paper was read. The 26 individual Compte rendu (note the singular) of a semester make up the Comptes rendus (note the plural) that forms a tome, as indicated by its general title. The head page of each individual Compte rendu bears at the bottom an identifier, and that of the meeting of 22 October 1855 (p. 613) is “C. R., 1855, 2me Semestre (T. XLI, No 17.).” In the Compte rendu of the meeting held 29 October 1855, the Académie (p. 729) acknowledges the receipt of recent publications, the first of which is the Compte rendu labeled “2e semestre 1855; n° 17; in-4°.” This information clearly establishes that 29 October 1855 is “the earliest day on which the work is demonstrated to be in existence” (ICZN, 1999, arts. 21.3, 21.5). Accordingly, by accepting this method of dating parts of this journal, which is not a new approach (cf. Richmond 1917), other names may be affected, and a more detailed review is needed of all of Bonaparte's works from this source in the 1850s.

In the case of the paper in question here, Bonaparte (1855) established several other new names in addition to v. nigrum, including “Ninox jardinii, Bp.” (p. 654), “Ninox theomacha, Bp.” (p. 654) and “Ma Ninox philippensis, que je n'ai jamais décrite…[My Ninox philippensis, that I have not yet described…]” (p. 655). Bonaparte (p. 660) also related that he obtained details of a new snipe from Jardine while visiting him in Edinburgh, Scotland, and stated that they agreed to name it “Xylocota jamesoni, Jard. et Bp.,” but although this proposed co-authorship by Bonaparte is listed in quotation marks in major works, the subsequent treatment of authorship was attributed to Bonaparte alone (cf. Peters 1934, Hellmayr and Conover 1948b). We propose that the original co-authorship as provided by Bonaparte should be reinstated.

As for v. nigrum, the text devoted to it reads, as translated from the French:

Mr. Hardy of Dieppe had brought to my attention an eider of his collection that showed under the chin the characteristic mark of Somateria spectabilis. But it was an immature or perhaps even an hybrid!…Very recently in London, in the custody of Mr. Gray, I saw several adult specimens that prove that it belongs to a distinct species. The species inhabits the borealmost parts of America, where before being collected it was sketched from nature through the telescope, with a different duck that escaped capture. I agree with Mr. Gray [that it is a distinct species], and like Linnaeus who has named a butterfly in the same manner, we have named it Somateria v. nigrum.

We read then that Bonaparte stated that he agreed with Gray that the material at the British Museum, London, under Gray's custody, represented a new species, and that they were naming it “Somateria v. nigrum.”

Because the Comptes rendus are minutes of meetings, including lengthy papers that were read at the meetings, we therefore recognize that the “person responsible for the name” (ICZN 1999: art. 50.2) encompasses both Bonaparte and Gray as authors of v. nigrum. In choosing this combination for co-authorship, rather than “Gray and Bonaparte,” we acknowledge that this does not accord with Bonaparte's evident preference, as given for the name of the snipe, but we also note that “we have named it” (p. 661) is as explicit as “My Ninox philippensis” (p. 655). Bonaparte did not specify his preference for v. nigrum and, thus, Bonaparte, as author of the paper, is the senior author of the name. It could be argued that authorship should be Bonaparte's alone; however, this is an unusual case, in that both authors are associated with the name, as opposed to the more common situation of a new name merely being cited as a previous manuscript name, such as that provided by a collector or a museum worker.

The original spelling, “v. nigrum Bonaparte and Gray, 1855,” must be corrected to “v-nigrum” (ICZN 1999: art., and its ending must not be changed to agree in gender with the generic name, because it is a compound noun (arts. 31.2.1, 34.2.1).


We thank our reviewers, R. Banks, D. Gibson, and A. Peterson, for helping to clarify details; E. Dickinson for comments on an earlier draft; and A. Peterson again for information from Richmond's Index.

Literature Cited


American Ornithologists' Union. 1931. Check- list of North American Birds, 4th ed. American Ornithologists' Union, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  Google Scholar


American Ornithologists' Union. 1955. Thirtieth supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 72:292–295. Google Scholar


American Ornithologists' Union. 1957. Check- list of North American Birds, 5th ed. American Ornithologists' Union, Lord Baltimore Press, Laurel, Maryland.  Google Scholar


American Ornithologists' Union. 1973. Thirty-second supplement to the American Ornithologists' Union Check-list of North American Birds. Auk 90:411–419. Google Scholar


American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check- list of North American Birds, 7th ed. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.  Google Scholar


C. L. Bonaparte 1855. M. le Prince Ch. Bonaparte présente, au nom de M. Gray, un catalogue des oiseaux du Muséum britannique, et indique à cette occasion les principales espèces nouvelles d'oiseaux qu'il a observées récemment en Angleterre et en Écosse. Comptes Rendus de l' Academie des Sciences, Paris 41:649–661. Google Scholar


C. L. Bonaparte 1856. Excursions dans les divers Musées d'Allemagne, de Hollande et de Belgique (suite et fin), et Tableaux paralléliques de l'ordre des Palmipèdes. Comptes Rendus de l' Academie des Sciences, Paris 43:643–652. Google Scholar


M. D. Bruce and I. A W. McAllan . 1990. Some problems in vertebrate nomenclature. II. Birds, part 1. Bolletino del Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali Torino 8:453–485. Google Scholar


C. Carboneras 1992. Family Anatidae (Ducks, Geese and Swans). Pages 536–628 in Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 1: Ostrich to Ducks (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal, Eds.). Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.  Google Scholar


S. Cramp and K. E L. Simmons . Eds. 1977. The Birds of the Western Palearctic, vol. 1. Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom.  Google Scholar


J. Delacour 1959. The Waterfowl of the World, vol. 3. Country Life, London.  Google Scholar


G. P. Dement'ev and N. A. Gladkov . Eds. 1967. Birds of the Soviet Union, vol. 4. Israel Program for Scientific Translations, Jerusalem.  Google Scholar


E. C. Dickinson Ed. 2003. The Howard and Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World, 3rd ed. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.  Google Scholar


W. E. Godfrey 1986. The Birds of Canada. National Museums of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.  Google Scholar


R. I. Goudie, G. J. Robertson, and A. Reed . 2000. Common Eider (Somateria mollissima). In The Birds of North America, no. 546 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Birds of North America, Philadelphia.  Google Scholar


G. R. Gray 1855. Catalogue of the Genera and Subgenera of Birds Contained in the British Museum. British Museum, London.  Google Scholar


G. R. Gray 1856. On a new species of Somateria, and the female of Lampronetta fischeri, Brandt. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1855:211–212. Aves pll 107–108. Google Scholar


C. E. Hellmayr and B. Conover . 1948a. Catalogue of birds of the Americas and the adjacent islands, part 1, no. 2. Field Museum of Natural History, Zoology Series 13.  Google Scholar


C. E. Hellmayr and B. Conover . 1948b. Catalogue of birds of the Americas and the adjacent islands, part 1, no. 3. Field Museum of Natural History, Zoology Series 13.  Google Scholar


International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature. 1999. International code of zoological nomenclature, 4th ed. International Trust for Zoological Nomenclature, London.  Google Scholar


International Commission of Zoological Nomenclature. 2003. Opinion 2026 (Case 3044). Generic and specific names of birds (Aves) conventionally accepted as published in the Proceedings or Transactions of the Zoological Society of London and monographic works by John Gould and other contemporary zoologists. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 60:79–80. Google Scholar


P. A. Johnsgard 1975. The Waterfowl of North America. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.  Google Scholar


P. A. Johnsgard 1979. Order Anseriformes. Pages 425–506 in Check-list of Birds of the World, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (E. Mayr and G. W. Cottrell, Eds.). Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Google Scholar


B. C. Livezey 1995. Phylogeny and evolutionary ecology of modern seaducks (Anatidae: Mergini). Condor 97:233–255. Google Scholar


R. S. Palmer Ed. 1976. Handbook of North American Birds, vol. 3: Waterfowl (Part 2). Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.  Google Scholar


J. L. Peters 1931. Check-list of Birds of the World, vol. 1. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Google Scholar


J. L. Peters 1934. Check-list of Birds of the World, vol. 2. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Google Scholar


C. W. Richmond 1917. Generic names applied to birds during the years 1906 to 1915, inclusive, with additions and corrections to Waterhouse's “Index Generum Avium.”. Proceedings of the United States National Museum 53:565–636. Google Scholar


C. W. Richmond 1992. The Richmond Index to the Genera and Species of Birds (R. J. O'Hara, Ed). G.K. Hall, Boston, Massachusetts.  Google Scholar


T. Salvadori 1895. Catalogue of the Chenomorphæ (Palamedeæ, Phoenicopteri, Anseres), Crypturi, and Ratitæ in the Collection of the British Museum. In Catalogue of the Birds in The British Museum, vol. 27. British Museum, London.  Google Scholar


L. S. Stepanyan 1975. Structure and Distribution of the Bird Fauna in the USSR. Non-Passeriformes [in Russian]. Nauka, Moscow.  Google Scholar


L. S. Stepanyan 2003. Conspectus of the Ornithological Fauna of Russia and adjacent territories (within the borders of the USSR as a historic region) [in Russian]. Academkniga, Moscow.  Google Scholar


C. Vaurie 1965. The Birds of the Palearctic Fauna: Non-Passeriformes. Witherby, London.  Google Scholar


Murray Bruce and Normand David "Spelling, authorship, and date of the name of the Pacific Eider (Somateria mollissima v-nigrum)," The Auk 124(2), 709-712, (1 April 2007).[709:SAADOT]2.0.CO;2
Received: 15 August 2006; Accepted: 1 October 2006; Published: 1 April 2007

Back to Top