I’ve long had a fascination for scientific names, especially those of birds.
For many years, in fact from 1838 when it was originally named and until very recently, the Scarlet Robin was also known as Petroica multicolor. Recent taxonomic changes have seen this species renamed as Petroica boodang.
The generic name is derived from the Ancient Greek words petro meaning “rock” and oikos meaning “home”, apparently in reference to the frequent use of rocks as perching sites by Australasian robins … I reckon that apart from the Flame Robin they use twigs much more often than rocks!
Researching this post led me to an interesting paper in the journal Conservation Genetics (Kearns et al, 2015), looking at the evolutionary relationships between the different species of Petroicidae robins, including the Scarlet Robin and Red-capped Robin. Scarlet Robins are part of a group of apparently closely related species (and sub-species) that all look virtually identical. Two of the group, the Pacific Robin and the Norfolk Island Robin are both now classified as P.multicolor. It turns out, based on DNA evidence at least, that the Norfolk Island Robin (despite looking very much like a Scarlet Robin) is most closely related to our own mainland Red-capped Robin P.goodenovii and that the Scarlet Robin P.boodang is genetically very different to both.
In a twist or would like to learn more … have a read of the journal paper!
So … back to ‘boodang‘ … apparently this is the name aboriginal people living around Sydney gave to the Scarlet Robin (Gray and Fraser, 2013). I like it!
Kearns, A.M., Joseph, L., White, L., Austin, J., Baker, C., Driskell, A.C., Malloy, J.F., & Omland, K.E. (2015) Norfolk Island Robins are a distinct endangered species: ancient DNA unlocks surprising relationships and phenotypic discordance within the Australo-Pacific Robins. Conservation Genetics. doi 10.1007/s10592-015-0783-4
Jeannie Gray and Ian Fraser (2013), Australian Bird Names – a complete guide, CSIRO Publishing.