Wednesday, December 26, 2007

AND Season's Greetings Binomial Nomenclature

As blog reader Mark Adams pointed out, a couple of this past year's featured creatures had been left out of the first greeting, so allow me to add Season's Greetings also from Mr. Goldfinch...

...and the Milton Krider's Red-tail, Whistle.

And now with that oversight taken care of, my apologies, let's turn our thoughts to Taxonomy!

No, no, don't cringe, it really doesn't take all that much courage. Once you get the hang of it, it's like a grand puzzle waiting to be solved.

Don't be put off by what might be possibly strange terms to a few of you. When it comes down to it they are a form of short hand so one doesn't have to use a dozen words when the scientific shorthand will do it in one word.

We'll now digress to an example. How about diurnal? A word most of you know, yes? A diurnal creature is awake for the most part during the day and daytime is when it conducts most of it's business for living, feeding itself, mating, and raising young. See all those words? One would have to keep qualifying generalizations for ages to take in all the exceptions without the word diurnal. Pigeons tend take a nap every afternoon. They aren't awake all day. Actually most all birds tend their young in some manner at night. You catch the drift. Therefore the word diurnal deals with all that in one fell swoop. Now back to our our regularly scheduled program concerning taxonomy. For the beginners, get past the first sentence and you'll be fine.

It occurred to me that taxonomy, the scientific classification using binomial nomenclature first used in Linnaean Taxonomy (scientists are arguing about what exactly to call the whole thing that's why I had to put all that in), a system of scientific classification for living organisms, dreamed up originally by the Swedish botanist, zoologist, and all round butterfly net carrying naturalist Carl Linnaeus. No bland fellow, this guy, he had the entrance into town by he and his students from nature walks, accompanied by trumpets and kettle drums.

And just which creature shall we pick to classify? Red-tailed Hawks of course.

Kingdom: Animalia

If it's not a plant, it's in Animalia. Not tough.

Phylum: Chordata

If it has at some time in it's life cycle, a notochord, a hollow dorsal nerve chord, pharyngeal slits, (another argument, some scientists say it should read, pharyngeal pouches), an endostyle, and a post-anal tail.

The sub-phylum would be vertebrata. Birds have a nerve imbued spine, right?

Class: Aves If it's a bird.

What's a bird? A bipedal, warm blooded animal that lays eggs. No, flying isn't part of it. Otherwise what would we do with all the non-flighted birds? And bipedal gets rid of those pesky Australian fur wearing egg layers.

So far it couldn't be simpler and if you pick a bird to classify in future, you've already got the first three categories.

Order: Falconiformes

Diurnal birds of prey. (Aren't you glad we didn't have to use all those clarifications? Diurnal works rather nicely.) Classification of raptors is difficult and as the ornithologists are still battling it out on the matter we're going to leave it at that.
(Just like evolving nature, science is always in flux.)

Family: Accipitridae
One of the two major families within the order Falconiformes. Remember those diurnal birds of prey? The Accipitridae generally kill with their feet.

The second major family is the Falconidae, who kill with their beaks and have a special "tooth" on the beak for the purpose.

Genus: Buteo
Buteo is a genus of middle sized wide-ranging raptors with a thick well muscled body and broad wings.

Species: Buteo jamaicensis
A male Red-tail can weigh from a pound and a half to nearly three pounds and be from 18 to 22 inches long. A female weighs in at from two pounds to four and a half pounds. and are 20 to 26 inches. (Don't you just hate that overlap? It makes it so tough to sex them at times.) As is obvious from the previous, Red-tailed Hawks are sexually dimorphic with the female topping the male by about 25%. Wingspan is from 43 is 57 inches.

There are at least 14 officially recognized sub-species.

Color variations are called morphs. And although there are variations in color, hue, and markings depending on sub-species and range, certain traits tend to be consistent. The underbelly is lighter than the back. There are perpendicular markings mid-anterior, the belly band, darker than the belly itself. The feet, legs, and cere are always yellow. The "red-tail" when viewed from above is almost always a brick red other than in the Krideri at which time it's more Dreamsicle colored or more rarely very nearly white except in immatures.

Young hawks have a pale gray brown tail with darker lateral bands. Birds of 3 to 4 years will have yellow to brownish yellow irises.
They have the typical curved pointed raptor bill and relatively large, strong, and lethal feet.

So find another creature and classify it. It's amazing all the fascinating things you'll run across.
Donegal Browne

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