Friday, 26 February 2016

Helmeted Guineafowl

Helmeted Guineafowls (Numida meleagris) are common in South Africa, this particular one photographed, like the previous few posts, in the West Coast National Park. I love their spotty plumage.

Origin of the names


The origin of the name guineafowl and it's species name meleagris is interesting.

The guineafowl was domesticated in classical times in Greece and were called melanargis meaning black & silver which was corrupted to meleagris.

They were distributed throughout the Roman Empire as were the Moroccan Guineafowl subspecies (N. m. sabyi). The Romans also called the former species meleagris and the latter the numidian fowl or hen. N. m sabyi has possibly been extinct since the 1950s.

Both disappeared from Europe after the Roman Empire declined. Guineafowls were rediscovered by the Portuguese explorers on the west coast of Africa in the late 16th century which is where they get their modern common name guineafowl

The naming of the wild turkey from North America (Meleagris gallopavo) intertwined with the guineafowl (Numida meleagris) but from what I've read it seems rather murky with multiple theories.

They both share the word meleagris, one as its genus the other as its species. The guneafowl obviously had that name first, but the puzzle is why did the turkey get it too. One theory is that they appeared in the European market at around the same time with resulting confusion.

While the scientific name link is obvious, the common name turkey doesn't escape either.

One theory is that merchants from the Ottoman Empire traded in guineafowl and that the birds got a nickname of turkey. Settlers in North America saw what seemed to be similar birds and then called them turkeys. Another theory is that merchants from the East also sold turkeys later... A further theory on Wikipedia is that they were named turkeys just because it was an exotic place like Guinea which seems unlikely, but I suppose weirder name choices have been made with less basis.


Turkey name theories:
  1. The flight of the turkey, The Economist, 20th December 2014
  2. Guinea Fowl, Roy Crawford in Poultry Breeding and Genetics Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1990
  4. Helmeted Guineafowls, Wikipedia
  5. Wild Turkey, Wikipedia
  1. Guinea Fowl, Roy Crawford in Poultry Breeding and Genetics Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1990
  2. Extinct Birds, Julian P. Hume, Michael Walters, 19 Feb 2012
  3. Helmeted Guineafowls, Wikipedia
  4. BirdLife International, Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris

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