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Howlers Amid the Howler Monkeys: Errata

Posted by Richard Conniff on June 7, 2011

A letter from reader Ron Pine, of the Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center at the University of Kansas, points out some errors in The Species Seekers.  I seem to have gotten caught on shifts in terminology over time, and I am publishing these corrections here for the benefit of other close readers.

Dear Richard:

Just the other day I bought a copy of The Species Seekers at a Barnes and Noble.  I’ve now finished it and it was a great and exceedingly informative read.  I especially enjoyed your book because I learned so much from it about numerous people who previously had been just names to me.
Just about every book that I read and that contains information about animals has a few errors or little misinterpretations.  Your book was remarkably free of these but I did notice a few.  I’m listing them here not to give you a hard time but because I thought that, for a variety of reasons, you might find it useful in future to know about them.  These are:
1.) Page 55–flying squirrels and cockatoos are mentioned as apparently being found in South America.  There are no cockatoos in the New World and no flying squirrels in South America.  (Perhaps these animals’ names got on your page 55 because Stedman incorrectly used them.)
2.)  Page 75–an illustration shows a shell identified as a Precious Wentletrap.  The shell depicted is actually a kind of harp shell, a dissimilar mollusk belonging to a different family than the wentletraps.
3.)  Page 231–a deer is mentioned as being kept as a pet in West Africa.  This animal could not have been a deer unless it was an imported exotic.  There are no native deer in subsaharan Africa. (Again, Savage may have called an antelope a deer.)
4.)  Page 245–here and, I think, elsewhere, alligators are written of as if they occur in South America.  Alligators are found only in the SE US and in China.  (Of course, Bates may have called them alligators.)
5.)  Page 281–Beetles of the genus Dermestes are referred to as darkling beetles.  The genus Dermestes is the type genus of the family Dermestidae.  Darkling beetles constitute the dissimilar family Tenebrionidae.
6.)  Pages 301-302–this one is complicated.  On page 301, Du Chaillu’s Potamogale is called an otter–specifically a “giant river otter.”  In fact, Potamogale is an animal that until recently was put in the order Insectivora, along with shrews, moles, hedgehogs, and the like.  It is now generally placed in the order Afrosoricida, which includes the African genus Micropotamogale, the African “golden moles,” and the tenrecs of Madagascar.  Otters belong to another order– the order Carnivora (cats, dogs, bears, weasels, seals, etc.).  The Giant River Otter, by the way, is an actual kind of otter that is restricted to South America.  Also on page 301, the genus Cynogale is referred to as an otter.  In fact, Cynogale is a kind of civet (family Viverridae), and not an otter (otters belong to the “weasel family” Mustelidae).  I’m assuming that Du Chaillu’s ignorance and confusion (and perhaps also Gray’s)  may have what caused you problems here, although that would not explain how the South American Giant River Otter got into the mix.
7.)–Page 316–in the discussion of the “golden monkey,” it is stated that previously known monkeys were restricted to the tropics.  In fact, the first monkey to ever come to the notice of any European must have been the temperate-zone inhabiting Barbary Macaque of North Africa, which was named by Linnaeus and known to the ancients.  Other monkeys (certain langurs and macaques) that range up into the temperate zone of Asia were also named before  the “golden monkey,” but I’m a bit vague on how much of the more northern portions of their range was known to their describers.
8.)–Page 375– the striped rabbit referred to as an “almost surreal”  new species was actually not all that special.  It was the second striped rabbit to be named in the striped rabbit genus Nesolagus.  The first one was named in 1880.  You say that it was named from the Mekong Delta, but my understanding is that it comes from the Annamite Mountain region well to the north of there.
Best regards,



One Response to “Howlers Amid the Howler Monkeys: Errata”

  1. […] (Spot an error in the text? Let the author know by July 6 so he can capture corrections for the paperback release: […]

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