Lagopus

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Lagopus
Ptarmigan9.jpg
Willow ptarmigan (L. lagopus)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
Subfamily: Tetraoninae
Genus: Lagopus
Brisson, 1760
Species

See text

Lagopus is a small genus of birds in the grouse subfamily, commonly known as ptarmigans. The genus contains three living species with numerous described subspecies, all living in tundra or cold upland areas.

Etymology[edit]

The genus name Lagopus is derived from Ancient Greek lagos (λαγος), meaning "hare", + pous (πους), "foot", in reference to the feathered feet and toes typical of this cold-adapted group (such as the snowshoe hare). The specific epithets muta and leucura were for a long time misspelt mutus and leucurus, in the erroneous belief that the ending of Lagopus denotes masculine gender. However, as the Ancient Greek term λαγωπους is of feminine gender, and the specific epithet has to agree with that, the feminine muta and leucura are correct.[1]

Description[edit]

The three species are all sedentary specialists of cold regions. Willow ptarmigan is a circumpolar boreal forest species, white-tailed ptarmigan is a North American alpine bird, and rock ptarmigan breeds in both Arctic and mountain habitats across Eurasia and North America. All, with the exception of the red grouse, have a white winter plumage that helps them blend into the snowy background. Even their remiges are white, while these feathers are black in almost all birds (even birds that are predominantly white, such as the Bali myna) because melanin makes them more resilient and thus improves flight performance. The Lagopus grouse apparently found it easier to escape predators by not being seen than by flying away.

These are hardy vegetarian birds, but insects are also taken by the developing young. In all species except for the willow ptarmigan, the female takes all responsibility for nesting and caring for the chicks, as is typical with gamebirds.

Species[edit]

Living species of Lagopus
Common and scientific names Image Description Range and status
Willow ptarmigan (also willow grouse and red grouse)
Lagopus lagopus
Linnaeus, 1758
Willow ptarmigan
Summer: marbled brown and reddish with black tail and white underparts; winter: most subspecies have white plumage except for black tail. 10-20 subspecies. Circumarctic range in forest and moorlands of northern Eurasia and North America. Status: Least Concern.
Rock ptarmigan
Lagopus muta
Montin, 1781
Rock ptarmigan
Summer: grey and brown upperparts; winter: white plumage. Distinguish from willow ptarmigan by habitat – higher elevations and more barren ground. 20-30 subspecies. Arctic and subarctic Eurasia and North America on rocky mountainsides and tundra. Status: Least Concern.
White-tailed ptarmigan
Lagopus leucura
Richardson, 1831
White-tailed ptarmigan
Summer: greyish-brown and speckled; winter: white plumage. Males identifiable by reddish eyecombs. The smallest ptarmigan. Alpine areas above the timberline in North America from Alaska and western Canada to New Mexico. Status: Least Concern.
File:Red grouse (May 2008).jpg
A red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica) in the Yorkshire Moors of England

The distinctive British form of willow ptarmigan, the red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica) has sometimes been considered a separate species, L. scotica, but this is no longer accepted.

Fossil record[edit]

Two prehistoric species and two paleosubspecies are only known from fossils:

References[edit]

  1. ^ David & Gosselin (2002)
  2. ^ Boev, Z. 1995. Middle Villafranchian birds from Varshets (Western Balkan Range - Bulgaria). - In: Peters, D. (ed.). Acta palaeornithologica. 3. Symposium SAPE. 5. Internat. Senckenberg-Konferenz 22-26 Juni 1992. - Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg. Frankfurt a. M., 181: 259-269.
  • David, Normand & Gosselin, Michel (2002): The grammatical gender of avian genera. Bull. B. O. C. 122(4): 257-282.
  • Madge, Steve; McGowan, Philip J. K. & Kirwan, Guy M. (2002): Pheasants, partidges and grouse : a guide to the pheasants, partridges, quails, grouse, guineafowl, buttonquails and sandgrouse of the world. Christopher Helm, London. ISBN 0-7136-3966-0