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Temporal range: Miocene (Langhian) – recent[1]
Blue-footed booby displaying by raising a foot
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Suliformes
Family: Sulidae
Genus: Sula
Brisson, 1760
Type species
Pelecanus leucogaster
Boddaert, 1783

Red-footed booby (Sula sula)

Brown booby (Sula leucogaster)

Masked booby (Sula dactylatra)

Nazca booby (Sula granti)

Blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii)

Peruvian booby (Sula variegata)

Cladogram showing the species in the genus Sula.[2]

A booby is a seabird in the genus Sula, part of the family Sulidae. Boobies are closely related to the gannets (Morus), which were formerly included in Sula.

Systematics and evolution

The genus Sula was introduced by the French zoologist Mathurin Jacques Brisson in 1760.[3] The type species is the brown booby.[4] The name is derived from súla, the Old Norse and Icelandic word for the other member of the family Sulidae, the gannet.[5]

The English name "booby" was possibly based on the Spanish slang term bobo, meaning "stupid",[6] as these tame birds had a habit of landing on board sailing ships, where they were easily captured and eaten. Owing to this, boobies are often mentioned as having been caught and eaten by shipwrecked sailors, notably William Bligh of the Bounty and his adherents during their famous voyage after being set adrift by Fletcher Christian and his followers.

Six of the ten extant Sulidae species called boobies are in the genus Sula, while the three gannet species are usually placed in the genus Morus.[7] Abbott's booby was formerly included in Sula but is now placed in a monotypic genus Papasula, which represents an ancient lineage perhaps closer to Morus. Some authorities consider that all ten species should be considered congeneric in Sula. However, they are readily distinguished by means of osteology. The distinct lineages of gannets and boobies are known to have existed in such form, since at least the Middle Miocene, c.15 mya.[8]

The fossil record of boobies is not as well documented as that of gannets, either because booby speciation was lower from the late Miocene to the Pliocene (when gannet diversity was at its highest), or because the booby fossil species record is as yet incomplete, due to most localities being in continental North America or Europe despite boobies' more tropical distribution.


Boobies hunt fish by diving from a height into the sea and pursuing their prey underwater. Facial air sacs under their skin cushion the impact with the water. Boobies are colonial breeders on islands and coasts. They normally lay one or more chalky-blue eggs on the ground or sometimes in a tree nest. Selective pressures, likely through competition for resource, have shaped the ecomorphology and foraging behaviours of the six species of boobies in the Pacific.[9]

List of species

Genus SulaBrisson, 1760 – six species
Common name Scientific name and subspecies Range Size and ecology IUCN status and estimated population
Blue-footed booby

Sula nebouxii
Milne-Edwards, 1882

Two subspecies
  • S. n. nebouxii Milne-Edwards, 1882 – Pacific coast of Southern and Middle America
  • S. n. excisa Todd, 1948 – Galápagos Islands
Gulf of California down along the western coasts of Central and South America down to Peru
Map of range




Brown booby

Sula leucogaster
(Boddaert, 1783)

Four subspecies
  • S. l. leucogaster (Boddaert, 1783) – Caribbean and Atlantic Islands
  • S. l. brewsteri Nathaniel Stickney Goss, 1888 – Pacific coasts of USA and Mexico
  • S. l. etesiaca Thayer & Bangs, 1905 – Pacific coasts of Central America and Colombia
  • S. l. plotus (Forster, JR, 1844) – Red Sea through the Indian Ocean to the west and central Pacific
islands and coasts in the pantropical areas of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans
Map of range




Masked booby

Sula dactylatra
Lesson, 1831

Four subspecies
  • S. d. dactylatra Lesson, 1831
  • S. d. melanops Hartlaub, 1859
  • S. d. tasmani van Tets, Meredith, Fullagar & Davidson, 1988
  • S. d. personata Gould, 1846
islands in tropical oceans
Map of range




Nazca booby

Sula granti
Rothschild, 1902
eastern Pacific from the islands in Baja California to the Galapagos islands and the Isla de la Plata in Ecuador and Malpelo in Colombia
Map of range




Peruvian booby

Sula variegata
(Tschudi, 1843)
Map of range




Red-footed booby

Sula sula
(Linnaeus, 1766)

Three subspecies
  • S. s. sula (Linnaeus, 1766) – Caribbean and southwest Atlantic islands
  • S. s. rubripes Gould, 1838 – tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans
  • S. s. websteri Rothschild, 1898 – eastern central Pacific
Sri Lanka, Christmas Island, eastern central Pacific
Map of range





  1. ^ "Sula Brisson 1760 (booby)". PBDB. Archived from the original on 2021-08-08. Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  2. ^ Patterson, S.A.; Morris-Pocock, J.A.; Friesen, V.L (2011). "A multilocus phylogeny of the Sulidae (Aves: Pelecaniformes)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 58 (2): 181–191. Bibcode:2011MolPE..58..181P. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2010.11.021. PMID 21144905.
  3. ^ Brisson, Mathurin Jacques (1760). Ornithologie, ou, Méthode contenant la division des oiseaux en ordres, sections, genres, especes & leurs variétés (in French and Latin). Vol. 1. Paris: Jean-Baptiste Bauche. Vol. 1 p. 60, Vol. 6 p.494.
  4. ^ Mayr, Ernst; Cottrell, G. William, eds. (1979). Check-list of Birds of the World. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 181. Archived from the original on 2021-08-08. Retrieved 2017-11-21.
  5. ^ "Sula, n.". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  6. ^ "booby, n.". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  7. ^ Friesen, V. L.; Anderson, D. J.; Steeves, T.E.; Jones, H.; Schreiber, E.A. (2002). "Molecular support for species status of the Nazca Booby". The Auk. 119 (3): 820–826. doi:10.1642/0004-8038(2002)119[0820:MSFSSO]2.0.CO;2. S2CID 82903466.
  8. ^ Olson, Storrs L. (1985). "The Fossil Record of Birds (Section X.G.5.a Sulidae)". In Farner, D.S.; King, D.S.; Parkes, K.C. (eds.). Avian Biology. Vol. 8. New York: Academic Press. pp. 79–238 [203–204]. hdl:10088/6553. Archived from the original on 2021-04-10. Retrieved 2017-11-22.
  9. ^ van Oordt, F.; Torres-Mura, J. C.; Hertel, F. (2018). "Ecomorphology and foraging behaviour of Pacific boobies". Ibis. 160 (2): 313–326. doi:10.1111/ibi.12545.
  10. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Sula nebouxii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22696683A132588719. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22696683A132588719.en. Retrieved 13 November 2021.
  11. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Sula leucogaster". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22696698A132590197. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22696698A132590197.en. Retrieved 13 November 2021.
  12. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Sula dactylatra". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22736173A132666363. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22736173A132666363.en. Retrieved 13 November 2021.
  13. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Sula granti". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22728990A132659882. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22728990A132659882.en. Retrieved 13 November 2021.
  14. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Sula variegata". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22696686A132589026. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22696686A132589026.en. Retrieved 13 November 2021.
  15. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Sula sula". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22696694A132589278. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22696694A132589278.en. Retrieved 13 November 2021.

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