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Great argus

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Great argus
CITES Appendix II (CITES)[2]
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Galliformes
Family: Phasianidae
Tribe: Pavonini
Genus: Argusianus
Gray, GR, 1849
A. argus
Binomial name
Argusianus argus
  • Phasianus argus Linnaeus, 1766
  • Pavo argus
  • Argusianus bipunctatus
  • Argus bipunctatus Wood, 1871
  • Argus giganteus Temminck, 1813[3]

The great argus (Argusianus argus), or greater argus, is a large species of pheasant from Southeast Asia. It is known for its impressive plumage and courtship behavior. It is not to be confused with the two species of closely related crested argus, genus Rheinardia.


"Argus Pheasant" drawn by T. W. Wood for Charles Darwin's 1874 book, Descent of Man

Carl Linnaeus gave the great argus its specific name (from which its common name and genus name are derived) because of the intricate eye-like patterns on its wings, in reference to Argus, a hundred-eyed giant in Greek mythology. There are two subspecies recognized: Nominate argus of the Malay peninsula and Sumatra, and A. a. grayi of Borneo. William Beebe considered the two races to be distinct species, but they have since been lumped.[citation needed]

The genus Argusianus was introduced in 1849 by the English zoologist George Gray with the great argus as the type species.[4][5][6]

Double-banded argus[edit]

The double-banded argus (Argusianus bipunctatus), known only from a portion of a single primary flight feather, was long considered a potential second species.[7][8] It was described in 1871 from this feather piece, found in a millinery shipment imported to London. Its origin was hypothesized to be from Java, Indonesia or Tioman Island of Malaysia, because of the great argus's absence from these locations. Parkes (1992) rejected the double-banded argus's validity and argued that it almost certainly represents a mutant form of the great argus. The IUCN, following the precautionary principle, listed this taxon as extinct until 2012. It was removed from the IUCN Red list because the IOC had removed this species from its list of valid bird taxa in 2011. While the feather is indeed quite distinct, it represents a fairly simple divergence: The entirely asymmetrically-patterned vanes are instead near-symmetrical, and both bear the darker brown shaftward area with dense whitish speckles. The shaft is thinner than usual and the feather would probably not have been useful for flight.[citation needed]

Nothing similar has come to notice ever since, and as the feather piece is not a composite of two feather halves glued together but an apparently natural specimen, a hoax or fake can be ruled out. Despite all conjecture that has been built around the feather piece, all that can be said is that at some time around 1870, an argus pheasant which bore at least one such feather was shot in an unknown location. Even if this individual was one of the last remnants of a now-extinct population, it is unlikely that only a single feather would have been taken from an unusual specimen of a well-known, often-hunted, and conspicuous bird, and that this single feather would have then been bundled into a shipment of normal great argus feathers. The feather is now housed in the Natural History Museum in London.[citation needed]


The great argus is known in the Malay language as Kuang raya, the "great pheasant" [9]


Male at Disney's Animal Kingdom

The great argus is a brown-plumaged pheasant with a blue head and neck, rufous red upper breast, black hair-like feathers on the crown and nape, and red legs.

Unusual among Galliformes, the great argus has no uropygial gland.

Male and female plumage[edit]

Feathers of Argus ocellatus (synonym for the crested argus Rheinardia ocellata) and Argus bipunctatus (fourth)

The male is one of the largest of all pheasants, measuring 160–200 cm (63–79 in) in total length, including a tail of 105–143 cm (41–56 in), and weighing 2.04–2.72 kg (4.5–6.0 lb).[10] Males have very long tail feathers and huge, broad and greatly elongated secondary wing feathers decorated with large eyespots. Young males develop their adult plumage in their third year.[11]

Females are smaller and duller than males, with shorter tails and fewer eyespots. They measure 72–76 cm (28–30 in) in total length, including a tail of 30–36 cm (12–14 in), and weighs 1.59–1.7 kg (3.5–3.7 lb).[10]



It feeds on the forest floor in early morning and evening.

Mating dance[edit]

A male great argus displaying his fanned wings. Bottom right: a Victoria crowned pigeon.
Lateral view

The male clears an open spot in the forest and prepares a dancing ground. He announces himself with loud calls to attract females, then he dances before her with his wings spread into two enormous fans, revealing hundreds of "eyes" while his real eyes are hidden behind it, staring at her.[12]


Despite displays similar to polygamous birds and though the great argus was thought to be polygamous in the wild, it has been discovered that it is actually monogamous.[13] The hen lays only two eggs.[14]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The great argus is native to the jungles of Borneo, Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula in southeast Asia.[1]


Due to ongoing habitat loss and to being hunted in some areas, the great argus is evaluated as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.[1] It is listed on Appendix II of CITES.[15]


  1. ^ a b c BirdLife International (2020). "Argusianus argus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2020: e.T22725006A183255774. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22725006A183255774.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ "Appendices". CITES. Retrieved 14 January 2022.
  3. ^ William Beebe (1922). "A Monograph of the Pheasants" (PDF). p. 131. Retrieved 2017-10-19.
  4. ^ Gray, George Robert (1849). The genera of birds : comprising their generic characters, a notice of the habits of each genus, and an extensive list of species referred to their several genera. Vol. 3. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. Appendix p. 47, Note 16; p. 496. The title page has 1849. For the publication date see Bruce, Murray D. (2023). "The Genera of Birds (1844–1849) by George Robert Gray: A review of its part publication, dates, new nominal taxa, suppressed content and other details". Sherbornia. 8 (1): 1–93 [18].
  5. ^ Gregory, Steven M.S. (2011). "The authorship of the generic name Argusianus". Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club. 131 (3): 206‐208.
  6. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (July 2023). "Pheasants, partridges, francolins". IOC World Bird List Version 13.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 24 November 2023.
  7. ^ Parkes, K. S. (1992). "Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world, in "Recent Literature"". Journal of Field Ornithology. 63 (2): 228–235.
  8. ^ Davison, G. W. H.; McGowan, Phil (2009). "Asian enigma: Is the Double-banded Argus Argusianus bipunctatus a valid species?". BirdingASIA. 12: 94.
  9. ^ Kamus Dewan, kuang
  10. ^ a b del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (1994). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 2: New World Vultures To Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions. pp. 550–563. ISBN 8487334156.
  11. ^ "Great Argus Pheasants". Beauty Of Birds. 16 September 2021. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  12. ^ "Great Argus". Honolulu Zoo. Archived from the original on 5 June 2010.
  13. ^ Krull, Dave (2002). "Argus Pheasant". WhoZoo. Fort Worth Zoo. The argus pheasant has also been found to be monogamous in the wild.
  14. ^ Koffler, Barry (2004). "Great Argus Pheasant". FeatherSite.
  15. ^ "Argusianus argus | CITES". cites.org. Retrieved 2022-10-27.

Further reading[edit]

  • Fuller, Errol (2000). Extinct Birds (2nd ed.). Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-850837-9.

External links[edit]