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Larus argentatus ad.jpg
European herring gull (Larus argentatus)
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Laridae
Subfamily: Larinae
Genus: Larus
Linnaeus, 1758
Type species
Larus marinus
Linnaeus, 1758

See list

Larus is a large genus of gulls with worldwide distribution (by far the greatest species diversity is in the Northern Hemisphere).

Many of its species are abundant and well-known birds in their ranges. Until about 2005–2007, most gulls were placed in this genus, but this arrangement is now known to be polyphyletic, leading to the resurrection of the genera Ichthyaetus, Chroicocephalus, Leucophaeus, and Hydrocoloeus (this last had been recognized more often than the other genera) for several species traditionally included in Larus.

They are in general medium to large birds, typically grey or white, often with black markings on their heads or wings. They have stout, longish bills and webbed feet.

The taxonomy of the large gulls in the herring and lesser black-backed complex is very complicated, with different authorities recognising between two and eight species.


The genus Larus was introduced in 1758 by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae.[1] The genus name is from Ancient Greek laros (λάῥος) or Latin larus, which appears to have referred to a gull or other large seabird.[2] The type species is the great black-backed gull (Larus marinus).[3][4]


The genus contains 24 species.[5]

Image Common Name Scientific name Distribution
Larus pacificus - Derwent River Estuary.jpg Pacific gull L. pacificus Australia.
Gaviota peruana, Playa La Mina, Paracas, Ica, Perú.JPG Belcher's gull L. belcheri the Pacific coast of South America.
Larus atlanticus1.jpg Olrog's gull L. atlanticus Atlantic coast of southern Brazil, Uruguay, and northern Argentina.
Larus crassirostris -Japan-8.jpg Black-tailed gull L. crassirostris coastlines of the East China Sea, Japan, Manchuria and the Kuril Islands, to Alaska and North America
Larus heermanni at Richardson Bay.jpg Heermann's gull L. heermanni the United States, Mexico and extreme southwestern British Columbia
Larus canus winter plumage.jpg Common gull or mew gull L. canus the Palearctic, northern Europe
Mew Gull RWD1.jpg Short-billed gull L. brachyrhynchus northwestern North America
Larus-delawarensis-021.jpg Ring-billed gull L. delawarensis Canada and the northern United States
Larus californicus Palo Alto May 2011 009.jpg California gull L. californicus western North America from the Northwest Territories, Canada south to eastern California and Colorado.
Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus.jpg Great black-backed gull L. marinus European and North American coasts and islands of the North Atlantic
Kelp Gull (Larus dominicanus) -Hot Water Beach -NZ-8.jpg Kelp gull (called southern black-backed gull or karoro in New Zealand) L. dominicanus South America, parts of Australia, and New Zealand
Glaucous-winged Gull RWD1.jpg Glaucous-winged gull L. glaucescens western coast of Alaska to the coast of Washington, coast of California, Oregon, Baja California, Baja California Sur, and Sonora
Larus occidentalis (Western Gull), Point Lobos, CA, US - May 2013.jpg Western gull L. occidentalis from British Columbia, Canada to Baja California, Mexico.
Larus livens 2910976.jpg Yellow-footed gull L. livens Gulf of California in Mexico
Glaucous Gull (5532943864).jpg Glaucous gull L. hyperboreus North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans as far south as the British Isles and northernmost states of the United States, also on the Great Lakes.
Larus-glaucoides-002.jpg Iceland gull L. glaucoides Canada and Greenland
Silbermöwe - Larus argentatus.jpg European herring gull L. argentatus shores of Western Europe
American Herring Gull - natures pics.jpg American herring gull L. smithsonianus North America from central and southern Alaska to the Great Lakes and north-east coast of the United States from Maine south to North Carolina.
Gaivota-Ferragudo.JPG Yellow-legged gull L. michahellis Mediterranean Sea.
Larus cachinnans 3 (Marek Szczepanek).jpg Caspian gull L. cachinnans Black and Caspian Seas, extending eastwards across Central Asia to north-west China.
GULL, VEGA (9-5-08) Gambell, Ak -03 (2844589388).jpg Vega gull (or East Siberian gull) L. vegae northeastern Siberia and winter in Japan, Korea, southern and eastern China, and Taiwan.
Armenian gull near Sevanavank, side view.jpg Armenian gull L. armenicus the Caucasus and the Middle East
Ooseguro-kamome.jpg Slaty-backed gull L. schistisagus the north-eastern coast of the Palearctic
Larus-fuscus-taxbox.jpg Lesser black-backed gull L. fuscus Atlantic coasts of Europe


Fossils of Larus gulls are known from the Middle Miocene, about 20-15 million years ago; allocation of earlier fossils to this genus is generally rejected. Biogeography of the fossil record suggests that the genus evolved in the northern Atlantic and spread globally during the Pliocene, when species diversity seems to have been highest, as with most seabirds.

  • Larus sp. (Middle Miocene of Grund, Austria)
  • Larus sp. (Middle Miocene of Romania) [6]
  • Larus sp. (Late? Miocene/Early Pliocene of Lee Creek Mine, U.S.) - several species [6]
  • Larus elmorei (Early/Middle Pliocene of Bone Valley, southeastern U.S.)
  • Larus lacus ( Late Pliocene of Pinecrest, southeastern U.S.)
  • Larus perpetuus (Late Pliocene of Pinecrest, southeastern U.S.)
  • Larus sp. (San Diego Late Pliocene of the southwestern U.S.)
  • Larus oregonus (Late Pliocene - Late Pleistocene of the west-central U.S.)
  • Larus robustus (Late Pliocene - Late Pleistocene of the west-central U.S.)
  • Larus sp. (Late Pleistocene of Lake Manix western U.S.)

"Larus" raemdonckii (Early Oligocene of Belgium) is now at least tentatively believed to belong in the procellariiform genus Puffinus. "L." elegans (Late Oligocene?/Early Miocene of St-Gérand-le-Puy, France) and "L." totanoides (Late Oligocene?/Early Miocene of southeastern France) are now in Laricola, while "L." dolnicensis (Early Miocene of the Czech Republic) was actually a pratincole; it is now placed in Mioglareola.

The Early Miocene "Larus" desnoyersii (southeastern France) and "L." pristinus (John Day Formation, Willow Creek, U.S.) probably do not belong in this genus; the former may be a skua.[7]

Ring species[edit]

The Larus gulls interbreed in a ring around the Arctic: 1. L. argentatus argentatus; 2. L. fuscus sensu stricto; 3. L. fuscus heuglini; 4. L. argentatus birulai; 5. L. argentatus vegae; 6. L. argentatus smithsonianus; 7. L. argentatus argenteus

The circumpolar group of Larus gull species has often been cited as a classic example of the ring species. The range of these gulls forms a ring around the North Pole. The European herring gull, which lives primarily in Great Britain and Northern Europe, can hybridize with the American herring gull (living in North America), which can also interbreed with the Vega or East Siberian gull, the western subspecies of which, Birula's gull, can hybridize with Heuglin's gull which, in turn, can interbreed with the Siberian lesser black-backed gull (all four of these live across the north of Siberia). The last is the eastern representative of the lesser black-backed gulls back in northwestern Europe, including Great Britain. However, the lesser black-backed gulls and herring gull are sufficiently different that they rarely interbreed; thus, the group of gulls forms a continuum except in Europe, where the two lineages meet. However, a recent genetic study has shown that this example is far more complicated than presented here, and probably does not constitute a true ring species.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 136.
  2. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 219. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  3. ^ Selby, Prideaux John (1840). A Catalogue of the Generic and Sub-Generic Types of the Class Aves, Birds, Arranged According to the Natural System. Newcastle: T. and J. Hodgson. pp. 48–49.
  4. ^ Peters, James Lee, ed. (1934). Check-List of Birds of the World. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 313.
  5. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (July 2021). "Noddies, gulls, terns, skimmers, skuas, auks". IOC World Bird List Version 11.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
  6. ^ a b Olson, Storrs L. (1985): Section X.D.2.j. Laridae. In: Farner, D.S.; King, J.R. & Parkes, Kenneth C. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 181-182. Academic Press, New York.
  7. ^ (Olson, 1985).
  8. ^ Liebers, Dorit; de Knijff, Peter & Helbig, Andreas J. (2004). "The herring gull complex is not a ring species". Proc. R. Soc. B. 271 (#1542): 893–901. doi:10.1098/rspb.2004.2679. PMC 1691675.Supplemental material: Electronic appendices