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Nazca Booby, Sula granti
Scientific classification


For prehistoric genera, see text



The bird family Sulidae comprises the gannets and boobies. Both groups are medium-large coastal seabirds that plunge-dive for fish. The species in this family are often considered congeneric, placing all in the genus Sula. However, bones of Sula (boobies) and Morus (gannets) at least can in most cases be readily distinguished, and Abbot's Booby has traits of morphology and behavior not found in any other species and appears to be an ancient lineage maybe closer to the gannets than to the true boobies (Friesen et al. 2000).

Systematics and evolution

The fossil record of sulids is quite extensive due to the many Miocene/Pliocene forms that have been recovered. The initial radiation formed a number of genera which are now completely extinct, such as the freshwater Masillastega or the bizarre Rhamphastosula which had a bill shaped like an Aracari's; at least the modern genus Sula is (like most genera of extant birds) documented from the Miocene onwards, with the doubtfully distinct Microsula being somewhat intermediate between boobies and gannets (Olson 1985).


Australasian Gannet

African Gannet (Morus bassanus capensis)

Atlantic Gannet (Morus bassanus bassanus)

Abbott's Booby

Peruvian Booby

Blue-footed Booby

Masked Booby

Brown Booby

Red-footed Booby

Pelagic Cormorant

Phylogeny of the Sulidae based on Friesen & Anderson 1997. Pelagic Cormorant is used as an outgroup.[1][2]

Family Sulidae

  • Genus Sula - boobies (6 living species, possibly 1 recently extinct)
  • Genus Papasula - Abbott's Booby
  • Genus Morus - gannets (3 species)

Prehistoric sulids only known from fossils are:

  • Genus Masillastega (Middle Eocene of Messel, Germany)
  • Genus Eostega (Middle/Late Eocene of Cluj-Manastur, Romania)
  • Sulidae gen. et sp. indet. (Thalberg Late Oligocene of Germany: Darga et al. 1999)
  • Genus Empheresula (Late Oligocene of Gannat, France - Middle Miocene of Steinheimer Becken, Germany)
  • Genus Microsula (Late Oligocene of South Carolina, USA - Grund Middle Miocene of Austria) - doubtfully distinct; includes Pseudosula
  • Genus Sarmatosula (Middle Miocene of Credinţa, Romania)
  • Genus Miosula (Late Miocene of California)
  • Genus Palaeosula (Early Pliocene? of California)
  • Genus Rhamphastosula (Pisco Early Pliocene of SC Peru)
  • Sulidae gen. et sp. indet. (Late Piocene of Valle di Fine, Italy: Lambrecht 1933)

Placement of "Sula" ronzoni (Early Oligocene of Ronzon, France) in the Sulidae is somewhat uncertain; it was initially described as a Mergus sea-duck, but this is incorrect. Later, it was proposed to be related to cormorants and the genus Prophalacrocorax was erected for it; this seems incorrect also (Olson 1985). For prehistoric species of the extant genera, see the genus articles.


  1. ^ Nelson, B. J. 2005. Pelicans, Cormorants and their relatives. Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Friesen, V.L. and Anderson, D.J. (1997). Phylogeny and evolution of the Sulidae (Pelecaniformes: Aves): a test of alternative modes of speciation. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 7, 252–60.


  • Friesen, V. L.; Anderson, D. J.; Steeves, T. E.; Jones, H. & Schreiber, E. A. (2002): Molecular Support for Species Status of the Nazca Booby (Sula granti). Auk 119(3): 820–826. [English with Spanish abstract] DOI: 10.1642/0004-8038(2002)119[0820:MSFSSO]2.0.CO;2 PDF fulltext
  • Darga, R.; Böhme, M.; Göhlich, Ursula B. & Rössner, G. E. (1999): Reste höherer Wirbeltiere aus dem Alttertiär des Alpenvorlandes bei Siegsdorf/Oberbayern. Mitteilungen der Bayerischen Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Historische Geologie 39: 91-114.
  • Lambrecht, Kálmán (1933): Familia Sulidae. In: Handbuch der Palaeornithologie: 284-287. Gebrüder Bornträger, Berlin.
  • Olson, Storrs L. (1985): Section X.G.5.a. Sulidae. In: Farner, D.S.; King, J.R. & Parkes, Kenneth C. (eds.): Avian Biology 8: 203-204. Academic Press, New York.

External links