Writer Tom McIntyre has been in Argentina, not just shooting doves but hunting birds behind pointing dogs and fishing. What caught my attention (and what he, an informed naturalist- hunter, knows well) was the unique identity of some of his quarry.

Europeans often name local species after familiar things, but folk taxonomy is unreliable. South Americans think of this fish, called a”dorado”* for its golden color, as a trout:

As a careful perusal of everything from its fins to the shape of its jaws suggests, it is not! It is a characin, an entirely New- World family. Other members include piranhas, the vegetarian fish of the Amazon basin, and the neon tetras in your tropical aquarium. And Tom caught his on live eels, a bait hat might intimidate the cannibal taimen of Mongolia (Tom’s is not huge for the species).

An even more interesting misnomer is the Argentinian name for this bird:”perdiz”; partridge.

Ecologically it does rather resemble a partridge, but evolutionarily it is ancient, more like a little flying rhea or ostrich! Tinamous– there are several species– are small, flying ratites (the ONLY flying ratites), part of the old southern “Gondwanaland” radiation that includes all of the above plus cassowaries, emus, extinct moas, and kiwis. Like the last they lay enormous eggs, but tinamou eggs resemble porcelain art objects in polished greens and blues.

They don’t act like ostriches though. Tom:

“Kick in the ass to hunt. Used a very good German shorthair who literally snaked through the grass as they ran a mile before flushing. Limit is eight and we filled two one day, in about three miles of jogging. Great fun. FYI, perdiz run like chukar (on flat ground), fly harder, faster, and lower than quail, and are the best game bird I have ever eaten.” (Tom may have eaten more species of game bird than anyone I know).

For now I will postpone the subject of the amazing pestiferous parakeets…

Look for an update on Tom’s upcoming article on his Argentine experience.

*The word dorado is apparently now also the preferred (PC?) term for the tropical salt water game fish known in my youth as the dolphin, apparently to distinguish it from the mammal.

11 thoughts on ““Endemics””

  1. Steve:

    Quick addition on dorado. My nephew caught two that were each at least double the size of the one I'm holding, and commercial fishermen on the Parana River, the site of our fishing, have netted 30 kg fish, not to mention enormous surubi catfish. Note the ragged tails; apparently the piranah worry the dorado relentlessly–never saw one with an intact tail. Strangest creature I saw, and wish I had a photo, was a genuinely palomino cormorant, flying with a jet black one.

  2. FWIW my big book of bird diversity mentions that tinimou meat has an unusually delicate texture and flavor, a culinary notation repeated for no other type of bird! They must really be something special.

  3. Steve, completely unrelated to your post, but how can I e-mail you? I'm headed out on my 25 year sabbatical with REI and will be coming through Magdalena, round about September 18. Love to meet you and yours and have you meet Genie the Llewellin and me.

  4. Bill– you can email us at "ebodio- at- gilanet- dot- com".

    We should be here but just returned from a trip, and with a possible need to go to Santa Fe one day– but all negotiable closer to the event.

  5. We have lots of weird names for animals, too. Cervus canadensis is what we call an elk. It is also found Central Asia and the Russian Far East. We call that an elk, when an elk is actually Alce alces, the moose.

    We also call a thrush that is in the same genus as the European blackbird, which looks and behaves almost exactly like a European blackbird, a robin. The only trait it shares with the little robin of Europe is that it is the same color.

    Canadians call the Richardson's ground squirrel a gopher for some odd reason.

    But we are far from the only place that has had some interesting names for its species.

    When the Dutch settled southern Africa, they came across huge antelope, which reminded them of the moose (elk) of Europe. Dutch for elk is the eland, so they called these large antelope eland. At least we North Americans named another large species of deer an elk. They bestowed this name upon a huge antelope that actually reminds me more of indicus cattle than any deer species. Of course, wild cow in Dutch is wildebeest, which is the name they gave to some antelope that are better known as gnu. A small antelope was called steenbok, which is Dutch for ibex. Another was called a reebok, which is Dutch for roe deer.

    British colonists to Ceylon also called the sambar deer "elk," but they were called sambar in India. When I was a kid, I saw them on a nature show, which said they were rarely found far from water. I though they were calling them "sand bar deer."

    Which just goes to show that I'm just as guilty as these people for not understanding what animals actually are.


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