Naming a New Species

Smithsonian naturalist Brian Schmidt gave a new species of African bird an interesting scientific name

Olive backed Forest Robin
After discovering a new species of bird, research ornithologist Brian Schmidt made sure to give it a proper name: "stout bird that bears a flam-colored throat." Carlton Ward, Jr. / SI

Brian Schmidt has a pet peeve about species named after their discoverers. "I don't find them descriptive of the specimen," says the research ornithologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

So when a bird he brought back from a forest in southwest Gabon, Africa, turned out to be a new species, he made sure it was given a proper name: Stiphrornis pyrrholaemus, which is Greek for "stout bird that bears a flame-colored throat." Wired magazine proclaimed the bird—more commonly known as the olive-backed forest robin—as one of the "Top Ten New Organisms of 2008." Two to three new bird species are formally registered each year. Most are found in remote areas of tropical South America and Asia, including Indonesia and the Philippines. Schmidt first observed the olive-backed forest robin in 2002, but it wasn't until he analyzed its DNA that he was sure it was a new species. At a time when climate change threatens to cause widespread extinction of flora and fauna, Schmidt sees larger meaning in the discovery of a new species. "If you don't know what you have, you don't know what you're missing," he says.

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