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The True Author of Thylacinus striatus "Warlow, 1833"

By Branden Holmes

The latest and most comprehensive systematic treatment of the synonymy of Thylacinus cynocephalus is (Jackson & Groves, 2015:76-77). However, it is not complete, as two discoveries I have made illustrate. The most major of these concerns the true author of the binomial Thylacinus striatus, which has universally been attributed to (Warlow, 1833) until the present (e.g. Thomas, 1888; Iredale & Troughton, 1934; Mahoney & Ride, 1988; Jackson & Groves, 2015:77). The ubiquity of this attribution is emphasised all the more by the more minor of my discoveries. According to (Jackson & Groves, 2015:77) it was (Thomas, 1888:256) who first synonymised Thylacinus striatus with T. cynocephalus. However, I have discovered that (Blyth, 1863:180) predates this taxonomic decision by a full 15 years. But he too attributes the binomial to "Warlow, 1833".

The Discovery

As part of an attempt to bring together every piece of pre-1851 thylacine literature, on 1 October 2019 I discovered that (Burnett, 1830:351) had used the binomial Thylacynus striatus three years earlier than Warlow in 1833. Albeit perpetuating the incorrect spelling of the genus given by (Temminck, 1824:xxiii, 1827:267), which is therefore emended to Thylacinus striatus. This raises the issue of whether there are two binomials involved, with T. striatus Warlow, 1833 being a junior homonym. Or, whether the binomial has simply been misattributed to Warlow, who is not in fact the author of a species. This seems rather easy to resolve, as both authors associated the same idiosyncratic common name with the binomial: Zebra-Thylacyne (Burnett) / Zebra Thylacine (Warlow). And thus it appears that (Warlow, 1833) was well aware of Burnett's publication even though he never explicitly mentioned it.

As illustrated in Table 1 below, the term 'zebra' and adjectives like 'zebrine' did appear in the thylacine literature before 1833. Indeed, Harris' scientific description of the species gave two common names: "It is vulgarly called the Zebra Opossum, Zebra Wolf, &c." (Harris, 1808:175). However, no such mention of either term conjoined with thylacine/thylacyne is known to the present author despite a thorough knowledge of the early thylacine literature. This is at least in part explained by the fact that the term 'thylacine' was only first used in 1824 (Temminck, 1824). However, the fact that no other post-1824 author took the liberty of combining the two words makes it more likely that the later author knew of the earlier author's work.

 

Table 1. The term 'zebra', and derived adjectives, used for the thylacine before 1834

Common name Description Source
Zebra Opossum, Zebra Wolf, &c.   Harris, 1808
Zebra Opossum   Bullock, 1812
Zebra Opossum   Bullock, 1813
Zebra Opossum   Bullock, 1816
  "pelage brun jaunâtre, à croupe zébreée et à queue comprimée" [Google Translation: "coat yellowish brown, rump zebraous and with compressed shank"] Desmoulins, 1817
Zebrine Dasyurus   Cuvier, 1829
  "The ground colour is a dull brownish yellow, with darker stripes across the back, like the marking of the zebra" Mudie, 1829
Zebra-Thylacyne   Burnett, 1830
Zebra Thylacine   Warlow, 1833

 

Conclusion

The argument for junior homonymy of T. striatus Warlow, 1833 can only be based upon the fact that he used the binomial without having explicitly attributed it to a previous author. While the case for the sole authorship of T. striatus by (Burnett, 1830) is based, firstly upon the necessary condition that he was the first person to validly publish the name. And secondly, upon the idiosyncratic common name that he associated with the binomial. A common name that was only used by him and by (Warlow, 1833). Both of whom only used it in strict and exclusive association with the binomial T. striatus. I can therefore only conclude that (Burnett, 1830) is the true author of T. striatus, and that "Thylacinus striatus Warlow, 1833" does not actually exist.

 

References:

Blyth, Edward. (1863). Catalogue of the Mammalia in the Museum Asiatic Society. Calcutta: Savielle & Cranenburgh. [p. 180]

Bullock, William. (1812). A Companion to Mr. Bullock's London Museum and Pantherion ; containg a brief description of upward of fifteen thousand nayural and foreign curiosities, antiquities, and productions of the fine arts, Collected during Seventeen Years of arduous Research, and at an Expense of thirty thousand pounds ; And now open for Public Inspection in the Egyptian Temple, just erected for its reception, in Piccadilly, London, opposite the end of Bond-Street. London: Printed for the proprietor. xii + 136 pp. [p. 30-31]

Bullock, William. (1813). A companion to the London Museum and Pantherion : containing a brief description of upwards of fifteen thousand natural and foreign curiosities, antiquities, and productions of the fine arts now open for public inspection in the Egyptian Temple, Piccadilly, London. London: Printed for the proprietor by Whittingham and Rowland. xii + 151 pp. [p. 130-131]

Bullock, William. (1816). A companion to the London Museum and Pantherion, containing a brief description of upwards of fifteen thousand natural and foreign curiosities, antiquities, and productions of the fine arts now open for public inspection in the Egyptian Temple, Piccadilly, London. London: Printed for the proprietor by Whittingham and Rowland. xii + 140 pp. [p. 117-118]

Burnett, Gilbert Thomas. (1830). Illustrations of the Quadrupeda, or Quadrupeds, being the arrangement of the true four-footed Beasts indicated in outline. Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature, and Art 28: 336-353. [p. 351]

Cuvier, Georges [Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric, Baron Cuvier]. (1829a). The Animal Kingdom... vol. 3. London: Geo B. Whittaker. [pp. 36-37]

Desmoulins, Antoine. (1817). Dasyure, pp. 135-140. In: Nouv. Dict. Hist. Nat. Vol. IX. Paris. [p. 136-137]

Harris, George Prideaux. (1808). Description of two new species of Didelphis from Van Diemen's Land. Transactions of the Linnean Society of London 9(1): 174-178.

Iredale, Tom and Troughton, Ellis Le Geyt. (1934). A check-list of the mammals recorded from Australia. Mem. Aust. Mus. 6: i-xii, 1-122.

Jackson, Stephen M. and Groves, Colin P. (2015). Taxonomy of Australian Mammals. Melbourne, Victoria: CSIRO Publishing. 529 pp.

Mahoney, J. A. and Ride, W. D. L. (1988). Thylacinidae, pp. 11-13. In: Walton, D. W. (ed.). Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Vol. 5. Mammalia. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service.

Mudie, R. (1829). The picture of Australia: exhibiting New Holland, Van Diemen’s Land and all the settlements from the first at Sydney to the last at Swan River. London: Whittaker, Treacher. 370 pp.

Thomas, Oldfield. (1888). Catalogue of the Marsupialia and Monotremata in the collection of the British Museum (Natural History). London: British Museum (Natural History). xiii + 401 pp. [p. 255-258]

Warlow, W. (1833). Systematically arranged Catalogue of the Mammalia and Birds belonging to the Museum of the Asiatic Society, Calcutta. The Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 2(14): 97-100.