Hidden Gems


In this special section, we will be looking back at papers published in the Journal of Zoology’s predecessor Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, and picking out some 'hidden gems' from the archives…

Plate XXXI Proceedings 1878 St helena Hemiptera

This ‘hidden gem’ from 1878 entitled ‘Contributions to a Knowledge of the Hemipterous Fauna of St. Helena, and Speculations on its Origin’, written by F. Buchanan White, is a fascinating early article on biogeography that reads almost like a detective story, speculating the origin of the native fauna and flora of St Helena, a remote island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. This isolated island had no indigenous terrestrial mammals nor any land or freshwater amphibians, reptiles or fish, however native terrestrial invertebrates had been found on the island, such as land molluscs, various Coleoptera and Hemiptera, and spiders and scorpions, many of which were endemic, or ‘peculiar’, to the island, together with at least 77 species of plants. These findings inevitably induced the question ‘Whence and by what means came this very peculiar fauna and flora?’, presenting a real puzzle for the naturalists of the day, and in this article Buchanan White summarises and discusses the main proposed theories, or ‘speculations’, about the geographical origins of the indigenous fauna and flora of St Helena, and the mechanisms by which they have ended up on this remote island in the middle of the ocean. He concludes the article by species descriptions of Hemiptera found on the island by T.V. Wollaston. We hope you will enjoy reading this beautifully written and unique article.

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This hidden gem from 1908, entitled 'Warning Coloration in the Musteline Carnivora’ was written by P.I. Pocock, superintendent of the London Zoo. Pocock aims to explain the black-and-white coloration observed in several carnivorous mustelids such as skunks, zorillas and badgers, and concludes that the coloration must be aposematic. Rather than making them less visible to their prey, the coloration of these animals appears to render them more conspicuous, particularly at night. Furthermore, many of these species emit an unpleasant odour. Taken together, the shared black-and-white warning colouration across species may be a case of Müllerian mimicry.

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To celebrate Endangered Species Day on 20th May, we highlight this ‘hidden gem’ from 1911 as an early paper about wildlife conservation, entitled ‘Game Sanctuaries and Game Protection in India’ by E.P. Stebbing, F.L.S., F.Z.S., F.R.G.S., published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. Stebbing was concerned about the hunting intensity and declining populations of game species in India, highlighting problems such as reductions in available habitat, poachers and ineffective regulation, that regrettably are still relevant all over the world today. The author is advocating the formation of game sanctuaries and also discusses the proposed new Indian Game Act and how it could be improved to protect species from deterioration and extinction. It is a fascinating read, we hope you find it interesting.

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chiru

These papers by Hodgson were presented at the meeting of the Zoological Society of London on 24th September 1833, and their summaries were included in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, although the full papers were to be published in other journals. The first paper adds to Hodgson’s earlier observations about the anatomy, morphology and taxonomy of the Chiru antelope, Antilope Hodgsonii, and the second paper provides a description of the wild dog of Nepal, Canis primaevus, locally named Búánsú, including notes of its appearance, morphology and behaviour.

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Nepalese Bird

Brian Houghton Hodgson (1800-1894) is widely recognised for his contributions describing the birds and mammals of Nepal, several of which have been named after him. Hodgson devoted the 23 years (1820-1843) he was positioned in Nepal as British Resident to study its natural history as well as its peoples, customs, architecture, languages and religion. He wrote more than 140 zoological papers, ranging from descriptions of single species to checklists of the fauna, and presented ZSL with his manuscript notes and drawings.

To celebrate Hodgson’s contributions to Zoology and to highlight a coming symposium on biodiversity conservation in Nepal at the Zoological Society of London, we are presenting a series of ‘hidden gems’ of Hodgson’s work published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London.

In this first ‘hidden gem’ of the series from 1845, Hodgson gives some wonderfully detailed descriptions of bird species he had encountered in Nepal, belonging into 12 families and 28 genera. His descriptions include details about the morphology, behaviour, habitat, diet, reproduction, size and colour of the birds, and often some special remarks about the possible relatedness and taxonomic hierarchy among the species.

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Insect Wings from Wootton

This ‘hidden gem’ from 1981, ‘Support and deformability in insect wings’ by Robin J. Wootton, examines insect wing morphology and how it allows the wings to ‘deform’ during flight, making them essentially three-dimensional. Illustrated by drawings and scanning electron micrographs, this paper investigates the kinematics and the structure of insect wings of various shapes and sizes. In particular, Wootton compares the functional morphology of insect wings to a sail, which also has both flexible and rigid parts that make it aerodynamically effective. Furthermore, Wootton noted that ‘wings remain the most neglected component of the insect flight system’ and how ‘the arrangement of veins, thickened areas, fractures and lines of flexion … have been used extensively for classification and phylogenetic reasoning in almost complete ignorance of their adaptive significance.’

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Aye aye

Read this ‘hidden gem’ from 1883, which is Reverend G.A. Shaw’s A few Rough Notes on the Aye-aye, a creature so strange looking that it has been named by the Malagasy exclamation of surprise, ‘Hay! Hay!’. Based on hear-say and his own observations, Rev. Shaw describes the diet and habits of these curious animals, and how they are easily tamed and “inoffensive”. He had also noted down some local myths and superstitions about the Aye-aye, such as the belief among the Betsimisaraka that these animals are the embodiment of their forefathers, and therefore should be left alone and never injured.

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JZO_Sir_Crispin_Tickell

This philosophical and beautifully written piece by Sir Crispin Tickell is a true ‘hidden gem’: it is based on his Stamford Raffles lecture he gave at the Zoological Society of London in 1996 about our responsibilities as humans towards nature and its protection. This article serves well to remind us of our origin and our reliance on nature and its processes, however urbanised and technology-dependent we have become, concluding with: “This is not our earth. We are a tiny, vulnerable part of a vast, complex, robust system of life. We fail to respect it at our peril.”

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JZO_Giraffe

On the Subspecies of Giraffa camelopardalis by R. Lydekker, 1903

This Hidden Gem, published in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, is an account of the reclassification of giraffe, based on museum specimens, paintings and photographs. Prompted by an inability to classify a pair of East African giraffe skins received by the British Museum, Lydekker set about a revision of the whole group. This paper includes detailed observations on giraffe markings, colour and cranial differences, as well as a map showing the geographic distribution of Giraffa reticulata and ten subspecies of Giraffa camelopardalis. In addition to the impressive depiction of giraffe subspecies, the paper includes stunning paintings and drawings, which illustrate the distinguishing features of subspecies described in the text.

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Genyodectes_serus_jaws

This ‘Hidden Gem’ is a palaeontology paper from 1901 by A. Smith Woodward, L.L.D, F.R.S., F.Z.S., describing some extinct reptiles from Patagonia, namely an armoured Miolanian (or Meiolanian) tortoise, a species from a previously undescribed genus of snakes Dinilysia, and a carnivorous dinosaur. This paper not only presented the first descriptions of these species, but, as suggested by the author, gave support to the theory of a former land connection between the continents of South America and Australia, due to the remarkable similarity between the described Miolania tortoise and those discovered in Australia.

For more papers on palaeontology, please see the Journal of Zoology Special Issue on the study of behaviour and ecology of extinct animals based on the fossil record.

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Read this ‘hidden gem’ from 1887, entitled The Experimental Proof of the Protective Value of Colour and Markings in Insects in reference to their Vertebrate Enemies, which is an article written by E.B. Poulton about aposematism before he actually introduced the term in his book The Colours of Animals, published in 1890. It is essentially a review article summarising, comparing and discussing the existing data from experiments testing Alfred Russel Wallace’s original idea of the use of warning colours in prey to put off predators from attacking them. The article begins with a brief history of the idea, originating from correspondence between Darwin and Wallace. Puzzled by bright, conspicuous colours in caterpillars which could not possibly be explained by sexual selection, Darwin asked Wallace to suggest some other explanation and adaptive value for these bright colours. Wallace proposed that, as Poulton put it, ‘the gaudy colouring acts as an indication of something unpleasant about its possessor’, such as ‘a nauseous taste or smell’, and it would thus be to the advantage of the prey to be as conspicuous as possible to warn experienced predators of their foul qualities. Wallace’s idea had subsequently been tested and proven plausible, and at the end of the article Poulton lists the conclusions he had drawn from the available data.

This paper acts as a wonderful summary of the development of the theory of aposematism and is teeming with references to Wallace and Darwin as well as other famous names such as Bates and Müller regarding their respective theories on mimicry.

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This hidden gem from 1858 represents some ‘practical ornithology’, as W. Meves from the Zoological Museum of Stockholm describes how he discovered the origin of the common snipe’s “neighing” or “humming” sound that they make during the breeding season (visit http://www.xeno-canto.org/138105 to hear an example). Suspecting that the sound is not produced by the bird’s throat but its protruding outer tail feathers during flight, Meves assembled an apparatus from the curiously-shaped outer tail feathers, steel wire and a stick that allowed him to imitate the flight of a courting snipe and at the same time produce this peculiar sound. Hence, he managed to solve a mystery that “all the field-naturalists and sportsmen of England and other countries had, for the last century at least, been in vain trying to make out, straining their eyes, and puzzling their wits”.

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Okapi, Sir Harry Johnston, Journal of Zoology

Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London includes a number of fascinating first descriptions of species as yet unknown to science. In 1901, E. Ray Lankester, MA, LLD, FRS, FZS, Director of the Natural History Departments of the British Museum, reported on Sir Harry Johnston’s discovery of the okapi in the paper ‘On Okapia, a new Genus of Giraffidae, from Central Africa’.

Sir Harry Johnston first became aware of the existence okapi from Sir Henry Stanley’s In Darkest Africa, in which Stanley mentions that Wambutti natives referred to a donkey, called ‘Atti’, which they sometimes caught in pits. On receiving a complete skin with double hoof-bones it was immediately apparent to Sir Harry Johnston that the okapi is not really a horse-like animal at all but belonged to the group of Artiodactyle ungulates. Sir Harry Johnston commented that the absence of horns and the length of the ears accounted for the comparison of the animal to a donkey or a zebra but on examination of the two skulls, he concluded that the okapi is closely related to giraffe. In addition to the account of the history of the discovery of the okapi and the detailed description of the specimens, do not miss Text-fig 14, which is a beautiful diagram showing the arrangement of the hair upon the frontal and basinasal regions of the okapi's head. Also do not miss Plate XXX, which is a stunning illustration of Okapia johnstoni, drawn from the skin by Pierre Jacques Smit (1863–1960).

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This ‘hidden gem’ represents a fascinating example of scientific debate in action. In this paper entitled On the Origin of Flight in Birds from 1923, Baron Francis Nopcsa reviews and discusses the criticism from his fellow zoologists on his earlier paper Ideas on the Origin of Flight, our previous ‘hidden gem’. His colleagues had been particularly critical about his sketch of the proposed ‘running Proavis’ and the idea that birds evolved from bipedal dinosaur-like reptiles that were terrestrial rather than arboreal.

On the final pages of his paper, Nopcsa challenges his colleagues by stating: “Up to the present all critics of the “running Proavis” hypothesis have only tried to find apparent difficulties in that hypothesis, and have never considered what it explains; now it is their turn to explain all the points that have been brought forward in the course of this paper by means of their hypothesis of an arboreal Proavis. It may be that more difficulties will be encountered than are expected.” The gloves are off!

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Pro avis by Francis Nopcsa

Read this ‘hidden gem’ from 1907, entitled Ideas on the Origin of Flight, where Dr. Baron Francis (or Franz) Nopcsa examines the mechanisms and development of flight in pterosaurs, mammals, dinosaurs and birds. At the end, Nopcsa concludes that “… Birds originated from bipedal Dinosaur-like running forms in which the anterior extremities, on account of flapping movements, gradually turned to wings without thereby affecting terrestrial locomotion”, thus supporting Thomas Henry Huxley’s original idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

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In this ‘hidden gem’ from 1859, entitled Additional evidence relative to the Dodo, the vice-president of the Zoological Society of London W.J. Broderip, Esq., F.R.S., L.S., G.S., examines some records of the already extinct Dodo of Mauritius, including notes on its unpalatability to Dutch seamen, and reports how he has found a painting where this bird is depicted “in all the beauty of its ugliness”.

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In this ‘hidden gem’, G. C. Robson, M.A., F.Z.S., describes a new species of Giant Squid, Architeuthis clarkei. Although these animals have probably inspired the tales of the terrifying sea monster ‘Kraken’ in Norse mythology, Robson concludes that this particular species is probably “a sluggish and inert creature … comparing unfavourably with Sthenoteuthis and the smaller squids in point of activity”.

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We invite you to read this interesting and rather amusing paper, entitled On the Modification of a Race of Syrian Street-Dogs by means of Sexual Selection, by Dr. Van Dyck, that comes with a preliminary notice written by none other than Charles Darwin, F.R.S., F.Z.S. This paper, also featuring ‘a French pointer named Jack’, was originally published in 1882.

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The first paper chosen for Hidden Gems was:
Narrative of Search after Birds of Paradise by Alfred R. Wallace F.Z.S. originally published in 1862

Read the Introduction by Steven C. Le Comber: The Scientists! In an Adventure with Pirates!

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