Friday, 29 August 2008

Green Rosella

...Platycercus caledonicus

The green Rosella (or Tasmanian Rosella) was once much more common (particularly around orchids) but the population has declined over the years. One suggestion as to the cause is competition for nesting sites with the introduced Starling.

I do see small flocks from time to time but generally I see them in pairs. One pair visits our backyard where they feed in the Eucalypts and Native Cherries.

I'd love to know the origin of this birds name. Caledon is the old Roman name for Scotland and the suffix icus changes it to an adjective - thus caledonicus would mean Scottish. It seems a strange name for a Tasmanian endemic. However, there are other Australian species with the same name. For example the Nankeen Night Heron is Nycticorax caledonicus, so perhaps there is another explanation. Can anyone shed some light on this?

Below are are a couple of photos I took yesterday. In the first shot the sky is completely blown out but I actually quite like the effect.

(Click to enlarge)

Green Rosella - Platycercus caledonicus

Green Rosella - Platycercus caledonicus

Update: Thanks to Snail in the comments below for the explanation for the name caledonicus.

From Wikipedia:
The Green Rosella was described by the German naturalist Johann Friedrich Gmelin in 1788. The species specific epithet was derived from the mistaken belief the bird was collected from New Caledonia.
Now I just need to find out how Gmelin acquired his Tasmanian Rosella in 1788.


  1. Nice photos with excellent detail. Interesting observation on the name. If you find out about it please remember to tell the rest of us.

  2. Thanks Mick - If I ever find out I'll post it here. In the mean time I'll just call them Scottish Rosellas :-)

  3. I checked Caley, who said that it refers to New Caledonia following a mistake over the locality of the original specimen.

    Sounds plausible. Unless there's a rosella tartan somewhere and that's the source of the name.

  4. Thank you very much Snail for that information. I had noticed that some of the New Caledonian species have the caledonicus name but being a Tasmanian endemic I'd never have guessed that would be the origin.

  5. Hmmm. Wiki says Johann Gmelin published 13th ed Linnaeus in 1788. Aust plants named after him.
    So, academically important, rich, could buy specimens from around the world. Plenty sources in
    18th Century.
    Further to caledonicus: Scot=Rufus=rufous; there's also geological meaning relating to folded formations. And never disallow a hidden 'sardonicus' ;-)

  6. Thanks Tyto Tony - I've lived among the Caledonides of the caledonian orogeny. As a child I was made to dance at the Caledonian Socity ceilidhs. But in all that time I never found any hidden sardonichis gems. Just lots of rufus haired Scots.

    Yes Gmelin must have acquired the rosella speciman from somone but but as he published in 1788 you would imagine the specimen was collected prior to the first fleet. Perhaps from Cooks 1777 vist or more likely D'Entrecasteaux in 1792. I'm just curious.

  7. Oops, strayed into arcane 16th C lit. in pointing to scientists playing games with names.

    Solander, and Banks, both with strong Linnaean links and super networkers possibly at top of supply chain to Gmelin. What do you think?

  8. Thanks Tyto Tony - What do I think?

    Well first, please ignore what I said about D'Entrecasteaux in 1792 - that was 4 years too late. I was obviously very tired when I wrote that.

    So how did a Green Rosella get to Germany by 1788. The following explorers reached Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) in the years up to 1788.

    1. Tasman - Dutch - 1642

    2. Du Fresne - French - 1772 (Two ships, the 'Mascarin' and the 'Marquis de Castries' 7 -10 March 1772 at Cape Frederick Henry and Maria Island)

    3. Furneaux - British - 1773 (On the ship 'Adventure'. Anchored at Adventure Bay on 10th March 1773)

    4. Cook - British - 1777 (Two ships, the Resolution' and the 'Discovery' anchored in Adventure Bay from 26th to 30th January 1777)

    5. Bligh - British - 1788

    I reckon you could count Tasman out as being too early and you can count Bligh out for being too late (as well as the fact he lost his ship in the mutiny)

    Du Fresne ran into trouble with spears and bullets flying everywhere and Furneaux was only there for the day.

    So while a speciman could have been collected during any of the above expeditions, I reckon Cook and his companions (On his 2nd voyage) are the most likely to have collected a speciman of the Green Rosella. Banks was not there. The naturalist on that voyage was Johann Reinhold Forster. Interestingly Forster was born in Prussia (Part of modern Germany)

  9. All that detective work between you and Tony spurred me on to look through my library. I've found the info in Colin Finney's To sail beyond the sunset.

    On p. 22 Finney writes:
    "The Resolution put into Adventure Bay from 26 – 30 January 1777, on its way to the Pacific. During this brief time, Nelson [gardener from Kew], with the assistance of Anderson [ship's doctor and naturalist], spent his time collecting plants including the seeds and specimens of the tree that L'Heritier later used to describe the genus Eucalyptus. Both Anderson and Ellis [surgeon's mate] painted birds; among the subjects of Ellis' brush was the green rosella, Platycercus caledonicus. Latham saw this bird from Van Diemens Land in Banks' collection and mistakenly placed its origin in New Caledonia; Johann Gmelin, the German physician-botanist later accentuated the error when he gave it the specific name caledonicus."

    So if I understand it correctly, the bird was described by Latham working from preserved material but named by Gmelin.

    Lesson: write good locality labels and always keep them with your specimens.

  10. Thanks Snail - Excellent information. So at least it seems I narrowed it down to the right expedition.

    Lesson2: One cannot have too big a library.

    Sounds like an interesting book.

  11. Prolly well out of print now. It is quite handy but the index is very idiosyncratic.

  12. Thanks Snail - There are 52 of them on Abe Books at the moment.