Toucans, Toucanets and Aracaris
I love toucans, but there is something unreal about the Emerald Toucanet. Toucans are always brilliantly colored, but the emerald toucanet is a brilliant green - such an ethereal color for such a large bird.
The emerald toucanet above, which I photographed in Panama while with a group of birders, is also called a Blue-throated Toucanet. Look at its throat. If you would see the same species in Mexico, for example, you wouldn't see the blue throat.
Blue-throated toucanets, then, are a subspecies of Emerald Toucanets. But, ornithologists currently recognize seven different, and distinct, subspecies of the Emerald Toucanet, and they all have great names in their own right - our Blue-throated, the Wagler's, the Emerald subspecies, the Violet-throated, the Santa Marta, the Andean and the Peruvian.
While I love toucans, this guy in particular is a good lesson in the future of ornithology. Right now, science recognizes about 10,000 species of birds. But as we learn more about biology, DNA and genetics, we get a better glimpse into whether certain animals should be categorized as sub-species, or their own species.
Many believe that within the next quarter-century, the amount of bird species known to science will jump from ten thousand to perhaps as high as 25,000. The reason has nothing to do with more discoveries - although new bird discoveries still do happen. It's about more refined biology being used to reclassify birds.
For the birder's who are walking with me, seeing this Blue-throated Toucanet could end up having a profound impact on their hobby in the future. Let's say they've seen the Emerald Toucanet in Peru, Venezuala, Costa Rica, Mexico and now Panama. If biologists decided to split the bird into seven species, these birder's total species tally will increase.
In ornithology, there is a reverse side to 'splitting.' It's called 'lumping.' In taxonomy, there are lumpers and splitters; and both sides have valid arguments about whether certain species need to be split, or certain species need to be reclassified as a single species. In the world of ornithology, both are happening constantly, and following the conversation is a nice way of peering into the future of taxonomy.